Another look at ICI leads services

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Databid.com currently provides a leads service for Ontario, Canada and the Chicago areas.

Leads services for the industrial, commercial and institutional (ICI) market have a generally much more positive reputation than the residential service market. I won’t name names directly here (in line with my general policy not to identify individual businesses in this blog), but generally the recommendation for consumer-focused businesses is to develop the capacity for direct marketing rather than to use the lead services because their marketing will override your presence and you could well be selling your market position to your competitors.

The story is different in the non-residential space, in part because leads services have historical roots deeper than many other marketing initiatives within the construction industry. The oldest lead service, McGraw Hill’s FW Dodge, has been around for eons. These services dated to the pre-internet days, when information was hard to gather and evaluate local opportunities would remain just that, unless reporters on the ground gathered and sold the data. The original leads services provided a valuable tool for manufacturers and contractors to learn about and respond to bidding opportunities outside their area of familiarity. They continued to thrive in the “low bid wins the job” environment, where anyone with the right basic qualifications (and ability to price services low enough) could hope to win the work.

Some decades ago, Reed Construction Data (RCD) reached the stage where it could compete effectively with McGraw-Hill. The two big players now battle on several fronts, though, as this Construction Marketing Association blog posting reveals, the differentiations may be subtle rather than substantial.

For manufacturers looking to increase their leads in this tough economy, Dodge and RCD provide great services. Selecting between them is difficult.  From the outside, their services are more similar than dissimilar and border on being commodities. When you differentiate yourself on the quality of your reports and the level of your service, which is easily duplicated by a well funded competitor, you find yourself battling for inches rather than acreage.

On the inside, the user experience will be different for each company. Those firms that have signed on to one service, without testing the other, are doing themselves a disservice. The other might be better suited to your needs, but you won’t know until you try it. And that’s the problem. Would you really want to switch lead generating services (or add a duplicate service) at a time when you’re desperately trying to control costs?

My business has a historical co-operation agreement (within Canada) with McGraw-Hill (and more recently Merx.) This alliance relates to the pragmatic fact that we compete with RCD in the general publishing space in Canada, but not McGraw-Hill. Accordingly, we’ve had access to McGraw-Hill data but not RCD materials, so I cannot comment objectively about the RCD data, while remaining confident that the McGraw-Hill materials are both relevant and useful.

There are other competitors in the ICI data services space, many of which focus in regional markets. For example, DataBid.com operates in Ontario markets and now Chicago and, on close evaluation, this service has truly comprehensive and useful resources (and so we are happy to partner with DataBid in promoting their services.

Legitimate ICI leads services will make clear they don’t offer a magic bullet to winning work. Just because you know of a project/bidding opportunity, doesn’t mean you will win it. In fact, if you have no relationship with the organization setting out to do the work, your chances of success are virtually zero. However, you may learn interesting details about opportunities and connections, and begin to build relationships for future work (or perhaps to ally with key contractors/sub-trades where you already have relationships, who are bidding on the work.) In other words, the leads services provide useful information to help you learn more about what is happening and where you might look in the future.

The CMA blog posting rightfully points out that public sector work is relatively easy to source and learn about directly. Private projects/opportunities ae a bigger challenge.

I recommend you consider McGraw Hill and (in Ontario and Chicago), DataBid.com if you are looking at potential leads services. The differences may be in nuance rather than substance and you should not rely on leads services as your primary source of new business. Use the services as research/support resources, instead.

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