The architectural, engineering and construction (AEC) lead generating process reviewed

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Traditional business concepts call for marketers to generate leads, and sales reps to convert the leads into business.Salespeople (especially weaker ones) often complain their leads are crappy. Marketers, for their part, sometimes fail to realize the value of “brand building” is far less tangible (and therefore understandable) than the ability of the marketing to deliver hard, specific leads.

Undoubtedly, the best marketing initiatives generate great leads, while creating the branding environment where the sales representative doesn’t have to work hard to convert the leads into business.

Overall, the most successful AEC businesses will integrate these processes and be very thoughtful about when and how to outsource them.

For example, leads services prevail in our industry, both in the residential and non-residential markets, because of its weak marketing and sales sophistication.  In the ICI market, contractors (and to a lesser extent, architects and engineers) run like lemmings for the “low bid wins the job” public or competitive opportunities. We had some fun with this mind-set when we contracted with gostickman.com to create our own marketing video.

The leads services businesses aren’t necessarily bad for business. In the ICI space, services such as McGraw Hill Dodge (in Canada, Merx) and DataBid (in Toronto and eastern Ontario) provide truly useful intelligence from where you can customize your direct follow through services. Similarly, while residential leads services are controversial and the lead conversion rate is relatively poor, some contractors say they can make good money with the leads provided by these services. See this contractortalk.com thread for a discussion that will both likely both anger and enlighten you.

My company runs AdWords campaigns for our clients, along with other digital marketing services.

A large client of ours that uses our call center to set their appointments decided to see how purchased leads would fare compared to the leads generated through their own website.

The lead company they used is one of the big guys that we all know (which shall remain nameless). Our client purchased close to 6000 leads over a number of months, so this test does have some history.

Our findings:
Leads generated internally through their own website = 71% set appointment rate.

Leads purchased from lead provider = 16% set appointment rate.

Our call center uses best practices (e.g. calling lead within 5 minutes, proper follow-up, etc) for any lead that comes in, and they are really good at what they do.

I was expecting the internal leads to obviously perform better, but was shocked at the huge difference.

Of course, I’m not sure if the purchased AdWords campaigns operated by external services are as wise an investment as in developing your internal capacities for search engine optimization and generating great leads through your own network, website, and resources. But, as you read through the thread, you’ll discover some contractors who say the external leads services work quite well, as well.

Marketing services, of course, have traits similar to financial planning and advisory providers. They are either outrageously expensive, or a wonderful deal, depending on your perspective (and results). If you pay a 25 per cent share plus a five per cent management fee to a hedge fund, you might scream “this is a rip-off” unless the hedge fund operators are generating 100 per cent annual gains, consistently. Of course, you will probably scream “fraud” when the hedge fund operators are put in prison for market manipulation or insider trading — because even the most brilliant investors know these outrageous numbers cannot be sustained in scale over time.

Conversely, I’m thankful to my intelligent wife, who in younger years researched and wrote articles for the newsletter of a well-respected association financial service representing professionals’ interests. She absorbed the knowledge she learned, and started her own self-directed investing program. I’m happy to let her manage my retirement funds, as well.

The conclusions:

  • If you can learn to do things yourself, to integrate the marketing and sales process in a seamless system, you may find value in leads services as either a supplemental resource or for intelligence gathering.
  • You can outsource many major marketing operations, and build a budget for this work (think of the AdWords service companies, who have replaced the Yellow Pages for marketing budget allocations), much like you can pay an insurance sales rep or financial advisory company to manage things for you. You may achieve results, but you will be far better off if you can learn how things work so you can either do things yourself, or pay for specific advice and resources when you need it. (And this may include budgeting rationally for third-party ongoing services.)
  • If you spend some money developing internal capacities and skills, you’ll be stronger in the longer term. Consider consultants who can teach these skills rather than purport to do everything for you.  In the residential community, I recommend Mike Jeffries or Michael Stone. In the ICI space, I recommend you spend some time with the Society for Marketing Professional Services (SMPS) with comprehensive resources and an effective certification program.
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