From where you are to where you want to be

No matter how long you've been in business, there's one question that always fits: where do you go from here? The question that refines that thought is how do you get to where you want to be? These are the issues that kick off the thinking process that leads to the development of a sound marketing strategy. Without one, you're left in the dark coasting along during busy seasons, panicking during slow

No matter how long you've been in business, there's one question that always fits: where do you go from here? The question that refines that thought is how do you get to where you want to be?

These are the issues that kick off the thinking process that leads to the development of a sound marketing strategy. Without one, you're left in the dark — coasting along during busy seasons, panicking during slow times, and always wondering if you're where you need to be. With one, you know where you are, and you know where you're going.

Is your marketing taking your company in the right direction? The following warning signs could be telling you that it's time for better planning:

  • You only think about advertising when business gets slow.

  • You have a nagging feeling that you should be paying more attention to your marketing.

  • When you get a “great” advertising offer from media sales rep, you have no idea if it's something you should do.

  • You don't know where your leads come from. You're just happy when you get them.

Lack of planning costs plumbing contractors big time in lost sales and wasted marketing dollars. They worry that they should be doing something, but wait to do that “something” until it's too late. We call this “Manic Marketing” because it goes up and down with the lead count for the week. If you put it off too long, it becomes “Panic Marketing!”

If this sounds much too familiar, you are not alone. That's because a shocking 77% of contractors have no marketing plan. And that's bad news for business.

Without a plan, you're basically re-active, when you should be pro-active. Don't fall into that trap. Instead of desperately throwing money on ads when business slows, a marketing plan gives you a calm, rational approach to anticipate the slow times, and gives you ways to keep promoting yourself when business is booming.

To counter that confusion, your business is calling for a marketing strategy that considers the needs of your market and provides a year-round plan to meet those needs. Four simple steps can get your strategy started:

  1. Determine your sales goals.

  2. Assign a percentage of those numbers to your marketing budget. The industry average is 4.3%. Aggressive companies can spend up to 10%, while slow, mature companies may only spend 2.5%.

  3. Figure your percentage of sales in the peak summer, peak winter and both “off peak” seasons.

  4. From this, you can quickly determine the “timing” for promotions for each season, using the percentage of sales per item as a basis for your marketing. Now simply spread these dollars over the highest response media.

Just as importantly, a part of keeping your plan on track is also knowing what's working for you — and what isn't. That's done by “tracking.” You can't get any idea of how well any ad or promotion works unless you track it.

Of course, on a direct response ad, you're expecting results, so it's easy enough to chart every incoming lead and attach it to that ad's performance. On retention marketing, or image ads, this isn't as immediately measurable, but you can start with your receptionist.

But this isn't as hard as it sounds. For any incoming lead, your receptionist simply asks, “And how did you hear about us”? or “Which ad brought us your call today,” or other such straightforward, friendly question. The answer to this — amassed hundreds of times — will determine for you…

  • Your most profitable ads

  • Your most profitable media

  • The best areas of response

  • The richest combination of marketing methods

  • The value of customer or prospect lists

Your receptionist can keep up with this in a number of ways. I've seen very effective companies use a “tick mark” system of noting an ad's response that is then fed into a weekly results sheet for leads and sales. I've also seen sophisticated contact management software that had a field for incoming leads per media type. Any method is better than no method. The essence of tracking is to find what works and how well it's paying you back.

Marketing is a program, not an “as needed” effort. Do you only practice good customer service skills when people complain? Then why would you only market after the leads have dried up? Marketing should be done all year long, in varying degrees, in a mix of media and messages. This is a process, which requires a plan. Start with your top questions…

The number one plumbing marketing question is, “What marketing should I do?” The second is, “When do I do it?” Both questions are answered in our Marketing Calendar, and, while supplies last, I'm making it available to CONTRACTOR Readers for free. Just fax a polite request on your letterhead to 334/262-1115 or send a request by email to [email protected].

Usually, contractors end up putting too much money in the wrong media, or in the right media at the wrong time. This kind of timing causes missed opportunities when the market was ready to hear for them — or is hit too late when the market isn't responsive.

The simple cause of all this guesswork is a lack of a plan. It is not enough to know something doesn't work. You must use that knowledge to strengthen your marketing efforts. The simple solution is a good marketing plan. Once armed with this information, you can refine your plan as you go along, always keeping your powerful marketing advantage in tune with where your company needs to go.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a marketing firm for contractors. To receive your brand new 2008 Marketing Calendar, fax your polite request to 1-334-262-1115 or an email to [email protected]. For a free marketing newsletter, contractors can fax their letterhead with the request to 334-262-1115 or call 1-800-489-9099. Visit www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports.