How I Am Looking For A Professional Service Provider in 2011

There has a been a lot of discussion recently about a seemingly flawed ABA survey discussing the value of blogging versus other ways of generating business. I didn’t even enter the fracas because many had done so already. Quite frankly, without being disrespectful to my colleagues who took the time to share their opinions, I thought it was silly. Anyone who does blog knows the value of blogging in conjunction with other efforts.

Then a funny thing happened on my way to finding a professional service provider this past week. (If you’re wondering why I haven’t said the type of service provider I’m looking for, I don’t feel like getting hit by hundreds of solicitations because they’ve set a google alert for these keywords and my post pops up!)

It’s only upon further reflection that I realize my experience is a great example to showcase the importance of having a social media presence and why the inability to measure concrete point A to point B ROI should not be a deterrent to putting in the effort to make your ‘presence’ known in a variety of ways online.

I currently need a professional service provider unrelated to legal. Automatically, the very first thing I did was ask some people I know and trust who they might know. A few said they’d get back to me; others flat out didn’t know anyone. So, the search began.

First, I went online but came up with nothing. Seriously. It just seemed frustrating because I couldn’t find a direction, not even with what I thought were the appropriate key words. I found a few directories. But I’m not a fan of online directories. I wasn’t interested in finding someone this way so I put it out of my mind for a day or two.

We still get the Sunday paper and over pancakes I happened to read a column written by a professional in the field I was searching. I liked his style, they way he addressed certain questions and his physical look. Silly? Maybe. But maybe not. The picture was part of his overall presentation. I clipped out the column with his contact information and called him on Monday.

When I called I got another representative on the phone. He screened for how I found this person. This same persom offered to assist me with whatever I needed. I said I preferred to deal with the ‘columnist’ myself. After all, the ‘columnist’ was the person who intrigued me, not any cog in the company wheel.

After talking with me for a while, the ‘columnist’ decided I wasn’t HIS ideal client. It was interesting to see him very courteously and professionally filter me out as a possible client because I didn’t fit certain criteria new clientele must satisfy. They know precisely who they want to invest their time and energy serving. I was eliminated for two valid reasons. First,  he had gotten away from the type of service I was requesting because on the food chain it was more low-value. Second, he sensed our personalities would clash. He flat out said his ego was a little ‘too delicate’ and would get in the way if I didn’t accept his advice even though he stated the relationship would be a partnership :-) (He said it humorously but it was nevertheless very honest and I understood where he was coming from as the key to a successful professional business is identifying and then working with your ideal client!)

So the call wouldn’t be a complete waste, I asked him for a couple of referrals. He referred me to a different type of service provider who would have connections to the type of service provider I needed. It wasn’t a direct referral to the actual service provider I wanted. Therefore it became a diluted and pretty worthless referral as I didn’t even really know this ‘columnist’.  If I wanted a referral from someone in another profession like he was offering, I’d go to someone I knew in that profession and get the referral directly from someone who’s opinion I could trust.

Sometimes it’s just not that easy to get a word-of-mouth referral.

That evening, when I had more time to look online, I  searched the official directory of service providers the ‘columnist’ recommended. Maybe there I could find someone who might fit my needs. I found two providers solely based upon geographical location. Geography was the only way to sort through the list. With a strong referral I wouldn’t care about geography. But without one, what was my option?

I wasn’t sure I wanted to contact either of them because I just didn’t like how I found them.  I did, however, get on their e-mail list supplying an ‘alternate’ e-mail address I use to avoid solicitations.  I wanted to learn more about them.  I thought their newsletter would give me more information to determine if I wanted to make a phone call.

However, I am on a mission and didn’t want to wait for a newsletter (which hasn’t come yet as of this writing).

Then I had an epiphany. I remembered the name of a service provider I had used several years ago when he was just starting out. Back then he did home visits and he actually traveled quite a distance to meet with me. I remembered that and how talented he was. We did hire him at the time on a more limited basis. I would require more now.

Problem is he never kept in contact with me to stay ‘front of mind’ and this type of service is one where he should have because this can be a lifetime professional relationship. Call it a rookie mistake. I also remembered how candid he was about just starting out as a ‘solo’ in his field although he had a long history in the profession working for others. I went online to find him. Too bad I didn’t remember his name before I went through this whole exercise.

