I was surprised on a recent Service Nation Alliance advisory board call when I learned that half the contractors on the call had some form of business development or community engagement manager. These people were responsible for networking, social media, reviews, and reputation management. Let's take a look at these business development opportunities.
Less than 3% of residential contractors belong to a service club like Rotary, Lion’s, Kiwanis, or Optimist. It’s a shame. Service clubs are filled with community centers-of-influence. These are people engaged in the community who others turn to for recommendations, such as selecting a good contractor. Moreover, contractors are under-represented in these groups. Join one, become the contractor that everyone in the group knows, and you are likely to get all of the referrals from members of the group.
Service clubs don’t even take much time. Most meet over breakfast or lunch. This makes it feasible to join more than one.
Service clubs are only one aspect of networking. Every town of any size has numerous leads groups. National groups include Business Networking International (BNI), LeTip International, and Netweavers International. In addition, there are many local group. These groups exist purely for networking and lead generation.
The networking role of a Business Development Manager is to join one or more service clubs, joint a leads groups, attend chamber of commerce functions, and other events. Inevitably, the business development manager becomes the public face of the company. Ideally, the owner would take this role, but if that’s not happening, appointing a business development manager is the next best thing.
Social media is difficult to outsource without losing the company’s authentic voice. When outsourcing works, it’s usually performed by an account executive who manages social media for a small number of clients whom the account exec becomes intimately familiar with. That’s impractical for most contractors, so they either use mass market services or try to manage it in-house. When managed in-house, it’s often done poorly.
The business development manager takes charge of the company’s social media, writing the company blog, selecting the platforms (e.g., Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc.), placing the messages, and engaging the public. This person should be adept at clear writing, already be active in the social media arena, and work to stay on top of the tools and techniques used to make social media work for your company.
Online reviews have skyrocketed in importance, though the importance of the different review sites varies by city. Getting happy customers to provide reviews, however, can be problematic and contractors need to be careful they do not compensate consumers for reviews.
The business development manager can help with reviews by making happy calls and asking satisfied customers if they would be willing to write an online review. If the customer agrees, the business development manager emails them a link to the review site.
In other cases (e.g., change-outs), the business development manager personally visits customers to perform a system review. After the operation of the system and the need for annual maintenance is explained, the business development manager asks the homeowner to do an online review on the spot using a tablet or laptop the business development manager brings. In addition, the business development manager asks the homeowners to stand beside their news furnace or condensing unit and give a video testimony, which is uploaded to your company's YouTube channel.
Negative reviews are not as deadly as most contractors think. However, some can be removed and all can be addressed. The business development manager is responsible for monitoring reviews. When a negative review appears, the business development manager should attempt to identify the customer. If unable to do so, the next step is to see if the reviewer posted multiple negative reviews of HVAC companies in a limited time period (e.g., a month or less). If this is the case, chances are the reviewer is a competitor. The business development manager can then contact the review site and present the evidence to get the negative reviews removed.
For negative reviews from customers, the business development manager should reach out to the customer and attempt to identify the problem with a resolution that will satisfy the customer. If the customer fails to update or remove the negative review, the business development manager should then add a very factual, non-defensive response, explaining what was done.
For reviews that are completely malicious and filled with falsehoods, the business development manager should attempt to resolve things with the poster. If that doesn’t work, the business development manager should then try to get the false review removed with the site. If that’s unsuccessful, the business development manager can then post a response that tactfully suggests the reviewer might have mistaken your company for another because the reviewer posted A, B, and C when the company did or does X, Y, and Z.
It’s impossible to make all negative reviews go away. Ultimately, the strategy for reputation management is to bury them. Bury them with positive reviews for the particular review site. Bury them under blog posts, press releases, and videos for the search engines.
Who Should You Hire Into the Business Development Manager Role?
The business development manager needs to have an outgoing personality and be willing to engage in networking. As the face of the company, the person needs to be presentable and attractive. The ability to write well is another requirement (maybe the toughest), along with comfort with computers and social media. Finally, you want someone with enough tact to handle the reputation management aspect of the job.
The ideal candidate is a young, journalism or public-relations major. This degree requires writing skills. They are well-versed in social media before graduating and are likely more extroverted. With the decline of traditional media, they have fewer job prospects than the past.
Compensation should be part of the marketing budget. Use special business cards and promotional coupons to track the networking results and add a variable compensation component for business generated through networking and social media — knowing you will never be able to track everything.
Don’t forget to spiff reviews and reputation management. What gets rewarded, gets done.
In a year’s time, a business development manager can make you a force to contend with in your market. This one position can change your company.
Matt Michel is CEO of the Service Roundtable (ServiceRoundtable.com). The Service Roundtable is an organization founded to help contractors improve their sales, marketing, operations, and profitability. The Service Nation Alliance is a part of this overall organization.