Contest winner shows how you can build sales and increase profits

BY ADAMS HUDSON SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR Rob Basnett, owner of Basnett Plumbing & Heating, says: "I'm sick of hearing people say, 'What if it doesn't work?' I'd rather try it and say, 'Look what we did!'" Enthusiasm for action was the main reason Basnett entered CONTRACTOR's Marketing Makeover contest, an offer extended in this magazine to every subscriber. His action paid off. After reducing the finalists

BY ADAMS HUDSON
SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR

Rob Basnett, owner of Basnett Plumbing & Heating, says: "I'm sick of hearing people say, 'What if it doesn't work?' I'd rather try it and say, 'Look what we did!'"

Enthusiasm for action was the main reason Basnett entered CONTRACTOR's Marketing Makeover contest, an offer extended in this magazine to every subscriber. His action paid off. After reducing the finalists from about 100 to 50 and down to 20, Basnett Plumbing & Heating in Littleton, Mass., was named the winner.

Everyone who entered has gotten a stack of marketing material, as promised, but Basnett and his excited staff are getting the marketing mountain. OK, it's a small hill, but that's not the real prize anyway. Not even close.

That comes when I do something to prove that he "won" more than a contest. He's going to win customers, mind share, market share, referrals, sales and the all-important customer retention.

All I can say is, "Ready or not, we're coming in."

So why does this matter?
In upcoming issues, you readers will get an over-the-shoulder view of a $300-an-hour marketing consulting gig, absolutely free. You're also going to see what worked, what didn't work and — most importantly — the results. You'll read the plan of attack bit by bit; you'll see how you and your company can copy the approach; you'll see the real costs and real results.

If Basnett does well with this, the company will get thousands of sales dollars and hundreds of new customers, all of them raving and referring fans who almost get excited when the drain stops up. (OK, that was a stretch.)

If I had better sense, I'd have chosen a zillion-dollar company with an unlimited budget. Then we could spend marketing money like crazy, and, if I only raised its revenues a measly 1%, I could brag about those dollars for eternity. I'd look like a hero. But I don't think that would help you one bit. So, back to reality with a real company that has real goals, plus some real limitations.

Basnett Plumbing & Heating is an 18-year-old company outside Boston. It has invested in management consulting and also in sales training (from Sinton Training, "Just incredible," Basnett says. See www.thetrainingcenterinc.com). It belongs to Quality Service Contractors (www.qsc-phcc.org). But the " missing link," says Maryann Swift — the highly motivated soul appointed to work with me — was marketing.

"This company has such huge potential," Swift says. "We're at about a million five in volume, which dropped slightly this year. But I keep asking Rob, 'How high is high?' since I believe this company has nowhere to go but up. And marketing is the key."

Her enthusiasm was contagious. She was ready to make changes. As we three were on the speaker phone, I could almost hear Basnett bouncing on his toes to get started.

What to do first?
The first step in the process was to determine what Basnett was already doing — what marketing pieces were in place and what might be missing. All I need (and this goes for you too) is to take the briefest snapshot of where he was.

I need to know what I'm supposed to "beat" in order to appear as if I know what I'm talking about. This will take some doing, but that's the core of the point and here's what we found.

Too much money was spent on Yellow Pages. Surprised? Didn't think so.

Great company name in the town. Well respected. Good reputation with builders. This makes my job easier, and the lesson here is image and credibility are easier to lose than to build.

It has had decent results with a new maintenance agreement program. Again, thanks to QSC's program, but Basnett needs more leads to get more sold. Duh. I came up with that one by myself.

There's no customer retention newsletter. Huge oversight here.

Basnett signed up for Welcome Wagon but never used it. We've got turnkey letters for this exact purpose that we'll put on auto-pilot for him.

The company has no regular marketing plan, and no regular timed pieces to send out or run. It was merely catching the calls that day, like many of you, hoping to keep the books filled. The occasional "random" marketing piece went out.

Now, the fun part
Please know that part of my mission is to automate and systemize the marketing. Forget the seasonal stress machine. You can get it handled once and for all, then merely monitor the program. I hope you readers can benefit by copying this approach.

