The Marketing Fear Factor

April 1, 2007
There I am at the ACCA Conference, attempting to sound intelligent to the clearly "in need" contractor asking for marketing advice. Two great difficulties

There I am at the ACCA Conference, attempting to sound intelligent to the clearly "in need" contractor asking for marketing advice. Two great difficulties arise right off the bat — 1) That "sounding intelligent" thing, and 2) Guys don't ask for advice all that well.

Maybe you've noticed this. If not, ask your wife. She's seen you throw away directions before unpacking the box. She's also heard you insist you were "not lost" while quietly dropping bread crumbs out the car window.

But guys are even worse at expressing fear. Maybe we're scared to express fear (figure that one out). That being said, this contractor's next few statements really caught me by surprise.

"I've got to do some marketing," he says. "But, I'm scared I'm going to be without leads if I don't market correctly."

I understand that concern completely. To me, just differentiating yourself from the competition through marketing is so brainlessly unrisky I don't think about it, but doing it correctly can be unnerving to the uninitiated.

We then talked about the three steps he must take in his marketing, including the first one I recommend that entails using one of about four postcards that have performed well. We even figured out which list he should send it to, standing right there.

I figured all was well. Fears quelled. Questions answered. He seemed on track. Sighs heaved, for the moment . . .

"Now I'm scared we might get too much business," he says.

I calmly ask, "Which is your bigger concern — getting too little business, or getting too much? Please pick one."

After a pause, we sort of laughed, in that nervous guy laugh of self-admission.

"Having too much business at least covers the mortgage!" he wisely notes.

Now you may be thinking about my new friend, "What a goob. Sounds scared of everything."

Nope. He's ex-military, father of two. HVAC is his second career, he pulled his wife from hers to help him with this one and has been in business three years, and doesn't have a clue how to generate leads. Much of that is frightening, but most contractors don't admit the need for help until it's too late.

To save you the embarrassment of admitting your marketing fears, or having me make some smarty pants public commentary, this column will help you out. If nothing else, you'll know you're not alone.

Fear of the Unfathomable
At the very same ACCA conference, opening keynote speaker Scott McKain, best-selling author of What Customers Really Want asked, "If you suddenly disappeared, would your customers miss you?" He followed up with, "How long would it take them to replace you?"

There was a collective "gulp" in the crowd. Heads craned around like pigeons on a wire. We all felt that one. It made us think.

The point is that if you're only doing what your competition's doing, you're immediately replaceable and you're not going to be missed.

That sizeable wave of concern prompted me to consider these other common fears contractors have:

1. Scared to reduce my Yellow Pages presence — This fear was given to you by the Yellow Pages. So I suggest you exchange this one with them: "Fear that you won't renew your ad." Call a truce: Align your budget according to sane principles. Design your ad for lead generation. Resign yourself to balance your marketing attack.

2. Scared to have my marketing look too different — If this is your fear, then please prepare to not be noticed, remembered, or derive any impacting result. Your marketing's first job is to get noticed. It's hard to get a phone call without that. You get noticed by standing out. You stand out by differentiating yourself in frequency, message, or positioning. Did I say "Make your ads weird?" No, I said "different." Quit looking to your competitors' ads for inspiration, since they probably don't know what they're doing. Seek out successful ads and marketing strategies even if they come from other industries.

3. Scared to spend money marketing to customers I already have — Are you scared to speak to friends you already know? Same thing. You're building the bond. Yes, I realize this is a more sophisticated approach than that of short-term lead generation, but the value is immense.

At this conference, my friend Greg Gill of Action Air revealed during a seminar that his "old" marketing model — with 70% of his marketing investment in Yellow Pages and zero invested in customer retention — had yielded flat sales for nearly eight years.

Today, he has dropped his Yellow Pages drastically, but invests heavily in marketing to his customer base. Sales are now $6.2 million with $3.4 million (about 55%) coming straight out of his customer retention marketing. This group gives him higher margins, more referrals, shorter sales cycles, and more recurring revenue streams than before. He only invests 12% of his total marketing budget in retention. Why so cheap? He already has the list!

4. Scared I'll get too many leads — There are four options:
1) Raise your prices to aid in natural de-selection, 2) Hire people to help you run them. And with "too many leads" at higher prices, you can pay for this position. 3) "Meter" your marketing over a longer period, 4) Let your competition have the leads instead. Except for that last one, all those "problems" look pretty good, and quite doable.

5. Scared I won't get enough leads — You'll never know if you don't try. Find what has worked for others and go for it. Side note: Quit thinking that all ads are for lead generation. That's only the job of direct response marketing. If leads are the problem, then the solution is direct response. Aim your message squarely at a well-chosen market, pull the media trigger, and track your results. Still nervous? Start small and do the math.

6. Scared to lay out a plan, since I might need to change it — Sorry, I think you really fear doing the planning work, and this is your excuse. The time spent planning saves you mountains of time later, reduces your stress, and makes you think-through your year instead of reacting to it. All plans can be changed or adjusted to improve, but you'll have to start. Better to have continuous improvement than continual anxiety.

7. Scared to try the (FILL IN FEARED MEDIA HERE) — The media has very little to do with your success, yet many amateur marketers think the choice is so important that you'll see web postings like, "Who has tried radio? Did it work?" Worse, I'll see responses from otherwiseintelligent contractors who say, "I tried it and it didn't," thereby fanning the fear.

The media is only the carrier of a message to a market. That's all. If the media reaches the wrong market and/ or with the wrong message, that's your fault, not theirs. Accusing the media is like saying you had a bad meal, so it's the plate's fault. Choose a media that reaches the market you're after, then plug in an attractive message for that market.

8. Scared I might have to take your advice — Now that is scary! But you have to start somewhere.

Everything's scary if you haven't done it before. Drop the fear, pick up the confidence. It's a wonderful trade.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson Ink, a contractor marketing firm. He is the exclusive contributor to the monthly series MegaMarketing in Contracting Business magazine, and can be reached through his website, He'll be conducting a marketing seminar at Comfortech 2007 in St. Louis, September 26-29.