Stay the marketing course

BY ADAMS HUDSON SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR Third in a series As we enter this next marketing phase, one thing should become abundantly clear: None of this stuff happens overnight. I want everything to happen yesterday if not sooner (yes, I'm working on it). The Basnett Plumbing & Heating staff, with Office Manager Maryann Swift as lead, has put many of the marketing pieces in place. Some results are definitely

BY ADAMS HUDSON
SPECIAL TO CONTRACTOR
Third in a series

As we enter this next marketing phase, one thing should become abundantly clear: None of this stuff happens overnight.

I want everything to happen yesterday if not sooner (yes, I'm working on it). The Basnett Plumbing & Heating staff, with Office Manager Maryann Swift as lead, has put many of the marketing pieces in place. Some results are definitely in, but several of the pieces are just now hitting, so we need to wait on those "other" people (also known as homeowners) to respond.

Interestingly, the things that contractors put off are the ones that happen the fastest. One of those is a marketing plan, whose sole purpose is to lighten your load, not burden it. Plus done correctly, it becomes the engine to bring you the leads, image, recognition and retention you desire.

Yet nearly 77% of contractors dread creating a marketing plan so badly that they never put one in place. (And yet you plan your jobs, truck inventory, billing, paying and a host of other tasks that — unless I'm wrong — don't bring you a single extra lead.)

The short and simple plan for Basnett was enough to get it off the ground but not overwhelm the staff with a long "to do" list (see February, pg. 19). I think it's the state of over-whelm that stifles many contractors in marketing. So, let's just look at a few "action items" that you can cross off your list pretty quickly, just like Maryann Swift and contractor Rob Basnett were able to do.

1. Cutting the Yellow Pages budget took no time. We redesigned a dis-play ad for the company as part of its drastic cost reduction here. (Overspending in the Yellow Pages is rampant, averaging about 65% of the total budget for plumbers. I like cutting that number to about half.)

So we went to line listings in the minor books, which hasn't caused the "out of business" sale the Yellow Pages predicted. Quite the contrary: Sales last month exceeded the entire yearly ad cost.

In fact, Maryann says: "I used to be embarrassed to look at what we paid for Yellow Pages vs. what we got back in sales. It was ridiculous. This new ad has dropped our cost per lead and brought us some hefty sales. I still can't believe it."

She should believe it because she took action to make it happen. Any of you reading this can do likewise: Look at your cost per lead and be willing to either drop the expense, increase the lead count with a more powerful ad or do both.

2. Getting Basnett's newsletter program up and running was nearly instant also. Many contractors put this one off, sometimes for years. All while they're pondering the merits of customer retention, customers migrate away at an average of 9% per year, mostly because they didn't hear from you.

Maryann took a look at the sample we sent and basically just told us how many to print. This'll be done twice per year until she tells us to stop. Her newsletter program took a few phone calls to get underway.

3. Basnett's TOMA (top of mind awareness) program is centered on small, 2-column-by-1-in. ads (shown last month). They're running in a few smaller newspapers for the next 22 weeks at a total cost of $2,000. So for less than $100 a week, Basnett is pounding its name into its market's mind, allowing customers to be more receptive to the other marketing messages. In time, no one in this market should be able to say they've "never heard" of Basnett's.

Maryann appreciates the "done for her" aspect of this too.

"The little TOMA program has been so cool," she notes. "We just called the newspaper and — boom! — it's done. The calls and exposure have been fantastic."

4. What we're calling the "$20 PostCard" allows that discount on service calls made before a deadline. We plan to play off the TOMA exposure by sending out the card. We like the look of the card, but it wasn't at all what Basnett was expecting.

Maryann says when she first saw the postcard, she thought, "Now this is different!" But since it has hit, the response has been WAY different too.

"The first two days it hit, we got several calls and there are no signs of it slowing up!" she says.

The results are too early to count, but we'll give a full report next month.