Now what? This is my nine-step plan. Just looking at the above list of marketing tools or lack thereof gave me all I needed to know for right now. Here's the approach.

We wrote a Big Ticket Letter. Basnett Plumbing & Heating makes big-ticket money on bath remodels with a small list of general contractors aided by excellent word of mouth. We're planning to explode this part of the business since it's very easy for one job to pay for the entire marketing effort, plus put profit on the books and get the name out there amongst an influential base. This was brain-dead simple. We're getting a list together of the top 100 builders now.

Reduce the Yellow Pages ads. The company slashed Yellow Pages spending by 75% based on previous advice, but we missed the deadline for a new ad, darn it. No worries. We'll create a new one and tell you about the results later.

We created a Yellow Pages diverter. This is a little marketing item we created that Basnett will send to all customers and hand out to new ones to keep it out of the Yellow Pages. It works great, especially since it costs only about 8 cents. (I'm into high results for low money, in case you can't tell.)

We'll solicit testimonials. We'll begin amassing testimonials, before and after photos and more proof. Why? Rob and Maryann told me the company's word of mouth was strong, so I'm just building on that with more mouths spreading the word. We will use these in many ways.

We'll create a Welcome Wagon push. We already have letters in our PowerPack for welcoming "new to them" homeowners. Ours takes a different approach, and we expect this to open doors for Basnett.

We're creating Top of Mind Awareness ads that will run in the local newspaper regularly. We have clients who get four to five leads a week off these, so Rob will run these little ads throughout his area.

We're redoing his Website. He has a Website but it had cobwebs on it. Not good. We handed him a 150-plus page site the first day, and Maryann is putting the finishing touches on it now. We're doing what we call a drip-marketing program, a regular, metered mailing to selected areas. Some of the messages will be for direct-response leads, others for image. We're going to mix it up. Now, once we get all these customers, then what?

We put a newsletter program in place. No customer retention program in a competitive area? Are you kidding? Let's share the love and remind them, regularly, with a twice-annual newsletter. Done. (We have these ready to go, awaiting customization.)

OK, that's a start. Does that look like a lot? Not at all, especially when you consider the options that follow.

What we're not doing
Given the simple fact that marketing brings you all your incoming leads, resulting referrals, image, credibility, recognition and proactive retention, doing this little bit of work is a lot simpler and cheaper than just hoping and waiting for the phone to ring.

We also have no intention of copying the competition. Part of our attack is to gain much-needed marketing differentiation in order to gain leads, recognition and recall.

Likewise, we don't plan to resort to silly price-slashing discounts to get the phone to ring. Quite the contrary, we'll probably raise prices. How can we justify such craziness? More leads equal greater selectivity and more of a competitive vacuum since we're not slaves to the weather or the Yellow Pages.

How much does this cost?
Let me ask you this: What does it cost you to run a poor ad? At the wrong time? Do you really save money by not having a customer retention program?

Those are loaded questions, but I'm going to stay within Basnett's budget, which is about 4%-5% of sales. If he wants to get more aggressive after the results come in, that's up to him. We'll start slow, get some sales in, then go from there. In other words, he likely won't spend an additional dime.

So, how do we figure how to apportion his current budget? I know people who've thought about getting this down on paper for years, yet Basnett finished in less than 30 minutes.

He took our " Marketing Profile Analysis," which is all of 10 questions, which gave him the dollars per media, per message type and he was done.

"It's a lot easier when you have a coach and a playbook!" Basnett says.

I agree wholeheartedly. The playbook is written and the moves are in place. I can't wait to share the results with you next month!

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for in-home service contractors. In this series, he'll show a case study of marketing from the inside out. You can request a free 12-page copy of "Get More Leads in Less Time — Turn Your 'Broken' Marketing into Super-Profitable Marketing" by faxing your letterhead with the request to 334/ 262- 1115, e-mail to freestuff@ hudsonink.com, call 800/489-9099 or visit www.hudsonink.com