The Death of Rolodex Marketing

RolodexSurprisingly, a significant number of professional services firms continue to resist building online brand visibility as a business development strategy. The excuses we hear from them most often include:

“We’re in a relationship business.”

“New clients don’t find us by searching online.”

“Our business is driven exclusively by referrals.”

Although often it’s a waste of time to push back on their refusal to embrace online visibility, these are 3 reasons that we use to plant some seeds of doubt:

The Way People Make Decisions Has Changed Forever

In the pre-internet world, personal relationships, referrals and endorsements played a significant role in the decision-making process. Before making a decision about anything –buying a car, hiring a plumber, investing in a fund, and even sizing up a potential love interest – people communicated directly with friends, family and business associates, seeking their opinions and guidance. For generations, human interaction served as the primary validation process in decision-making.

Over the past 20 years, the internet has dramatically and permanently changed the way that people make decisions. Online research is rapidly replacing human interaction as the primary validation process in all decision-making. We check out Edmunds.com before we buy a car. We join Angie’s List to find a reliable plumber. We read Morningstar.com to gain insight into investment opportunities. We scan profiles on Match.com to evaluate candidates for a life-long relationship. Studies show that business buyers now complete up to 75% of their decision-making process online, in advance of contacting potential suppliers.

The most significant aspect of society’s rapid adoption of the internet is that we’ve raised nearly two generations of young people who have increasingly less direct social interaction with humans, and who rely almost exclusively on electronic devices to supply the information they need to make decisions about everything. Those generations are now starting their own companies, are moving into managerial positions, are raising families of their own…and are making personal, business and investment decisions that affect the fortunes of individual enterprises and the entire economy.

So if your company relies exclusively on personal relationships and referrals to drive engagements or revenue growth…it is living on borrowed time, as relationships become less personal; as human referrals are replaced by online content; and as lack of online transparency is viewed in a negative light by your friends, family and referral sources.

Referral Sources Require Nurturing and Validation

The Old Boy Network may not be dead yet, but it requires a far greater amount of effort to maintain it properly. Here’s why it makes sense to nurture your personal and business relationships through an online presence:

  • Referral sources have many choices. As strong as your relationships may be, peoples’ allegiances and motivations will always ebb and flow. A consistent online presence helps to drive top-of-mind awareness that keeps you high on their list.
  • Referral sources want to refer “safe choices.” Their personal reputation is always at risk when your contacts make a referral, and their comfort level is increased when their recommendation is validated by online content that is consistent with their opinion of you.

Notwithstanding how much time you invest in phone calls, lunches, conferences and rounds of golf, those Old Boy Network nurturing tactics simply cannot compete – in terms of consistency, market reach and “conversation” quality – with what online visibility offers. When it comes to business development, your Old Boy Network is becoming irrelevant.

Reliance on Rolodex Marketing is an Opportunity Loss

Regardless of the size of your Rolodex inventory of family, friends, club members, fraternity brothers, former business associates, vendors and clients…you will never scale your business, on a long-term basis, by relying exclusively on that group of people to drive business growth, either directly or indirectly.

Rolodex marketing may be a reliable way to jump start your firm, but it will fail to sustain momentum, simply because you will eventually overstay your welcome with those sources. Your contacts are a diminishing asset, in terms of business development.

Marketing to your existing contacts always makes sense, as a means to maintain awareness and to encourage engagement and referrals. But limiting your marketing strategy to this finite group is short-sighted at best, and represents a lost opportunity to establish awareness and generate interest among an unlimited universe of prospective customers.

So…If you’re a professional services firm that’s ready to sell the way that people buy; to take greater advantage of your referral sources; and to expand exponentially the volume of potential clients, there are three “bare essentials” of online visibility that include: maintaining a robust website, building a comprehensive presence on social media platforms such as LinkedIn, and consistently producing non-self-serving Thought Leadership content.

However…If you’re still not convinced, good luck with your Rolodex-based marketing strategy. If your firm is a “lifestyle” business, rather than a serious enterprise, your Rolodex may be all that you need…for now, anyway.

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