Plumbing marketing tips from my accountant

OVERLY ORGANIZED, rigidly restrained accountant leaned over the lunch table as he spoke. "I don't know how to tell you this, but the plumbing at our office building is driving me nuts." He had my attention. Derk is no ordinary accountant. He had just completed a four-story office building for a 60-person billing practice he started "on the side" about seven years ago. I've never seen a person juggle

OVERLY ORGANIZED, rigidly restrained accountant leaned over the lunch table as he spoke. "I don't know how to tell you this, but the plumbing at our office building is driving me nuts."

He had my attention. Derk is no ordinary accountant. He had just completed a four-story office building for a 60-person billing practice he started "on the side" about seven years ago. I've never seen a person juggle more projects without breaking a sweat. Makes me feel like an underachieving avocado.

He has so many multiple demands that once he finds a supplier he likes, that's it. Shopping's over. Why? It's the old "time vs. money" choice that pervades our world.

For Derk's five various properties ( including two houses) he has a favorite single HVAC contractor, electrician, plumber, and I'm sure a favorite pet groomer, car detailer and whatever else disciplined people who can actually locate tools in their tool drawers have.

I'm anxious to hear how his faithful plumber was now on the verge of flushing himself down the drain ...

"My new tenants took a long time to convince about the property. They were finally relaxed about having moved in, and everything was just right. Yet about a week later, the tenants notice some white, chunky stuff coming out of the pipes. Not good." He leaned so far forward, I thought he'd drag his tie in his soup, "And my plumber is acting like 'no big deal' while I'm about to lose a tenant because of it."

An even scarier thought. He has a Plumbing Maintenance Agreement with the plumber. And with his HVAC guys and with anyone who'll offer him one. He believes in preventive maintenance (time vs. money again) and is fiercely loyal to those deserving.

He called the plumber Tuesday before work, left a message. Then on Wednesday, when the tenant reminded him that cottage cheese coming out of the pipes is "not normal." Late that day, he gave a "reminder" call to his Plumbing Company, whose receptionist said, and I quote: "We've been really busy, and we're trying to do all we can. I'll pass the message along, but we're swamped."

Repetition, recognition and risk reversal equal results.

Please become the customer for a moment. Go back and count the number of personal pronouns in her response. For the record, there are five — and exactly zero references to you.

Within a few seconds of hearing this, his mind raced — not toward harm, bitterness or resentment — but toward a solution to his tenant's now urgent problem for which his "former" solution had proved useless. He had but one thought, one line, one arrow from his left-brain shot toward the target of results: "Who can I call?" it asked.

His creative right-brain answered: "The people who always advertise." And with that, his cell phone whipped out, the call was made, appointment set, satisfaction assured within a three-hour window, tenant placated, fingers crossed.

As I heard him relate this story to me, I asked, "Why did you choose them?"

"The main thing is I keep seeing their ads, but their guarantee is what did it."

Bingo. Repetition, recognition and risk reversal equal results. I won't give you my sermon on that again.

Later that afternoon, Derk happily wrote an $880 check to Company B with whom he's had no former relationship, yet is assured of a future one. An hour later, he got a call from the owner of Company A, who was only now getting the messages. Too late. Too bad.

The lessons here are twofold. If you claim your Maintenance Agreement customers get priority, that message must be painfully clear to your CSR.

The second lesson is more pointed: If you're not on a prospect's mind when his need arises, you're not getting the call. You must be present in his mind to win or you, in fact, lose.

Here are five quick ways to get more calls for less money than you think:

  1. Signage and visibility. This means trucks, vans, yard, favorite retail establishments for whom you trade work, team sponsorship, coupons inside paycheck vouchers for area employers, paying half for the other side of a newspaper insert, card-deck (Val-Pack), Welcome Wagon packets and about 50 other things I don't have room for that only cost you pennies per impression.
  2. Publicity. News releases every month, "gifting" of services to public causes, contests and giveaways, offering expert interviews to media about copper theft, irrigation, drainage, anything newsworthy, sending your newsletter to every media contact in your city. Also enter contests from your local business community. Crazy that more don't jump up and get noticed by thousands for virtually no cost. Got some energy? Offer yourself as "The 5-minute Home Answer Guy" on radio or TV. I've got clients in various cities doing this now, to the tune of six figures of media exposure ... for nothing.
  3. Top of Mind Awareness ads in your newspaper. Call the paper now, ask about the program, get started. Create your own ads or use ours and let this be another "mindless" program running automatically. Quit recreating the stress wheel every month. These ads pepper through the newspaper, also in the services section, and get noticed.
  4. Postcards to your customer base. One every three weeks all summer, that's four friendly reminders over 90 days so your customers won't forget you. Watch your business soar, retention burst through, referrals climb off the charts. This happens to almost all who follow this step. So simple, so effective, so underused. Can't do that? At least send one.
  5. Summer radio blitzes. You want to get serious? Do all the above and invest in "volume blitzes" in your local radio media all summer. We have ads just for this. People spend way more time in their cars during summer and the "repetitious" message becomes part of their hierarchy of recall. You will get calls from this whether they remember the source or not. Hint: Verbalize a strong guarantee in each one.

OK, we've hardly spent money yet and you're virtually guaranteed to out-attract all your competitors. You can own your market and a big mind share of every person in it. But you've got to be there to get there, if you know what I mean. Just ask Derk's former plumber, he'll tell you.

Have fun with your marketing. It pays you back very well.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson Ink, a contractor marketing firm. Visit www.hudsonink.com to see free articles and creative marketing solutions or call 800/489-9099. CONTRACTOR readers can request a free copy of "Top 21 Contractor Media Choices" by faxing your letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115, or e-mailing to [email protected].

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