5. Basnett has wisely adopted a maintenance agreement program in its business (through Quality Service Contractors www.qsc-phcc.org), which was a large but lucrative effort. We slightly tweaked the sales letter, which has now grossed $15,880 in sales to a mailing list of just 2,000.

This is a genius move on the company's part on many levels, since it "locks in" customers and creates continuity income. Regular visits, more referrals, less migration, more sales opportunities ... how do you argue with all that? Oh, and did I mention that it paid well too?

But there has been one little vein of unmined gold that came as a bit of a surprise.

6. $15,000 in sales from $150 spent? Even with the high energy level at Basnett, the Welcome Wagon program had been completely dormant. The company had signed on for this service and paid the fees every month, but no marketing had been done to the list. Why? OK, all together now, "No time!" So it got pushed to the backburner and, of course, zero results.

This isn't a bad reflection on Rob and Maryann; they have a business to run, and Rob loves an opportunity. It's just that this one sorta sat around.

We created a custom Welcome Wagon letter for Basnett (meaning it wasn't part of the "Plumbing PowerPack" marketing program) that it's to send out each month. The letters have now mailed twice, in quantities of 175 and 120, with mailing costs of about $150.

So far, they've generated $15,000 of estimates spread over four jobs. Maryann was understandably surprised.

"Our previous Welcome Wagon efforts were so low we were going to kill the program," she says. "Now the response has paid for this program for years."

And she feels "very good" about the company's ability to get these jobs with its "value added" services the competition can't match plus some highly praised sales training from QSC Industry Partner Bob Sinton (www.thetrainingcenterinc.com)

A good direct-response letter
In fact, we've found most people seriously undervalue lists that are available to them. Whether it's Welcome Wagon, old customers, new customers, radius mailings, age or income selects, it doesn't matter. They either don't use them or they just "send anything they've got" and hope for the best. We find that to be as poor a method as firing a shotgun in the air hoping a duck will fall.

I can always tell someone has made this scattershot attempt when he says things like, "I tried a water heater replacement offer to every new home in town and it didn't work."

Bad news: It's rarely the media; it's the message. More importantly, as my marketing coach Dan Kennedy often says, it's the "message to market" match that is pre-eminent in marketing results.

So what did we do for Basnett that was "different" in our approach to Welcome Wagon? Same thing as we do with all our direct response.

We find a need, fill it with credible reasons, stacking the odds in the prospects' favor, focusing on them, generally adding a limit, and speak to them as intelligent people who deserve good service. We also accept most of the risk, and even offer an ethical bribe — a favor, free item, gift, or bonus — for calling. Plus something else.

We don't say what every other direct mail bozo says to them. You'll never read one of our ads that says that we're the "fastest, smartest, oldest, cheapest, most reliable, bestest" anything. Nor do we say that our company is "for all their plumbing needs," which is in nearly half the ads and thus cannot stand out.

Oddly, in the Welcome Wagon letter, since these poor homeowners have just signed 9,000 documents and are in debt to their ears, we don't even try to sell them anything. Nope. That's what everybody else does. We tell them we "understand" and want to give them something. The calls generated often result in a much-lowered barrier of resistance to whatever sales opportunity might legitimately exist.

Even if a sales opportunity doesn't exist, getting an appointment, some face time, some stickers handed out and some advice shared often results in a friendship that leads to the next call.

And that's the point. Any plumbing contractor can afford to do this on an "as-needed" basis to fill in jobs when it's slow, or all the time if it proves lucrative.

So, as you wait for more results in for next month's Marketing Makeover installment, go and knock off a couple things on this list. Get started on your marketing yesterday, if not sooner.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. For a free critique, readers can fax their Yellow Pages ad to 334/262-1115. You can also call Hudson, Ink at 800/489-9099 for help or visit www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports, including a free 16-page report called "Get More Leads in Less Time." CONTRACTOR readers can get a four-page report called, "9 Ways to Create a Cash Producing Direct Response Letter." This is free by specifying "9 Ways Report" in your request.