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Make sure you get invited back

April 1, 2008
Everybody has his own definition of marketing it seems. To me, marketing means to ethically acquire and keep paying customers. is lead generation. is retention. Combining these two is where many contractors falter. They enter with the misguided notion that you can wait around on word of mouth, or that all ads are supposed to be lead generators or that the Yellow Pages is their salvation, then next

Everybody has his own definition of marketing it seems. To me, marketing means to ethically acquire and keep paying customers. “Acquiring” is lead generation. “Keeping” is retention.

Combining these two is where many contractors falter. They enter with the misguided notion that you can “wait around” on word of mouth, or that all ads are supposed to be lead generators or that the Yellow Pages is their salvation, then next week their Website is the new project.

The “gold” in marketing is the customer base. You're not trying to get a customer to get a sale. Your goal is to get a sale to get a customer. Marketing runs the customer acquisition and retention machine.

Occasionally, you've got to check to see how well the machine is running. If you sense underperformance, look to these areas for improvement:

  1. For direct response

    Your list selection is the key to success. One of the biggest mistakes you can make with a direct mail campaign is to send your special offers to the wrong list. Sending “water heater replacement” offers to new homes or “inspection specials” to apartment dwellers or “$500 filtration rebates” to customers who just paid full book price are among the ways you can go wrong. Get the best, most probable list first. The right message will work.

  2. Better headlines

    The headline represents 80% of your ad's effectiveness. It's “the ad for the ad” and commands an importance not approached by any other element in your ad. Some use “fear” headlines or “reward” headlines. A reward headline for an ad that discusses fear covers both camps. And remember: Your company name isn't a headline. A cartoon of a guy in a truck is not a headline. The “oldest, biggest, smallest, newest, fastest, mostest” anything is not a headline. A headline is a strong, clearly stated benefit for the customer.

  3. More testimonial use

    This is especially important in a recession. People are more skeptical than ever. Corporate scandals, the economy and contractor scams in the news don't help. You can tell your prospects all day long how great you are, but it goes a lot farther when someone else backs it up.

    That's where testimonials come in. Next to their own experience, people tend to rely on the experience of others, and testimonials are a very powerful demonstration of that. Your prospects get to see that someone else, given the same circumstances, chose you and benefited. Work to compile thick files of testimonials for better marketing and sales. Put them in your ads and include them in your presentation books.

  4. Better direct mail

    Direct mail can be the most lucrative marketing tool you'll ever use — if you do it right. Start with the list and then provide a solid offer. Sadly, most contractors stop after the first mailing. Sending a follow-up sales letter 10 days later usually will pull 50% of the original response. Calculate the second mailing cost and what this additional bump means to the sales goal. Forget about the “total” cost of the marketing except how it relates to your cost per lead.

  5. Better home shows

    Think of your home display as a huge, living advertisement. A “headline” should immediately grab attention and demonstrate the most important benefit to attendees. Any highly specific items of interest should only be available at the tabletop, within physical contact range of the booth. This is where your rep communicates personally to close the sale or secure an appointment.

    After the show is over, something awful happens with 81% of vendors — nothing. They perform little or no systematic follow up.

    We recommend a sequential mailing to reacquaint and make an offer for a home appointment. Include any literature you like, follow up on a contest or drawing or offer a discount coupon for services in the next 10 days. Adding a “home show deadline” will encourage even greater response.

  6. Comparative value

    The lesson for you here is to forget what your item “costs” and focus on what it pays. Does your water filtration system “cost” $400? No way. Measured against bathing in murky water, soap without suds or drinking water with sediment, it pays. Also, I'd drop the use of the phrase “payback” in favor of ROI. Don't say, “This $400 water heater can save you $50 a year in utilities. So payback is just eight years.” The better presentation is, “Sure you could keep repairing your old water heater and over-paying on energy, but my calculator says this new system can pay you back over 12% a year — plus you'll have no repair bills for five years. And you'll have no more cold showers! How soon do you want to start enjoying all these benefits?” Who says “no” to that kind of comparison?

  7. “What it does” not “what it is.”

    This concept is excessively lacking in plumbing sales and marketing. Remember, no one ever wants a drill — they want a hole. Homeowners care about their plumbing problem, the utility bill, property value, noisy pipes, repair bills, water quality and flexibility. Solve the problem rather than having an engineering discussion. Go down your list of plumbing products and services right now, and then make a list of the emotional, convenience and financial benefits for each one. Let those statements become your sales and marketing scripts.

  8. Research, resell, reap and repeat

    Once you've recognized your most likely or desired customers, cater to them in the form of advertising and marketing that appeals to them, their needs and their situation.

Research: Focus on your existing base of customers, then target a larger but manageable group. Age of home, income, lead pipes, low water pressure, outlawed polybutylene piping (identified by build dates) and many other profit opportunities await the smart plumber.

Resell: Continue to present yourself to these prospects. Win them as customers through a staged approach in different media. Print or radio (broad market) can be followed by direct mail (focused market) that speaks their language. Then follow up with either a postcard, newspaper inserts to their zone or telemarketing.

Reap: Determine how effective the promotion was by calculating cost per lead and cost per sale. Then invest some profit in additional marketing that fits your best approach. You must track your leads with one question: “ … and how did you hear about us?” Then, mark it down. If you don't measure it, how will you ever know?

Repeat: When your promotional techniques start pulling, simply repeat the process. Don't change for the sake of change. Be prudent.

Finally, don't fall for these two commonly held beliefs: 1.) If business slows down, cut your advertising first; and 2.) When business is good, there's no need to advertise. If both of those were correct, no one would ever market. Now, look at the market leaders in your town or in any industry. Generally, they're the top marketers and they marketed hard on their way to the top, not after.

To lessen the effect of business ebb and flow, adopt a clear strategy. Set a sales goal, get a marketing plan, set your budget in writing and allocate through the year. With powerful marketing, you can eclipse your competition, get more leads, sell more accessories and solidify more loyal customers.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors and author of the newly published Contractor Marketing Secrets. Call 800/489-9099, email [email protected] or check out for free marketing articles.

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