Wednesday, April 29, 2009

What we do with excess business

Cogent doesn't do too much in the way of overt marketing and advertising. We spend some money on conference sponsorship, and about $30 per month on Google Adsense, and I think that's about it. Despite that, we get a steady stream of enquiries, and we generally end up with more work than we can handle - particularly if it's urgent work as we're often committed a few months in advance.

If a customer wants to start something right away, we do very little (if anything) to discourage them - instead, we pass along the contact details of the best people we know who can do the work and leave it to the customer to make any further arrangements. This is the simplest approach that can work, since it means that we don't get caught in the middle either managing communications or guaranteeing the quality of the work, and in principle the customer doesn't end up paying two margins so they should get the work done at a reasonable price. We're usually passing the work to companies that are "bigger" than us, and It's also worth saying that Cogent gets referrals in the same kind of way, mostly from independent contractors.

So by all rights I shouldn't be unhappy, but I have to admit to being irked by handing my competitors leads, especially when we don't get a lot of love in return. I understand it logically - if we had available resources, we wouldn't pass work to a competitor either, and these companies are much more likely than us to have available resources - but it still feels wrong or unfair on some level.

I'd be interested to hear how other small companies deal with similar situations.

1 comment:

  1. In retail there is a school of thought that if you can't sell a customer what they want, then you should refer them to a competitor who can. The idea is that if you simply turn them away empty-handed, all they'll remember is that you couldn't help them and it's unlikely you'll ever see them again. On the other hand, if you help someone get what they want, then there's a good chance they'll come back next time they're looking for something.

    I'm not sure if this would work as well in a consulting context, you'd probably get the goodwill, but I suspect that left to their own devices most businesses would tend to go with the last consultant that they used rather than shop around each time.

    Just a thought, when you get enquiries like this, invite them to join an opt-in mailing list to which you mail this blog. The thought needs some work - in particular convincing people to sign up for a mailing list is likely to be tough no matter how well they might be disposed towards you, but your posts here make for good reading and present Cogent in a good light. They will serve to amplify the goodwill you have earned by being helpful in the first instance and will keep you in peoples' minds.