Marketing Strategies

June 1, 2007
There I am at the ACCA Conference, attempting to sound intelligent to the clearly dealer asking for marketing advice. Two great difficulties right off

There I am at the ACCA Conference, attempting to sound intelligent to the clearly “in-need” dealer asking for marketing advice. Two great difficulties 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), so the man's next few statements really caught me by surprise.

“I have got to do some marketing. I'm scared I'm going to be without leads if I don't.”

You're probably crossing your fingers and hoping he isn't one of your dealers. But 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 it can be unnerving to the uninitiated.

So we speak of the three steps he must take in his marketing, including the first one I recommend (massive lead-generation for his service department), using one of about four postcards that have performed well. We even figured out which list to 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.”

I calmly asked, “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 noted.

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

Nope. Ex-military, father of two, HVACR is second career, pulled his wife from hers to help him with this one, been in business three years (about as long as he's been in the area), and doesn't have a clue how to generate leads. Much of that is fearful, but most don't admit the need for help 'til it's too late — including your dealers.

So to save you the embarrassment of admitting them and to keep you from wondering why your dealers are constantly underperforming, this article can help you out. If nothing else, you'll know what your dealers are up against.

Fear of the unfathomable

At the very same conference, the 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 your dealers are only doing what their competition's doing, they're immediately replaceable and no one is going to miss them. Period. And that's bad news for you. That sizeable wave of concern prompted me to consider other common fears we hear from dealers across the country.

  1. Scared to Reduce My Yellow Pages Presence — The Yellow Pages gave them this fear. So I suggest they exchange this one with them: “Fear that he won't renew his ad.” Dealers should align their budget according to sane principles. They should design ads for lead-generation and resign themselves to “balance” their marketing attack better.

  2. Scared to Have My Marketing Look “Too Different.” Then please prepare for no one to notice, remember or derive any impactful result. Getting noticed is their first job as a marketer. (Hard to get a phone call without that.) They get noticed by standing out. Dealers stand out by differentiating themselves in frequency, message or positioning. Did I say, “Make their ads weird?” No, I said different. Your guys have to quit looking to their competitors' ads for inspiration since they probably don't know what they're doing. Instead, encourage them to 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 — Well, then, are your dealers scared to speak to friends they 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 percent 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 percent) coming straight out of his customer-retention marketing. This group gives him higher margins, more referrals, shorter sales cycles and more recurring revenue streams. He only invests 12 percent of his total marketing budget in retention. Why so cheap? He has already acquired the list! (See why it's so hard for me to sound intelligent?)

  4. Scared to Get Too Many Leads — Three options: 1) Dealers raise their prices to aid in natural deselection; 2) They hire people to help them run the leads (and with “too many” leads at higher prices, can pay for this position); 3) “Meter” their marketing over a longer period; 4) Let their (and that means 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 — Options are fewer here. 1) Your dealers can stay scared; or 2) Go for it. All they have to do is find what has worked for others (or just ask us) and intelligently pursue: Aim their message squarely at a well-chosen market, pull the media trigger and track their results. Still nervous? Do the math and push dealers to start small — especially if you're co-opting their marketing.

  6. Scared to Lay Out a Plan Since I Might Need to Change It — Sorry, I think your dealers really fear the planning work, and this is their excuse. (Takes one to know one. That's why I don't do the planning here.) The time they spend planning saves them mountains of time later, reduces their stress and makes them “think” through their year instead of reacting to it. All plans can be changed or adjusted to improve, but your dealers have to get started. Better to have continuous improvement than continual anxiety — for both of you.

  7. Scared to Try the — This drives me crazy. The media has very little to do with their marketing success, yet many amateur marketers are confused here. I often see Web postings like, “Who has tried radio? Did it work?” Worse, I'll see responses from otherwise-intelligent contractors who say, “I tried it, and it didn't work for me” thereby fanning the fear. Wrong, wrong.

    Get this — the media is ONLY the carrier of a message to a market. That's all. So if the media reaches the wrong market and/or with the wrong message, that's his fault, NOT the media's. I mean, accusing the media is like saying you had a bad meal, so it's the plate's fault. Dealers must choose a media that reaches the market they're after, and then plug in an attractive message for that market.

  8. Scared I Might Have to Take Your Marketing Advice — Now that really is scary! But your dealers must start somewhere. Tell them to call a local expert, a noncompetitive success, make plans to head to Comfortech or you grab the goods right here for them

  9. Fearless Free Thing — Circle your dealers' top TWO fears and fax or e-mail this to us (or merely include the “numbers” of those fears and send our way). Extra credit if you express a “new” fear and send that too. We love a challenge. In exchange, we'll send you a special marketing report to help you eliminate that problem for your dealers.

    Everything's scary if you haven't done it before. Now help your dealers drop the fear, pick up the confidence. It's a wonderful trade. And it means more profits for you.

    Adams Hudson is president of Hudson Ink, a contractor marketing firm. He'll be conducting a marketing seminar at Comfortech 2007, Sept. 26-29, in St. Louis. His company offers turnkey marketing solutions for contractors for lead-generation, image, branding, publishes newsletters and offers Monthly Marketing Coaching. Call 800/489-9099, fax to 334/262-1115 or visit