What's your most important marketing tool?

With some customers, perhaps your answer is, "A hammer." For the uninitiated-tech, it might be, "Showing up." From me you're expecting, "One of the marketing programs you keep bragging about." No, no, no (even though I pretty much agree with the last one). It's far simpler: It's the telephone. Still the No. 1 source of incoming leads, place to set an appointment, means of personal contact and place

With some customers, perhaps your answer is, "A hammer." For the uninitiated-tech, it might be, "Showing up." From me you're expecting, "One of the marketing programs you keep bragging about." No, no, no (even though I pretty much agree with the last one). It's far simpler:

It's the telephone. Still the No. 1 source of incoming leads, place to set an appointment, means of personal contact and place to plant the upsell seeds, calm a customer, field a question and caress a referral. And as you might guess, the No. 1 place to lose that customer you paid so dearly to get.

How much is your telephone a part of your marketing mix? While some might question the idea of telephones as media, the wise contractor sees this differently. Bear with me ...

The Yellow Pages rep, Website dude, radio ad chick, newspaper rep and TV guy will all tell you that "their" media is part of a mix and — in their estimation — "vitally important."

"OK," you ask, "why?"

In some fashion, they're going to have to admit that it's so you can get more appointments (because it's awfully darn hard to sell without one). And since media is defined as "the method and means by which a message is transmitted from one source to another," it puts the lowly phone in a new light. Yet most people misuse this incredible tool taking it for granted. A couple reasons not to do that ...

Have you ever been mistreated on the phone? If so, did you ever call back? Have you ever had an experience where your opinion of the entire company dropped after you called and spent 30 seconds with a nincompoop? Ever gotten so infuriated over the phone that you cancelled an order?

Almost every one of us can answer "yes" to the above. Think about it. All 50,000 subscribers, and you'd be hard pressed to find one person who has not had those experiences. When any of these happened, did you tell someone else about it? If so, the problem just multiplied as did the lost sales and skyrocketing "silent" costs of doing it poorly.

Two words customers hear too rarely: 'Thank you.'

All this, generally resulting from your spending your marketing money to get them to call in the first place. And yet, what do we do? We think, "Thanks for calling ABC Contracting, please hold," is just dandy. It's not.

Inbound calls
Inbound calls are when your customers or prospects call you. Too often contractors fail to turn these contacts into selling opportunities, or they even un-sell in a myriad of ways.

Remember that there are two sales in every sales call. One happens at the house, but that one will never happen without the first one — getting the appointment.

It starts with the greeting. My advice is to "smile through the phone," up to and including a mirror at the desk of the trafficker to help them out! No one likes an unhappy greeter.

I do not like the overly wordy, forced greetings running more than 14 words (not including company name). If you call yourself "Customer Service," it's better to end the greeting with a question. All greetings should be the same company-wide. Every time.

To keep the call focused, script responses to commonly asked questions and make sure that phone traffickers know the answers and what services or products you have that can solve the customers' problems.

Why do I prefer scripts? To give your call traffickers guidance points. They need to know the "direction" a call should take, although they won't read them verbatim. This has been repeatedly proven as vastly superior to "winging it." Do not confuse all scripts with that robot who called to sell you a phone plan. Not the same thing.

Outbound calls
As a marketing professional, I don't mind the phrase "telemarketing," but it bothers many of your customers and you contractors. Make a two-word change right now. It's not " telemarketing," it's "customer service." And you'd better believe it is too.

Calling customers is a personal resource for giving and gaining information while building your relationship. These calls are extremely targeted. You'll be calling high-level prospects in a defined area with a high probability of closing the sale. They fit in three main categories:

  1. Advance notice call. This call in a well-worded phone script — made right after a service mailer — jumps response rates by 2.8 times. It is made between the first mailing and first wave of appointments so the appointments are all in the same area, cutting travel time, increasing van sightings and yard sign penetration. Make sense?
  2. Reminder call. Sick of missed appointments or your tech pulling up on time just as the customer is pulling out? Not good. A reminder call is a great service and sets you apart. This takes just 30 seconds, but how long does it take to reschedule a missed call? Take your pick.
  3. Follow-up call. Two words customers hear too rarely: "Thank you." Calling behind larger ticket jobs to make sure everything's OK is easy enough and makes you different and remembered. Use the phone to follow up on non-closed presentations and home show leads and for "happy calls" after service or installs.

Here's a clever twist. Some contractors say they don't have time for any of these calls. We've just gotten a service that'll make all the calls for you, in your voice, at the push of a button. Called "voice broadcast," your sweetest, most natural message can be sent to five or 500 phone numbers instantly. (We can send you some info on this for free. Just see the end of this column.)

Just like for inbound calls, you want to use a script, while avoiding sounding like it! We had a top contracting phone professional write about 20 scripts for us, so I'd recommend keeping an inventory of scripts on hand.

Lastly, be particularly aware of the federal "Do Not Call" registry, making certain to only call your "active" customers and obtaining permission to re-call them. For inbound or outbound calls, learn how to "move" the conversation, like this ...

Develop probing questions. Probing questions get your conversation started and are often called " open-ended," such as for a follow-up call, "If you could give one suggestion on improving service, what would it be?"

These questions open doors to conversation. Close-ended questions, with their yes or no answers, shut off most further discussion. Question: "Is there anything else we can do for you?" Answer: "No." That kind of ends it right there. Use accordingly.

Prepare the bridge. As you get the conversation started, remember the point is not to keep them on the phone, but to get them to the close. That's often done with conversational "bridges."

Create a picture of what they're going to get through benefits statements. Mention the convenience and savings such as, "The tech can also show you how a maintenance agreement can eliminate emergency calls and expensive repairs."

Make instantly valuable comparisons, "Did you know a $40 washing machine hose could cause thousands in damage to your floors?" Fast, clear, concise and decision-worthy.

Plan to handle objections. Objections are a part of any marketing or sales program. Get your top five objections and script the answers. When you hear an objection, listen, then clarify your understanding of it. (This alone, according to our expert, reduces frustration by nearly half.) Offer the answer, then ask, "Does that help?" and begin stressing a different benefit and move to the close again.

Your phone is still your main lifeline to appointments. It's too important to leave its effectiveness up to chance or the mood of the call trafficker.

Tell them, "Every phone call coming in or going out contains a portion of your paycheck, so please treat it that way."

It is 100% true, and thus worth taking steps to ensure that this valuable pipeline stays full of happy, referring, appointment-setting fans.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Since phone techniques are so important, CONTRACTOR readers can get a bonus report called "7 Phone Habits that Drive Your Customers Crazy." In it, you'll read methods and script suggestions to help you land more appointments, sales and referrals. Send a polite request on your letterhead to 334/262-1115 or call 800/489-9099. Also visit www.hudsonink.com.

TAGS: Marketing