BY ADAMS HUDSON
IT'S KIND OF PAINFUL. No matter how well you plan, part of your marketing success will always be based on trial and error. You can count on certain seasonal trends: flooded basement calls in spring, irrigation and pool system calls in the summer, frozen pipes in the winter.
But counting on something as unreliable as the weather to bring you reliable income is a good way to go through lots of Rolaids — and employees. Many wise plumbing contractors market their companies to increase leads, image, name recognition and retention. Yet others feel that marketing is too mysterious or too complicated. Not true. It can really be boiled down to just five words:
- Market. Who you want to attract;
- Message. What you want to say to them to get them to call;
- Media. How you deliver that message.
- Month. When that message will get the best results; and
- Money. How much to spend based on your marketing profile, which ranges from 4% to 10% of your gross retail sales.
Anything more than that and you're making this too hard. Yet if any of the "M's" are off — especially the first two — things can go bad in a hurry. But worse than this is that most plumbing contractors never know what works and what doesn't. Why?
They don't track results. And that's like really, really, not good.
Without tracking, your ads and marketing investment return is a guess. Would you put money in a bank that said: "Your return on this money will be, well, I don't exactly know because we don't keep up with that stuff.
Whatever you get, well, that's what you get!"
You'd take your money and run, never to return. So why would you do this with your marketing?
So for any incoming lead, your receptionist simply asks an open-ended question such as, "And how did you hear about us?" or "What ad brought your call today?" or other such straightforward, friendly questions.
You could use a "closed end" too:
"Did you see our ad in the newspaper?" whether one is running or not. The caller could respond, "No, it was a sign in my neighbor's yard," "I was referred to you" or whatever the answer is. Have your receptionist write down the answer.
The answer to this simple query, 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; and
- The value of customer or prospect lists.
Your receptionist can keep up with this in a number of ways. I've seen effective companies use a "tick mark" system of noting an ad's response that is then fed into a weekly results sheet for leads. 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.
Of course, direct-response ads (one of five ad types we recommend for plumbing contractors) give the clearest evidence of lead generation, since that's their only goal. When you blitz an area with a direct-response promotion, the leads come fast and furious (which is why we sometimes "drip market" over several weeks to keep the lead count more manageable), and it's obvious what is bringing the results.
However, other ad types (such as Image, Retention and All-Purpose) have different goals, making measurement more difficult. These other ad messages are critical since they boost credibility and, as I often preach, no credibility, no sale. Heck, no appointment for that matter!
'You're wrong!' she shouted.
I tell people in marketing seminars and books to never expect a lead from a TOMA (Top of Mind Awareness) ad since their mission is merely " recognition through repetition." Not long ago, a sweet lady, Deb Quinn, from a plumbing company in Upstate New York called me and said, " I proved you wrong!"
My initial reaction: "Get in line with everybody else!" But after I calmly asked her how, she said, "You told me to never expect a lead from a TOMA ad, but we ran yours this week and on the second day got a call that sold a $9,600 upgrade!"
I don't mind being wrong like that! Yet I was most impressed that she knew exactly what ad generated the lead.
So as you track, you must apply what you learn. It is not enough to know something does or doesn't work. You must use that knowledge to strengthen other marketing efforts and turn your knowledge into a powerful marketing advantage.
Then you simply fine-tune your marketing into a potent mix of different marketing messages in the right media aimed at the right market.
Tracking is the only way to do this. Your marketing's return on investment in leads, sales and profits is too important. After all, if your phone doesn't ring enough, you're going out of business. Learn what's making your phone ring, and your cash registers will too.
Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. For a free marketing newsletter, contractors can fax their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115 or call 800/489-9099. Visit www.hudsonink.com for other free information.