Since the dawn of time, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth and the first contractors were peddling fire door to door, lead generation has been the most difficult — and necessary — feat of business survival.
Whew! Finally. I’ve just always wanted to sneak “since the dawn of time” into an article. Of course, that doesn’t negate the truth of the lead generation crisis.
If you’re struggling to keep your techs busy, if cash flow has dried up, or if you’re just a little worried about all of the above, let me encourage you with the response you’re likely to hear from many a successful contractor: Been there, done that.
Says Steve Scott of Comfort Technology: “I’d like others to realize they don’t have to feel stuck. Just starting with a few small changes they can reap immediate, tangible benefits that will enable them to make other changes, that will reap further benefits.
“Our systems sales to the general public have increased dramatically. A whopping 265% increase. This happened while we raised our prices.
“Some of this increase is because I’ve been working at becoming a better sales person, so I’m closing a higher percentage. But another big factor is I’m having more leads to work with.” It’s a rare company that does not struggle from time to time. The thing to do is to know what to do about it. There’s a way out of the hole. But I won’t ask you to suffer through the reassurances of someone who’s “not in your shoes.” Instead, let me give you the guidance based on the successes of contractors who’ve seen it all before.
Helpful Specifics Track your incoming leads. Would you buy a car if the speedometer didn’t work or if you couldn’t gauge how much gasoline was in the tank? Would you be happy with a watch that wouldn’t give you the time of day? Would you purchase an air conditioning system that had no thermostat, no way to judge temperature?
Measurement and assessment. These are important factors when you’re talking about how much fuel you’ve got until the next exit or how much time until your next appointment. They’re also important factors when you’re talking about one of the most essential investments made by your contracting company: your marketing.
Is your marketing getting you where you need to be? Which aspects of it are really working for you? This is the kind of information that comes by “tracking.” Essentially, you can’t get any idea of how well an ad or promotion works unless you track it. When you do, you’ll have an advantage that pays handsomely.
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.
Look who’s buying. Your customer list shouldn’t be viewed simply as one large category, but as a source of multiple levels of information. Avoid the frustration of making offers to the wrong group by taking your full list and dividing it to select the best targets.
Divide for A) Recency: those who have spent money in the last 24 months; B) Frequency: those who have used you with the greatest frequency in the last 24 months; and C) Transaction amount: those who have spent the most with you in the past 24 months.
Rank the BEST candidates according to the above and determine how big a list you can effectively contact. Yes, you can even contact the ones less than six months old as a “happy call,” which can also generate follow-up and referral work.
Assemble this list for a postcard offering $20 off ANY service call, PLUS a $20 gift certificate for referrals who get service work done within the next month (or whatever time period you determine).
The gift certificate can be for a lunch/dinner, which if you do it right, you DO NOT pay the face value. (Any wise restaurant owner will sell you blocks of 10 or so certificates for as little as half the face value to put more diners in the seats).
Make the call. Next, follow the postcards with a call saying, “Did you get our moneysaving postcard in the mail?” (If the answer is “no,” check your records). “Great, our technician will be in the area on Thursday and Friday. Which would be a better day to stop by to evaluate any air comfort needs?” This is an alternate-of-choice close and not pushy if said by a pleasant, smiling voice. Modify for your tastes, but you get the idea.
If your caller runs into a person who doesn’t need any work, can’t think of a referral, but says nice things, jot it down and request to use it as a testimonial.
What else can you do? Ask every single service call you get for referrals.
Put door hangers on every adjacent home where you do service work.
Use a yard sign on every service call you get. (These last three items are the cheapest way to triple your market penetration and maintain top of mind awareness you’ll ever do.)
Send a thank you card that also says you may contact them within six months to see if things are okay AND asks them for a referral (this establishes “active” customer involvement, and reminds them that you’d appreciate referrals).
After you make some money, invest 8-12% of your total marketing budget in a customer retention newsletter program. Choose a good one that enhances your professional image and speaks to your dedication to providing quality services.
Follow the suggestions in this article, and you load the boat. Limit the time for customers to respond, and you load it faster. Meter out the mailing, and you load it regularly. Follow up on every lead and sale, and you don’t need to worry about loading again anytime soon.
Further, as you do this, you position yourself to be “top of mind” when they do need you. Rule No. 1 in HVAC marketing: If you can’t be first in the market, be first in the mind.
There you have it — the fastest, cheapest, most reliable and immediate ways to fish out of your own pond. Have fun.
Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a marketing firm for contractors. For a free sample of his Customer Retention Newsletter, call Hudson, Ink at 800/489-9099 or visit www.hudsonink.com for many free marketing articles and reports. To receive a free subscription to Sales&Marketing Insider, a bi-weekly marketing newsletter, fax the request on your letterhead to 334/262-1115.