The late Walt Hailey introduced one of my business’s founding concepts. In Breaking the No Barrier he advocated looking at your potential clients’ supply chains, and then obtaining buy-in for your concept not directly, but through your potential clients own clients. In other words, you would look at the money flow and plug your marketing and business development initiatives right into the correct power point.
These concepts, within reason, have extreme effectiveness in the AEC industry. As an example, if you are a building products manufacturer, your materials may be purchased by subcontractors, either directly or through dealerships. But if an owner (especially a major one), says: “I want to use your product” then there is a good chance everyone will cooperate along the way, and it doesn’t matter which sub-contractor actually performs the installation.
There are some challenges with this model of sales/marketing. These include:
The distance between power/motivation and decision-making reality
At some point, at the top of the pecking order (the actual owners) there isn’t much leverage you can apply to gain access, and these organizations, knowing their power, will not be too likely to want to exercise it for your own gain. You then need to leverage your relationships through other, more indirect and potentially time-expensive approaches, such as community service, publicity, and leadership networks.
Abuse: Using the power relationships for coercive intent
Assuming you can build the client-of-client referral capacity, you need to be careful about overplaying your hand. There’s a fine balance between influence and coercion, which occurs when the potential client selects your product/service out of fear rather than genuine respect for the referral. The fear-based approach may work in some cases (and be justified in certain emergencies), but eventually you’ll encounter backlash, hostility, and resistance. No one likes to be forced into anything.
Nevertheless, in evaluating your marketing and business development strategies, I think there is real value in aligning your interests and activities at least one money-link above the organizations who will purchase your products/services. If you are a subtrade/supplier, for example, you’ll want to understand the mind-sets and relationships of the owners influencing the general contractors and if you are a supplier whose materials are puchased by subs, you’ll want to see if you can make some connections with general contractors, or even better, architects, specifiers and owners.