Options for Finding Commercial Bidders & Buyers
Almost every month, an auctioneer asks me to target their auction’s advertising to the owners of a specific kind of business. Last week, a client tasked me with finding owners of dealerships that sold used farm equipment but not new farm equipment. In the past, my customers have requested people who own wineries, bed & breakfasts, golf courses, warehouses, or medical research facilities.
I get asked for these lists, but I don’t oblige. More accurately: I can’t oblige. I buy dozens of lists every year for clients, but I’ve never purchased a business owners list across my two decades as a virtual marketing assistant.
When any of us purchases a list of businesses from a list broker, the best we can do is procure the highest-known employee from public records at companies that register under specific SIC codes. So, first, that kind of company has to have its own SIC code to target it. Second, that employee may or may not be the owner, and that employee may or may not be the decision maker for purchasing new equipment or new real estate. Also, that employee may or may not be the one who sorts through the mail, depending on the size of the business.
Another option would be to buy a membership list, where available, from one of the target industry’s trade associations. But again, these folks may or may not be the business owners or the people who open the mail.
For many auctioneers, these next-best options are close enough. For personal property and equipment campaigns, we can upload a purchased list to Facebook and have them anonymously replicate the people on that list that Facebook can match to its users. Up until August of 2022, we could do that for real estate, too. As part of its compliance with HUD anti-discrimination, Facebook no longer allows us to use lookalike audiences for real estate. We can still use purchased lists, but now we have to buy much bigger lists which turn out not to be anywhere near as efficient as lookalike audiences.
It is possible to buy a list of commercial real estate owners in a zip code or in a radius from an address, but that list would include all business types. You can also mail to all business addresses in a mail route using the USPS’ Every Door Direct Mail (EEDM) program, which doesn’t require the purchase of a list. Again, though, that mailing can’t be sorted by business type or SIC code; and you must mail to all business addresses on the postal route to mail to any business on that route.
So, if we’re trying to reach end users in similar businesses, what can we do?
First, I would ask if you need to reach business owners. Are they actually your most likely buyer(s)? Just because someone owns one golf course or rural airport doesn’t mean they’d be interested in buying another. They might own a crane company, but they might prefer to buy only new cranes or late-model cranes from a place with a service department. You get the idea.
Facebook allows us to target personal property and equipment ads to people in specific industries, in certain occupations, and with any of a number of executive titles. They even have audience categories for small business owners, founders, and similar designations. My clients and I have found that a surprising amount of business liquidation assets and other commercial equipment goes to the scavenger/reseller community, which is very inexpensive to reach on Facebook. In fact, that audience typically outperforms ads targeting professionals in targeted end-user categories.
For real estate, we all know that most properties—even many special-use properties—are bought by local investors. It’s easy and cheap to saturate a local area on Facebook. Even under Facebook’s months-old real estate restrictions, I’ve found that general public ads for real estate even work well out of state. Surprisingly well, actually.
You can create a lot of buzz with huge signs, press releases, and even neighborhood mailings. For special-use real estate, press releases to applicable trade associations can put blood in the water. (My client’s auction of seventeen gas stations made the news page of a national convenience store association within 24 hours of their press release submission.) You’ll have a better chance of publication if you write the headline and other copy about the assets, the uniqueness of the situation, and/or the distress behind the sale instead of about the auction.
While you’re searching online for such potential associations, Google companies in that field to find mailing addresses, phone numbers, and even emails of people for direct correspondence. You can also search for commercial connections on LinkedIn—where you can still create real estate ads from purchased lists and lookalikes of the people on those lists. Just know that you need much longer campaigns on LinkedIn to get exposure similar to what you can create with Facebook, direct mail, email, etc.—because people visit the site & app far less frequently than other social media and definitely their physical & electronic mailboxes.
This isn’t a popular piece of advice, but I also recommend taking auctions only in your wheelhouse and referring the specialty items to the auctioneers who’ve built followings in those niche spaces. A joint venture with a specialist inside or outside the auction industry would be another option. Above all, I highly suggest that you explore what marketing options are available on any new asset type or buyer base before you sign that sales contract. What you don’t want to do is promise the seller a solution or an audience that isn’t available for you to deliver.
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