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Friday, August 14, 2009

Business and proposal development: Quantity, quality or both

One of the surest signs you are heading down the path of failure in construction industry marketing is when you are chasing and pursuing leads and project ideas you have a faint chance of winning.

This often happens when you start getting desperate: You can see your order and project backlog is drying up and you want to get work started, fast, to prevent the crunch of idle workers, expensive capital equipment and (if you are the marketing manager, rather than the boss), the threat of losing your job when you know few other employers will rush to hire you.

Trouble is, of course, you run into the all-to-common situation where the harder you try and "work", the poorer results you achieve. Hours spent on public bid proposals will do your company little good if the competition has already been wired in favor of an incumbent, or at least a much smaller short-list group; worse, is if you make the short list as an outsider through sheer effort, then pour your heart and soul into the final presentation, again, only to discover that the incumbent or special friend of the bidding authority has already really made its decision.

On another level, what good do you gain by attracting a group of 500 "first degree contacts" or 1,000 "followers" on Twitter, when you know nothing about the people in your contact list, and your followers are just following you because you've induced them to sign on, somehow.

So what should you do?

Here, you run into another irony. If you've been "relying" on referrals or repeat business, or (even worse) if you have put all your eggs into a very small number of client relationships, and these businesses either have failed, or your individual relationships no longer are influential or control the picture, what do you do? You are in deep and serous trouble.

The answer to these challenges of course is effective marketing, and systems for lead and relationship qualification and development. Setting numeric goals is important, and following guidelines and rules for relationship and business development can be helpful. Sometimes it is wise to work with large numbers.

For example, I cited the example that it is folly to blindly seek connections within the new electronic or social media groups. But since individual connections require little effort, and could in some way help your business, it isn't necessarily a bad sign to have a large online network. Your challenge is to communicate and give enough value to your group so that you can earn some "reciprocation" points -- at the right time, members will, knowing your business and its priorities, share valuable insights, leads or projects with you. (This is why you are best posting useful information rather than self-promotional notes when participating in online discussions and forums.)

When it comes to public RFPs and competitions, once again, you need to be pragmatic and selective. Rarely is it wise to go all the way in a public presentation exercise with the hope that you can perhaps win a future job; you need to find some way to find and develop your relationships away from the "stand em up and shoot them down" approach to business development.

But information about public proposals and projects may provide you with key insights into what is planned for the future, who the key players are, and where their network exists. You can decide if you want to invest time and energy in developing these relationships perhaps through selective association involvement, seeking relationships through your existing network, or the like.

If you need a short-term fix, your answer is either to connect with your existing clients and look for ways you can enhance or add on to their business (or simply in some cases, ask for a little work), or to figure out innovative adaptations to solve problems and present/communicate directly with your prospective clients, perhaps after building a knowledge base of referrals and connections.

In other words, if you know you can save money or provide value before the prospective client even is thinking of putting it out to public bid, you can develop your relationships and often gain an audience for an unsolicited proposal. This can be a lot of work, and you risk your efforts being "stolen" by someone already on the inside, but your chances are much better in succeeding than when you heed the cattle call and rush, like a lemming, to follow the crowd into preparing a submission to an open RFP where dozens have already applied.

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