The leads in front of you

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Information about DataBid and Merx/McGraw-Hill Dodge

Last evening, a fellow member Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association (GOHBA) approached me at a social gathering to extend some thanks. A few weeks earlier, he had asked if we still reported/had building permit data in our publication. I told him, “no” because the data we had published — without identifiable personal contact information — had attracted little interest or response in recent years. Then I said I would look to see whether I could track things down for him.

A few minutes later, I discovered on the Ottawa City website a goldmine of data. Recently, the city, in an open-data initiative, decided to post much raw municipal public record information online in a format that could be modelled for third-party applications. There it was — monthly building permit reports, combining overall summaries with details on each project, compiled and uploaded to the city’s website just a few days after the previous month’s end.

I sent this information to the individual (who is not one of our advertisers, but has contributed extensively to the association over the years), and we have reintroduced the building permit data to Ottawa Construction News, with the summary report and a link to the latest download form the city’s website. You can see the data/report here.

The bigger issue for this blog posting, however, is what the individual plans to do with the data. He is a custom high-end kitchen and bath renovation contractor. He isn’t interested in mass-market, tract builders, nor does he want to waste time on individuals seeking the cheapest deal possible.

He handed the link to the city’s data report to his sales rep, who responded:  “What do I do with this?”

“Lets sort this list quickly,” he said. (The data can be manipulated on spreadsheets without trouble.) “Take out all the tract builders, and the tiny jobs, in not-so-good neighbourhoods. We’ll see what is left.”

Hundreds of entries turned into about 15 leads. But the work wouldn’t be over yet. The sales rep would need to research into the owners, track down contact information from public record sources, and then call — cold — with the inevitable  rejection possibility.

“I told her, this isn’t so bad, and you just move on to the next one,” he said. I could see where he was going. If he has 15 leads a month, it won’t take that long to research and follow through.  Kitchens and bathroom fixtures/finishes generally are installed later rather than early in a project; and if a building permit has been issued, it is certainly live. In his business, a job could run $100,000 or more. The 15 leads could pay off with reasonable probability for one or two jobs each month. The cost: perhaps a day or two of research and calling with the free data I helped him discover.

“Of course, this takes some work,” he told me. “I know that — but I also know that not many others will call.”

This self-generated lead process, of course, can be supplemented by commercial leads services. Some have dubious reputations; others quite clearly explain what they provide, and what you need to do with the data. In general, the more “final” information the service can provide (namely contact information, specific requirements, specifications, and the like) the weaker the lead, unless you are in a highly specialized field. The reason: You can expect that a job that anyone can do, widely advertised and reported on through leads services, will attract an overwhelming number of bidders. Try to win this work, and well, your success will most likely be your failure because the successful bidder will often be unprofitable.

We have strategic alliances with two leads services which, indeed, deliver the goods: Merx/McGraw-Hill Dodge (in the Canadian market) and DataBid.com (serving Ontario and, now, Chicago, Illinois.) Both services focus in the ICI rather than small-scale residential market and wouldn’t be much help to the kitchen contractor who I met last night. (I cannot recommend specific residential leads services.)

However, when I speak with the lead services providers, they remind me of an important thing:  “Some people expect everything on a silver platter,” said one service provider.  “It doesn’t work that way. You need to use the data and your own interpretation to find the opportunities, and if you do, you will succeed.”

So, in the ICI space, yes, the leads service will list specific jobs and projects. The greater value, however, is understanding the nature and character of the organizations in the market for architectural, engineering and construction services. Your challenge is to take the data and then figure out a way to build knowledge, relationships and a degree of exclusivity — perhaps by connecting with the potential clients at relevant associations.

This story comes full circle.

Oh yes, the person who thanked me for the leads information yesterday says he never advertises — but he has a project which may be worthy of a feature profile report worthy of supplier-based advertising in a few months. Will we turn this lead into some business? Perhaps — as we put the reciprocity principle to work.

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