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Friday, May 25, 2007

Quality leads?

I continue to be perplexed by the best answer to the question of how to find "quality leads" in the AEC environment. The need for leads is huge and seemingly unquenchable, if the number and apparent viability of leads services is an indication. There are big multinationals like Reed Construction Data and McGraw-Hill, regional players, and specialist Internet data mining services. And of course there are retail lead gatherers, who market their services to the general public and then sell their research results to individual contractors. I am thinking here about organizations such as ServiceMagic and a new Canadian business serving the Ontario market,

These leads services have some value -- in fact may be vital for the survival -- of many specialty contractors and sub trades; and perhaps some start-up general contractors. But do they work for architects, engineers, planners, and early-stage developers?

I'm not sure.

In response to a question on the SMPS Listserve requesting comments on a commercial leads service that provides data in some U.S. regions, Brian Muligan, Business Development Officer at Atlanta-based contractor Sharpe Construction, Inc. offered several insights. Essentially he said the leads services rely on the professional practices (especially architects) for leads information for general contractors and sub-trades, and are often willing to work out quid-pro-quo exchanges for information about early stage planning information, of relevance to the professional service firms. He also said there are regional variations and cost considerations -- some leads services work better in some markets, than others.

However, marketing consultant Frank Smith, also from the Atlanta area, responded rather bluntly to Mulligan's posting:

"Speaking from my experience of 35 years in the A/E marketing business, if you really have time and money you want to waste, subscribe to any of these "cheat sheets". (This does not apply to contractors.)"

I've emailed Smith to elaborate and explain his rather blunt statement, but think I know where he is going (I may need to publish a correction or adaptation in future issues of this blog, however).

Simply put, if you need to rely on leads services, and you are in the professional services, your relationship base is not well developed and you are -- if you spend time and energy following up on the leads from these services -- chasing after phantom business; or if it is real, business that is unlikely to be profitable. By the time the leads service finds out about the project, it is too late. The job is probably 'wired' for one business or another, or the appropriate alliances and strategic relationships have already been formed to put in the most powerful 'open' bid presentation.

So, how do you build your marketing funnel and keep enough work flowing to be profitable?
First, it is clear you need to listen to, and connect most closely, with existing clients. Second, it is undoubtedly helpful for you to belong and participate in appropriate professional organizations. These are organizations at the client level and, to some extent, the ones within your industry. (For example, I constantly advocate SMPS membership -- partly because of the information the association provides, but more importantly, because of the relationship-building opportunities; especially useful if you have a multi-city practice; or are a local leader and wish to position yourself for joint ventures with outside organizations.)

Finally, and most challenging, you need to create a really strong outbound presence -- publicity is really helpful, through books, articles, and possibly (gulp) blogs! You want to position yourself as the relevant expert so you are called or simply well placed to learn of the lead well before the opportunity is publicized by the commercial leads services.

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