Today’s customers are not the same as they were five or 10 years ago. The Internet has changed the game, making more information readily available to them.
So, what are contractors supposed to do to stay ahead of the sales and marketing curve? In January contractors from across the country headed to Fort Lauderdale, Fla. to learn techniques, tips, and a few tricks on how to stay ahead from some of the top sales professionals in the industry.
Three of these professionals chatted with ACCA to share some of that information with everyone who couldn’t attend the event.
How Have Sales & Marketing Changed for Contractors?
The only thing all the trainers agreed upon was that sales and marketing has changed rapidly in the past decade, and even in the past two years. The economy has been tough since 2008 and customers are looking to save where they can.
“Homeowners are now making a decision between quality and price,” says Joe Crisara, CEO of ContractorSelling.com. “To help customers realize that the quality is more important, contractors need to differentiate themselves clearly from the low priced provider. More and more contractors are realizing that customers need a reason other than efficiency or money to upgrade their units and have come up with unique ways to show the value.”
Brian Kraff, president of Market Hardware, Inc., and Mike Montano, president of ReviewBuzz, think the Internet is what has created the biggest change.
“Small businesses are continually moving from more traditional advertising mediums, yellow book and direct mail, to Internet advertising,” says Kraff. “Search engine marketing and investments in their websites seem to be where the largest portions of budgets are going. In the past two years though, we have seen a big uptick in social media marketing and the investment contractors are willing to make in word-of-mouth advertising.”
Montano agrees, “Social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter give your customers a huge role in building our brand. This radical transparency coupled with the current economy has made service companies work harder and smarter than ever before. Many learned the hard way that customers are quick to write negative comments on Facebook or post one-star ratings on Yelp or your Local Google Places page. But on the flip side, these sites also create positive images, when customers talk about how you saved the day or you correct the negative issue.”
Where Do The Yellow Pages & Direct Mail Fit?
Last year, ACCA surveyed its members about the Yellow Pages, how much they invest in them, and if they were doing more or less of it. Overwhelmingly, contractors said that they were seeing less value in the investment and had adjusted their budgets. But, that doesn’t mean that they are “dead.”
The experts agree with contractors that the Yellow Pages are a mixed bag. And they all have their different opinions on why that is.
“Yellow Pages advertising does really well the first three months of the year,” says Montano. “The problem is the last nine months of the year, the cost per lead takes a nose dive and then you have to decide if the value is there.”
Crisara counters that point with, “There are still thousands of consumers in every community that do not use the Internet to find a contractor. So, even if there has been a monumental shift to Internet searches and social media, you could be missing a group of consumers who want to purchase from you.”
And Kraff is even more vocal about the Yellow Pages and asks, “When was the last time you used the Yellow Pages?” He then quickly answers, “It’s probably been awhile. The cost seems to outweigh the benefits for the most part, since for the most part people can easily search online and get a more interactive idea of who your company is.”
Though Kraff agrees contractors could be missing a certain group of consumers by not advertising in the Yellow Pages.
Direct mail however, seems to still have a better shelf life for the experts.
“I love direct mail,” says Kraff . “It remains a valuable form of marketing, in my opinion. But with rising mailing costs, it is likely that contractors will cut back and use email marketing as a substitute. The reduced costs associated with email marketing make it much more favorable than direct mail advertising — assuming contractors keep their messages ‘non-spammy’.”
Crisara agrees that direct mail has its place, and that is with current customers. “I feel direct mail is still the best way for contractors to alert an existing customer about the need for maintenance, new products, and changes in their company that will directly benefit these clients. Other than that, the cost is probably too high.”
Once You Got Them, How Do You Keep Them?
Keeping customers is less expensive that getting them, but you probably already know that. So, what do the experts think are the best ways to keep your customers?
“You have to be remarkable and embrace the radical transparency of the internet,” says Montano. “Today, if a service business wants to grow and be profitable, then delivering a great customer experience is no longer a choice, but a must. If you follow the ABC’s of customer service, then you will keep almost every customer.”
What are the ABC’s for customer service?
• Always give the customer what they need first.
• Blow them away with an extraordinary experience.
• Create value from start to finish. Keeping in touch with them throughout the year is another key component to keeping your customers.
“Many businesses struggle with customer retention, due to the difficulties associated with keeping up communications with past clients,” says Kraff. “This can easily be avoided by getting involved with social media. Many small businesses are using social media – especially Facebook, Twitter, and Blogs. It is the easiest way for you to promote your services through word-of-mouth advertising. It is also the best way to remain top-of-mind with your existing client base by offering them discounts, sending them helpful tips and reminders, and always maintaining open lines of communication, so they can reach you whenever they need to.”
Looking for other ways to remind your customers you are there? How about using your service agreement program?
“I believe the best way for contractors to retain current customers is to make service agreements king of their company,” says Crisara. “Maintenance or service agreements are the lifeblood of every HVAC, plumbing, or electrical service company that is in business today. They formalize the relationship between clients and your company. Agreements allow you a loyal base of fans that not only want to receive your marketing message, but actually read this message as well.”
Some Solid Advice
When it comes down to it, there is a lot of advice these experts could give contractors to help them improve their sales and marketing efforts. So, to help contractors out the most, we asked them to give their best piece of advice.
Kraff says, “2012 is the year of social media for contractors looking to improve their marketing and sales. Social media can help increase word-of-mouth referrals, improve customer support, and keep existing clients (and potential new clients) up-to-date about seasonal specials and discounts. If you ignore this trend, you will find yourself falling behind your competition, as more and more of your competitors will set up social media pages and begin winning over your potential customers.”
Kraff also cautions, “It is very important that you update your social media platforms regularly. If you have a Facebook Business page and there is nothing on the page, it looks like ‘the lights are on but no one is home’. “
Montano echoes the internet being the key to future success. “Today’s contractor needs to understand that Internet-savvy, digitally informed customers now have the power to make or break a business. Early adopters who embrace transparency and are willing to invest in customer service and true reputation management will capitalize from the early investment.”
“Customer-centric business practices will translate into increased online word-of-mouth, more positive reviews, higher ratings, and greater social capital. Embrace user generated content, because it provides online shoppers with ‘Social Proof,’ which is what today’s consumers look to first when they are trying to decide whether or not they can trust a company. It’s far more powerful to have your customers say you are wonderful, than to say it yourself.”
And Crisara’s advice? “I would say that it is important to offer options to your clients, not ultimatums. What I mean is, too many contractors ‘mind-read’ customers instead of offering them the best service, product, and warranty they could get, as well as the basic or more economical solution. Stop being a door that stands in the way of the newest solutions that consumers want, and become a window that shows them everything they could choose good and bad.”
He adds, “Customers really want to make their own decisions and instinctively don’t trust people who are trying to make their decisions for them. They will resent you and your company when they regret buying the cheaper option, instead of the better option.”
Read the full article here: http://www.ie3media.com/three-industry-sales-experts-share-secrets-to-success/