A few years back we took a look at the two largest construction lead services serving the commercial construction market: Dodge Data & Analytics and ConstructConnect. Since then, the companies have undergone ownership changes, wrapped their lead generation services in a wide variety of additional services, and purchased other vendors to round out their platforms.
Stating it most simply, the biggest change in both Dodge and ConstructConnect has been on the software side. They were always database-oriented services, so the database interface was always a huge part of the service. A lot of their success depended on how robust the search of the database could be. How many ways could a building product manufacture slice and dice the information? How granular could you get?
Now, though, the companies have fully integrated the lead generation software with other products supply chain participants would want during the preconstruction process, such as estimating and takeoff software, customer relationship management software, and bid management software. Much of that serves the general contractor or trade contractor but a lot of the new integration is helpful to the building product manufacturer as well.
When we did this comparison a few years ago, we were surprised that there were very few reviews of the services. In these days, when the internet seems to be driven by reviews, it’s no surprise that customers have started weighing in on their experiences with the companies. Of course, both companies have their own testimonials, but if you want to see aggregated customer reviews, you can go to www.reputada.com and www.featuredcustomers.com. Don’t be surprised to find the information behind a pay wall.
As mentioned above, the ownership of these companies has changed. Dodge used to be part of the McGraw-Hill Construction division, but when McGraw-Hill divested that division, it was split up with the media side—Engineering News-Record (ENR) and Architectural Record—going to BNP Media and the data side rebranding as Dodge Data & Analytics.
ConstructConnect was formed by a merger of CMD Group with iSqFt, BidClerk, and Construction Data. iSqFt was seen as a fast-rising lead service that could rival Dodge and CMD, but with the merger, the two joined forces to compete against Dodge.
How Construction Lead Services Work
Both Dodge and ConstructConnect pull much of their data from public sources. By law, public projects and many private projects must be advertised. With that information, the services can identify architects, building owners, municipalities, engineering firms, planners and other groups that are planning or putting out to bid commercial projects. The quality of the data is entirely dependent on the relationship with those people preparing the work. Both Dodge and ConstructConnect offer incentives to their providers to make it worth their effort to report the data, such as giving them free access to the database. Dodge has a long-term relationship with Associated General Contractors (AGC), which enhances its reporting. ConstructConnect has a partnership with the American Institute of Architects (AIA).
In a perfect world, all of the information about a project or plan for a project would be sent into these companies. But to flesh out the information, both companies provide considerable incentives for architects and contractors to submit project information for upcoming projects. The companies also gather this information by employing phone banks of researchers who call their sources to get updates on projects, secure plans, and identify new projects coming down the pipeline. All that data, combined with plans, goes into a massive database, which is organized by project. The database is highly searchable and deep with information. Here are some of the kinds of data that is included in these projects.
- Planning stage, such as proposed, architect selection, schematics, bid stage, etc.
- Category, such as commercial, industrial, etc. Both of those will have subcategories. For commercial it may include medical offices, retail, parking garages, etc.
- Type of work, such as new construction or addition
- Contract type
- Company information for planners, general contractors, major trades, etc.
- Materials specified including company names and models if appropriate
- Value of the project and often value of major subcontracts
As mentioned above, the biggest changes for both companies are how they are repurposing the databases they spend so much money building. They’re investing in additional services that enhance the user experience and give building product manufacturers more ways to integrate the data they collect into marketing plans, sales initiatives and strategic plans.
Leads used to be coordinated in a simple manner:
- Both Dodge and ConstructConnect will link the leads they provide with a proprietary customer relationship management (CRM) software for an individual company
- Deliver the leads to a lead manager
- Distribute leads directly to sales people
In the last few years, though, both services have focused on wrapping more services around that databases, making the interface mobile friendly through phone or tablet, and making it simpler to integrate the with existing enterprise or marketing software. After years of responding to new technology slowly, it seems competition from services such as iSqFt, motivated both Dodge and ConstructConnect to move more quickly and developing programs and products that work better for the contractor, trade contractor, supplier, and building product manufacturer.
Lead Service Differentiation
The difference in the quality of the databases between Dodge and ConstructConnect is nearly impossible to determine from an outside perspective. Both companies claim differentiation, but the only way to truly evaluate them would be to sign up for both services and do a side-by-side comparison.
In talking to people in the industry, the selection of one company over the other is more brand oriented than service oriented, and legacy has a huge, out-sized influence. In other words, if your company has always used Dodge, more than likely it will continue to use Dodge unless something catastrophic happens. There are very few conversions in these services.
New companies or companies that haven’t used these services, though, would be well advised to do trial runs of both services to see how they fit their particular niche. One service may be better for building envelope products while the other have a stronger electrical product information or alternative energy base. Unless your company offers a broad array of building products, or is closer to a commodity-type product—such as light-gauge steel framing or fasteners (with apologies to those manufacturers)—it is nearly impossible to determine how the service will work for you comparatively.
Pricing packages are readily available from both companies. The most difficult issue in comparing them in this light is that they package the pricing differently so comparisons can’t be made easily.
Final Word About Lead Services
If this review sounds a little cynical about the differentiation of the two companies, that’s because it is. The quality of the data is so similar that they only real differentiation is the services wrapped around the data. For manufacturers looking to increase their leads in this tough economy, Dodge and ConstructConnect provide great services. Selecting between them is difficult. From the outside, their services are more similar than dissimilar and border on being commodities. When you differentiate yourself on the quality of your reports and the level of your service, which is easily duplicated by a well-funded competitor, you find yourself battling for inches rather than acreage. That’s one of the reasons iSqFt became such a quick competitor.
On the inside, the user experience will be different for each company. Those firms that have signed on to one service, without testing the other, are doing themselves a disservice. The other might be better suited to your needs, but you won’t know until you try it. And that’s the problem. Would you really want to switch lead generating services (or add a duplicate service) at a time when you’re desperately trying to control costs?
About the Author
Paul Deffenbaugh is Editorial Director of Modern Trade Communications, publisher of Metal Construction News, and Metal Architecture magazines. His illustrious career includes Editorial Director at Reed Construction Media that included Professional Builder, Professional Remodeler, Customer Builder, and more. In addition, he was Editor-In-Chief of Remodeling magazine at Hanley-Wood. Paul is a founding board member of the Construction Marketing Association. He earned a BA, Philosophy from Wabash College, and an MFA, Writing from George Mason University. Please connect with Paul on LinkedIn.