Since he is a professional, I went to LinkedIn first before even googling his name.  There he was! This led me to his website. Yes, a website, not a traditional blog.  And visually it was not a very attractive website.

He did, however, have all kinds of legitimate accolades, video interviews where I could see him sharing his expertise which helped me to remember why I liked him, as well as teaching experiences showcasing how he’d grown over the past eight years. I did two things: signed up for his newsletter and then e-mailed him directly that I wanted to meet with him, again.  This was late at night but I was able to make contact on my schedule.

I Realized How I Look For A Professional Service Provider in 2011:

1.  Referral – I will automatically go for a referral first.  Once referred, I will go online to do my own ‘homework’. But unless someone gives me  a specific referral, I have no choice but to go online to find a professional.

2. Credentialing – By accident, I found a professional through a ‘credentialing activity’, one which I noticed in our city newspaper. I liked the presentation and content.  Credentialing can be a myriad of activities which are not salesly in nature – newspaper columns, CLE or other teaching, seminars, interviews showcasing expertise, blogging your area of expertise and providing commentary.

3. Credentialing Activities Prompt Contact - In my case the newspaper article prompted a direct phone call.  The screening phone call helped each of us recognize it would not be a good fit but it did garner additional referrals.  I did not use these referrals because it wasn’t directly to someone I would work with. It was just to get yet another referral.  Plus, too much distance between the originating referrer and the potential service provider I would hire.  It watered down the value too much for me.

4. With No Direct Referral A Good Online Presence is Critical - Going back online I did use a directory but there was no way to separate the wheat from the chaff other than the arbitrariness of geography.  Once I honed in on geography that worked, I went to these providers’ websites/blogs to see if they were interesting to me.  Again, this is the equivalent of an online ‘cold call’.

With no other option, their business web presence would determine my next actions.

5.  Newsletters Are Good – I didn’t like it but I opted to sign up for the newsletters which were easily available for me to do.  Of course, I used an alternate e-mail address but I hoped to learn more about the individual service provider to eliminate or initiate a consultation.

6. Service Providers Should NEVER Be Out of Mind of Their Clients – I then reached back through my memory banks and remembered an earlier provider of services I had used.

Had he been in front of me periodically reminding me of our successful relationship I would never have had to stress when it came time to need services again.

7. Be on LinkedIN at the very least - I went to the most populated professional social network to see if he was listed for contact information.  He was.  I reached out appropriately for the time of day I was searching – late at night.

See all the marketing dots connecting?

I ultimately reached back to someone I had worked with before even though he failed to keep in front of me through the years.  Fortunately, he was on a popular professional site and I could contact at my convenience – late at night.  I used e-mail to reach him, his website to learn more about how he’s progressed these last eight years and to refresh myself on his credentials.

The Story Continues:

Within 24 hours I received a lovely e-mail telling me he did remember me and confirmed it with several specific details of our last encounter. He believes the direction he has grown his business over these past eight years may preclude him from addressing my needs.  However, he would love to talk with me and see how he may help. Of course, if he no longer can help me, the cycle will start all over, again.  The difference, I will trust whomever he refers and will have a better starting point to do it all over, again.

THE LESSON

Social media often can’t give you ‘direct ROI’ because the average person when asked will say, ‘I remembered your name and looked you up online’. He’ll never know the treacherous and perilous journey I took to almost not finding him, again. Those I didn’t contact won’t know it’s because they weren’t hard referrals or their website didn’t help me or they didn’t send me a newsletter quickly or their blog’s most recent post was from two years ago because they thought it wasn’t worth their time to continue writing fresh content.

However, when I do tell him (which I will) how I found him again,  he’ll see how his social media presence helped me to reconnect.  But I’ll also tell him how he almost didn’t get me back. He didn’t understand how potentially valuable I was when we first met eight years ago. He didn’t take the time to keep in contact and stay in front of my ongoing needs which translates into money his pocket.

What do you think?


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4 comments on “How I Am Looking For A Professional Service Provider in 2011

  • Good old Linkedin, vintage 2003, so under-appreciated in the age of FB, Twitter, Foursquare, Yelp, et al. And yet, that’s where to go for B2B research.

  • Susan’s search is interesting. i would like to reverse her search so clients i am interested in can find me. But the process of using Facebook or a similar medium seems like starting up a 747 without having any idea what the controls will do. i can see that the answer to this question is within the questioner. Roger Ley, Astoria, OR

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