MANY TIMES IN discussions about the sales and marketing cycle, I'll laser in on a particular feature — like direct response to generate leads, effective presentations to close sales or retention marketing to keep the customers you've got.
Every one of those elements is important, plus many others are too. They work as a team, not as solo acts, to form a never-ending cycle that keeps your company growing strong.
As you'll see in the "Marketing Makeover" series we're doing in CONTRACTOR (see pg. 47 of this issue), each marketing element plays a part. To overlook any one of those, or focus on one at the expense of another, is to create a lopsided marketing strategy that can topple your financial health. Case in point ...
I have a client in Illinois who runs almost 100% direct-response ads. He does well and even though he pays us $2,200 per page to create these ads, he has a problem. He has very poor customer retention. That has been an awkward conversation for us over the last two years. Things have now worsened. His "cost per sale" in marketing has gone up, and credibility has gone down along with customer loyalty. All largely attributable to this single-minded, unending lead quest.
So seek balance in your efforts. As you seek to develop each area, also recognize how all the pieces of the puzzle work together. Marketing brings leads, image, recognition and retention.
Yet too many contractors just "assume" that leads will come when they come. Or they feel that a Yellow Pages ad or a sporadic attempt at name recognition will make the phone ring. Hardly.
If you're comfortable waiting for your market to find out about you on its own, then I hope you'll also be comfortable waiting in the unemployment office. That's not a gentle way to say that, but I know of many businesses that blame the economy, the competition, the weather, the market and the government for going under. In reality, they inadvertently kept their business a secret from buyers. They never marketed much, which resulted in them not getting much. It's hard to fish if your line's not in the water.
Marketing attracts customers through promotions and advertising. With effective marketing, a message is crafted to tell your market all the good reasons why customers should call you. It's then spread among different and appropriate media at the right time, and in the right market.
Who are you trying to reach? Who are you trying to serve?
Hint: The answer is not "everyone." The goal should be to define your target market so you place the most emphasis on these prospects:
- Those who will buy the largest quantity of your products and services;
- Those who will use products and services with the highest margins;
- Those with the most "unrecognized" potential;
- Those in the least competitive environment; and
- Those with the greatest probability for upsells, referrals and/or long-term loyalty.
Any one of these five can be pure gold, yet the more the better. Smart business people focus on these for lucrative growth by delivering laser-like "strikes" on particular markets. This is exactly what we're doing in the Marketing Makeover. Plus, you'll have fast sales, and lots of them, when ...
Leads lead to closes.
No question, your sales are the truest reflection of your company's health. It is the surest measure of your ability to get your message heard, understood and acted upon in your market.
Selling is generally what happens between the phone call and the signing of the work order. It includes the presentation that supports the marketing message, plus personal communication, persuasion and conveyance of trust to consummate the deal.
Further, selling offers the customer what you are willing to offer. Now get ready for a big sentence: If you aren't willing to increase the value, increase your service, upgrade your professionalism, modify your message, "package" your benefits, increase your guarantees and systemize your follow-up, then your company's management or marketing personnel must have decided that they do not want the corresponding increase in sales.
Here's the corollary: If what you do is basically the same as your competitors, how — except by pure luck — do you expect to outsell them? Is it your wit and charm? Your good looks?
By offering a superior and immediately recognizable advantage that your competition doesn't offer, you turn prospects into customers. And that means sales. And that means cash flow. And then ...
Retention keeps customers.
While sales are very important, it's also important not to always push a sales message to customers. No one likes the friend who only calls when he needs something. Bring balance to your communication by also using messages that build relationships.
The reason you want a relationship with customers is because that's what keeps them thinking of you as their contractor and keeps them on the phone to you when a need arises. But building a relationship can't be accomplished by nagging for sales from a group that may quickly grow tired of hearing from you.
Instead, make a purposeful effort to keep in touch with your customer base in other ways. Contact them with inexpensive follow-ups after the sale. Is a Thank-You note really that hard?
Let them hear from you at other times of the year too with newsletters featuring helpful home tips, or holiday cards wishing them a happy season, as well as "customer-only" notices of special sales. Half of winning more sales from this group is reminding them that you're available. Sadly, most contractors overlook this, assuming customers will always call them again. Not true by a long shot.
Remember, these are your customers. Your goal with retention marketing is to make sure they remember that you are their contractor because ...
Customers bring more customers.
Satisfied customers make up your strongest sales force. Product or service claims from them have instant credibility in the eyes of a prospect.
When the customer trusts you, he begins to believe all the things you say and doesn't worry about whether you will fulfill your promises. Your customer knows that a trustworthy contractor always fulfills promises. With their trust in you, your customers will be reluctant to try an "unknown" plumbing contractor.
As their trust in you grows, so does their confidence in you. They know what you can and can't do. This confidence factor is important for two reasons: They will call you because they trust you, and they can extend the trust they place in you to include their friends and family members.
Think about it. Would you tell a neighbor to go to a restaurant where you had a bad meal? Would you tell a friend to go to a store that treated you poorly? Once you've earned that customer, you've earned the right to contact him in hopes of keeping that relationship going and asking for a referral.
People look out for their friends and family. Never doubt that. When they refer their friends and family to you, don't think that they're selling their friends' names for a discount. They are looking out for them.
So, you see, referrals are a good thing for you, for your customer and for the new prospect. Everybody benefits when you get referrals.
Remember, if you constantly bring value to your customers and create relationships where they like and trust you, objections will be rare. People will want to help you.
If they don't like or trust you enough, however, they probably won't tell you so. There's nothing you can do on the spot except to back off as they continue to resist. Then keep working hard to gain their trust.
And keep the cycle continuing again and again.
Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Call 800/489-9099 to request a sample spring newsletter for your customers. Visit www.hudsonink.com for free marketing articles and reports including the 12-page report "Get More Leads in Less Time." To receive a free marketing newsletter, fax the request on your letterhead to 334/262-1115.