Equal opportunity, nah.
Do meritocracy rules apply? Sure.
These two themes dominated the President’s Panel — one of the major highlights of the bi-annual Ontario General Contractors’ Association (OGCA) Construction Symposium.
This year, the OGCA decided to invite second (or third) generation company presidents to speak to the audience about their perceptions and experiences.
Most inherited their opportunities.
For example, Marcus Gillam, president of the Gillam Group Inc., started his own business after a six-year stint as vice-president of Vanbots, a division of Carillion Construction Inc.; a major multi-national contractor. But Gillam’s father had an equity interest in Vanbots before that business was sold to Carillion.
Others followed a transition plan and obtained control of the existing business from their parents.
None represented rags to riches examples. All grew up with construction in their blood, and all started working part-time while in high-school — gaining some practical field experience and quite a bit of cash compared to their high school peers.
I think much if not most of the world works this way; and that is why disruptive “out of the blue” entrepreneurial and marketing success stories are both rare and exceptional. They happen, though usually, it seems, privilege begets privilege.
Is this wrong? I think not, though a blog about construction marketing may not be the best place to advocate or argue about the rights and wrongs of economic/opportunity inequality. And I’m reassured by the start-up stories described by some of the speakers about the hard work, roll-up-the-sleeves ethic that defines their success. (These aren’t coupon-clipping weak-kneed individuals living lives of leisure on their inherited wealth, which they could certainly be.)
Yet there are important issues and marketing challenges here. If power (ultimate decision-making authority) truly is concentrated in the hands of the few, how should this concept shape your marketing decisions and directions?
I mean: “Mass marketing” may make sense for consumer purchases and so some of the general large-scale marketing basics may be relevant for residential construction and renovation/maintenance projects, where you can be selling your services to homeowners of varying classes and economic status.
But if you are a vendor or professional service with a market within the AEC industry — or your clients work within the ICI or institutional sectors — how many real purchasers are there out there in the real world; and where do they really originate?
Finding access, gaining positive impressions, and building relationships seems to me to be an exceptional challenge, especially when even the young leaders today can trace a family heritage (and relationships) going back decades. They may be ready and eager to embrace new ideas, but they also have a solid universe of people, connections and memories driving their perceptions.
I think if you are hoping to build marketing and business development strategies for these markets, you need to look at the best ways to build these long-term relationships, and the best way to do this, in my opinion, will be through selfless connection on common ground.
Volunteer/participate in relevant associations, charities and community groups.
“Networking” takes on a truly different meaning when you share a board position or on a relevant charity or community organization. The common good overrides the us/them mentality — and you have a natural place to demonstrate your competence and community spirit.
Speak and write on topics where you combine passion and expertise (to audiences which include your decision-making leaders).
You gain visibility this way, plus recognition, plus plenty of credibility. Start small and work on your message. Note that competition can be fierce for the visibly desirable opportunities — the OGCA says it had many more requests for speaking slots than it could accommodate in the intensive symposium program.
Note that neither of these marketing/business development methodologies requires much in the way of cash, but they both require plenty of preparation, practice and patience. It isn’t a quick road. But the people you want to reach didn’t get to where they are instantly, as well. In most cases, they have at least one and upwards of two or three generations of advantages over the masses. You won’t reach them with a scripted cold call or broadcast mass message or some canned marketing messages. You’ll need to capture/embrace long-term relationship-building opportunities, instead.