As a start-up consultant I often find myself putting in a little extra effort when it comes to getting the ball rolling. Why, you ask? It's simple, start-ups only succeed when everyone gives 110% and sometimes even that isn't enough.
Anyway, let me tell you of a rather enlightening experience I recently had when helping a new company with their grass-roots marketing campaign. First we sat the team down and explained how we were going to do some cold-calling; phone, person-to-person meetings. Really getting out there and going for it, leaving no stone unturned.
The startup company I am helping with is a B2B company, so we started gathering lists of businesses of certain types. We went to the local chambers of commerce and grabbed their printed directories, we used the old phone books, and googled the crap out of all possible categories within our target market. We went to online directory websites 300 Google pages deep, and since we were after easy low-hanging fruit, we even went to Google maps to find home-based businesses in our specified target business categories.
What we found was quite alarming, although not all too surprising in hindsight.
When it came to the websites listed on Google which were more or less directory type websites, it became obvious that the information was next to worthless - even those on the first few pages of a search. Most all phone numbers were disconnected, out of service, or now belonged to someone else who had no idea what on Earth we were talking about and never heard of the company we asked for - I am talking nearly 75%.
When we went to the actual addresses of businesses listed on Google Maps in various cities we found apartment buildings with new tenants, we found unoccupied homes for sale, and we found some addresses to not even exist. When we did find someone, they often said they didn't do that anymore, or a renter they had did, but moved. Sometimes it was a former spouse, now divorced who had moved out.
How were the local Chamber of Commerce printed directories? Well, a little better actually, but not anything close to reliable, at least a quarter of the companies no longer existed and remember this is within one-year, as the directories are generally printed annually at Chambers of Commerce. How was the phone book? Well, the phone books were about the same, only a little worse than the Chambers' publications - and I guess that makes sense? What a waste of money for those companies that advertised?
Moral of the Story?
You cannot trust the data online, you cannot trust the printed data, and you sure as hell can't trust online directory websites which are produced for the best SEO results, but never monitored, pruned or updated.
So what's my advice? Don't waste your time running around, mailing out brochures, or paying a team of sales people to knock on doors unless you know for a fact that your information is updated and accurate. I advise to buy lists; contact names, email addresses, phone numbers from competent data vendors who are constantly updating their lists. My advice to Google is simple, 'get your shet together Google' and stop promoting bogus websites to first few pages. To all of you startups doing business out there - think on this.