This is a story of two worlds — and two the two biggest “rely” mistakes — as “I rely on” for my primary marketing initiatives. Both however reflect similar root problems — passivity and reactive rather than proactive initiative.
Residential: “I rely on word-of-mouth and leads services to generate my business.”
Great word of mouth of course is really important and if you have it (in either the residential or ICI side) you are on your way to marketing success — but “rely”, not so good. And if you are subsuming your marketing to third-party lead services in the residential area, you effectively may be giving up your word-of-mouth success to your competitors who pay the leads services more than you, because of the way the leads services have designed their affairs to exploit the search engines when people look you up.
ICI-focused leads services, however have a much better reputation. There are several competing businesses in this field and they scour markets for opportunities and provide incredibly detailed data to readers. As far as I know as well, they don’t steal business from their clients. (Note: We have co-operative marketing arrangements with McGraw-Hill Dodge/Merx in Canada and DataBid in Ontario and Chicago.)
ICI: “We rely on RFP responses and public bidding opportunities
Here, there is a two-fold problem. First, if the work is truly public, fair and open, unless it requires extremely specialized qualifications (and therefore might not be so public and open), competition will come out of the woodwork and pricing will fall through the floor (largely from others who have discovered the same projects through the leads services.) But the problem is even greater for projects where price may not be the primary consideration, including in the US architectural and engineering design work protected by the Brooks Act, where soft qualifications outside of price must be the primary consideration.
In these situations, the incumbent contractor or professional service provider has the edge, by far. Unless you build your relationships deep and far enough in advance that you can assist the client in preparing the RFP (in effect, you know about it long before it becomes public), you are toast. Your clients will know far more about you than you might think — even before hit “send” on the RFP deadline.
Tim Asimos in the SMPS Marketer writes:
More and more prospects are going online to find and vet potential firms and partners. They’re better informed and more self-sufficient than ever, researching online — often extensively — before making a selection in many cases; they are pre-qualifying firms before even issuing an RFP. Their decisions are being based not only on qualifications and previous experience, but also on what they’ve learned about you online through your website, blog, content and social media.
How do you best overcome these “relys”? I believe right now your highest level of success will arise from your relationship-building and maintenance — especially with your satisfied clients. Gathering their testimonials and referrals will help with direct leads; then posting these (ideally in video) on a well-designed website, that also reveals your expertise and thought leadership, will go far, for very little money. Engagement and participation in client-focused associations and community groups will also provide you a wealth of first-hand leads and help you build your relationships.
You can certainly use the non-residential leads services for background information, research and insights — they may not provide a direct job but you’ll learn who is who and where you should focus on your relationships. Stay far away from the residential focused leads services — you’ll end up paying heavily for what you could achieve much less expensively with a solid repeat/referral program and a well-designed website.