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Friday, November 23, 2007

The vital importance of relationships

You can access informaton about Merx/McGraw Hill leads in Canada here.
Yesterday, I met with Glen Wither, formerly responsible for McGraw-Hill Construction in Canada. We had worked together for years, ever since I made a cold call to the then McGraw-Hill office in Toronto as I was preparing to launch The GTA Construction Report in 1999. I had just met the senior staff and chair of The Toronto Construction Association to introduce myself and our planned new publication. To put it mildly, I received a frigid reception -- for good reason. The then association chair, Ian Hardy, also happened at the time to be publisher of the Daily Commercial News and Construction Record. At the risk of garbling the paraphrase of my decade-old recollection, I remember him or one of the executives in the room saying: "We would rather you leave town and not start this publication." In the course of this somewhat belligerent reception, someone in the room also said: "We would also rather McGraw-Hill leave town as well."

Now, at the time, I didn't entirely appreciate what was happening, being green in business, and all that. But clearly, the owners of DCN (Reed Elsevier, McGraw-Hill's major international competitor in the construction data marketplace) had built rather close relationships with the Toronto Construction Association!

I had hoped to introduce my new editor to the TCA executive, but he spent the meeting time cooling his heals in the reception area. When the meeting ended, I told him: "I want you to write a positive story about the TCA in every issue, regardless of whether or not they are interested in co-operating with us."

Then I placed a cold call to the Toronto McGraw-Hill offices. I knew absolutely no one there, but relayed my observation about the meeting in the TCA boardroom to the person who answered the phone. Within a few days, I met Glen Wither and we began a co-operative relationship that continues to this day.

We would provide promotional considerations and print media publicity for McGraw-Hill; in exchange they would allow us to publish a selection of their leads data, with complete actionable information. The McGraw-Hill data has enhanced our papers -- and provided our own salespeople with useful leads.

Our relationship with Wither and McGraw-Hill lasted through almost a decade; with our most recent initiative this time last year to see if we could enhance the McGraw-Hill leads service to serve smaller businesses through a user-friendly print project. The market test bombed, however. We couldn't find enough people willing to pay $50 a month f or useful leads; when they happily spend $500 for a one-time Christmas greeting ad in one of our publications circulating less than 500 copies. Why, I asked (and answered in this blog entry from last January)?

Last summer, I learned that McGraw-Hill had sold its Canadian construction research operation to Mediagrif Interactive Technologies, parent company of Merx. I felt saddened -- the long business relationship with Glen Wither had apparently come to an end; and I would be working with people I knew little. Nevertheless, we set the wheels in motion. Merx managers asked us to continue things largely as before; just changing a phone number here and there, and keeping the McGraw-Hill logo front and centre in our published material (reflecting the fact that the relationship between Merx/Mediagrif and McGraw-Hill is more of a joint venture than a pure purchase/sale transaction.

Then, I learned last week that Glen had moved over from McGraw-Hill to Mediagrif. We arranged a meeting, and among several things we discussed was how to market leads services data.

I told him that I felt that in most cases it is a challenge to sell leads services. Larger 'players' and well established businesses with solid market and business development departments of course are interested in these resources, especially if it can help them gain early insights into potential projects. Smaller businesses fall into two categories. Some are always scrounging for leads; because they cannot build great relationships; they also struggle to pay their bills and are looking for instant gratification -- leads that bring them business without any real effort. Other small businesses, the ones whose owners would have the cash for a good leads service, are not interested because they've built their market niche so well that business comes to them through ongoing relationships and connections. Hence, the failure of our market test for an inexpensive but comprehensive leads service last year.

Now, a decade into our relationship, I think of the importance as well of relationships in our own business. We of course really benefit from the McGraw-Hill/Merx data -- it provides invaluable early-stage data and insights, and I think growing businesses; even smaller businesses who appreciate the importance of business intelligence and competitive analysis -- should spend some money for these services. And there certainly is a place for cold calls -- my relationship with McGraw-Hill started with the coldest of cold calls! But what really gives a business its basis for growth and survival, is its ability to develop and sustain healthy business relationships, both internally and externally. Again, this is the cornerstone of effective marketing, and is more important than any of the marketing trips and techniques we discuss in these blog pages.

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