It’s a basic rule in marketing: Know your customer first before you reach out

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symposium sponsor
At the sponsor's reception before the Ontario General Contractors Association (OGCA) Symposium. Client knowledge and relationships can often be built through relevant client-focused associations. (Remember, our business serves/sells to contractors -- your ideal association may be different.)

Mark Mitchell wisely points out that many competitors successfully sell “inferior” products and services to the clients you are trying to reach.

There are a variety of reasons for this effective inefficiency, but the main issue often is that you know too much about your specific product or service, and not enough about the overall (and specific) needs of your potential clients.

In the classic (bad) execution of this trait, consider the RFP responses where you use boilerplate material to blow your own horn, bragging about your expertise in the subject area for which you think you are responding. You want to assert you are really better than the competition (and perhaps you are), but your competitor has spent years building and maintaining client relationships, often has advanced knowledge of the RFP, and in some cases even had a hand in writing the documentation.

Trouble is, there is a story behind the story in each visible RFP or business opportunity, rooted in your potential client’s history, existing relationships and sometimes urgent requirements.

These observations relate to one of the greatest challenges/frustrations in AEC marketing. While some really good work seems to drop in the laps of businesses without much notice or obvious preparation, in most cases, the easy work follows months or even years of relationship-building and direct client knowledge.

The trouble is: How do you convince your bean counters that you need to spend a long time cultivating these relationships in the hope of discovering some future work — especially when you need “fast action now” to bring in the orders and meet the payroll?

In my opinion, the best approach to this challenge is to focus on the easiest opportunities; your existing clients, and then work outwards from them to discover their peers and (if there aren’t conflict problems) their competitors. While it isn’t a quick fix, one of the best avenues to making these connections is through client-focused associations; where you work with your existing clients to obtain initial introductions and then parlay them into more connections and opportunities.

It can be a long haul — but whatever you do, you want to avoid selling blindly to people/organizations you don’t really know. You may think you have a better offering, but unless the potential client believes you know them well enough to understand their real needs, you won’t get far even if you really are the best for them.

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