Reinventing the leads group: SMPS and Holly Bolton in Toronto

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Holly Bolton at SMPS Ontario

Holly Bolton speaks to the SMPS Ontario chapter in Toronto

Can you obtain new and profitable business through a leads group? SMPS national board member Holly Bolton says “yes,” though in an interview after her presentation to the SMPS Ontario chapter in Toronto, she said her Indianapolis, IN group, “Front Line Strategies” hasn’t quantified results for its 13 participants.

Nevertheless, Bolton provides a convincing argument for you to consider starting or joining a leads group of your own. The synergy, shared interests and potential business make the effort worthwhile, and once a leads group gains traction, it is reasonably easy to maintain — though periodically, Bolton says, you need to review your processes and approaches to ensure things don’t get stale.

The idea behind leads groups is that non-competing members in compatible industries get together on a regular schedule to share news and opportunities.  Front Line Strategies meets monthly. Previously, I belonged to a much larger and longer-established (tracing its roots to the 1930s Great Depression) Ottawa Executives Association, which meets weekly.

Members should not be competitors. In the AEC area, you might find participants from engineering and architectural consultants, general contractors, sub trades and the like.

Bolton indicates  successful leads group participation follows the networking basics: You need to be a “giver,” she said. “You don’t want to feel slimed.”

Bolton says leads group participation should not constrain you from working with non-members, and, conversely, you should only share or partner with members when it makes sense. Ethics are important. For example, she said, if you hear about a lead from a competing architect that is not a member of the group, you would be wrong to introduce that lead to the group unless you had the other company’s permission or you had heard about the same lead from other places.

She says you need to think about rules and processes. For example, in Bolton’s group, members meet once a month at the offices of participants — this allows everyone a chance to get to know their peer members in greater detail (and allows other employees of participating members to understand and indirectly contribute to the group).

Bolton said previously the group rotated facilitators monthly.  However, now the facilitators serve three-month terms. ”The previous model worked ok, but the new model works better because there is a consistent leader to carry ideas forward and provide continuity,” Bolton said.

Similarily, she said the group previously had a lengthy list of leads which turned into a tedious updating review.  Now, leads-in-progress are grouped by category and interest, and members speak up when they actually have something useful to add or contribute.

The leads group provides other advantages. Often members know individuals at relevant firms and organizations and can facilitate introductions. Friendships, common business issues, and new ideas can be shared freely and confidentially.

Bolton’s Indianapolis group doesn’t have any membership dues or fees.

Sounds good. Then why did I drop out of the Ottawa Executives’ Association (OXA) after about a year, several years ago?

Simply put, in the case of the OXA, which required me to attend a lunch meeting every week and spend significant money on meals and dues, I didn’t receive any useful leads. In hindsight, I realize that my business really couldn’t benefit from the group. We serve a specific industry, and the OXA membership operates across different disciplines.  The specific members who could do business with us (as advertisers), had chosen to allocate their marketing resources to the leads group instead. So we were a mismatch. However, more than eight years after leaving the group, we still purchase our Christmas chocolate gifts from a business that (at least then) had been a fellow group member. I imagine that company did quite well from the group — and the group obviously provides value to many members, considering its longevity.

Should you start your own leads group, or join one that is relevant to you? I think so. You should also consider joining your local SMPS chapter — because the marketing advice and insights you receive will be specifically relevant to your architectural, engineering or construction business.

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