When I first returned to the industry in 2002, I had what you might term a “head-on collision” with my manager. Here is what happened.
I was keeping an eye on the workflow and noticed one particular week things seemed exceptionally slow. We had, for many weeks prior, been scheduling out for a couple weeks. Then, all of the sudden, it was Thursday and I looked at the work coming in the following week and there was very little. Not enough to keep our crew busy for even that week.
I challenged the manager.
“Where is all the work? And why isn’t there more scheduled for next week?!”
Of course it had to be his fault. He must have been dropping the ball on sales and I figured his closing ratio was likely in a slump. I saw it as my job to keep him accountable and figure out why his performance was lagging.
He replied, “Well, I’m not sure if you noticed but the phone has barely rung at all in the past two weeks and also there have been almost no estimates to write.”
I did a quick check. I scanned the number of estimates he had written in the past couple weeks and they had severely tapered off. I also became aware that he was right about the phones ringing. It had been eerily quiet for a couple weeks, as well.
He ended the conversation with a challenge in the form of a question that I don’t think he believed was answerable: “How can I get the phone to ring and how can I get people to come up the driveway?”
I recently had an epiphany, as for the past 12 years I’ve been trying to answer that very question. How do you get the phone to ring and how do you get more people to come up the driveway?
The short answer: marketing.
There’s a big difference between sales and marketing, even though they are intimately related. Sales is what happens after the phone rings or after someone decides to pull in the driveway. Marketing is what got them to make that decision in the first place.
Now, there’s an old joke you may have heard about marketing. It goes, “Fifty percent of my marketing efforts are working! The problem is, I don’t know which 50 percent.”
The temptation in marketing is to view it as not definable or knowable, like it’s some sort of magic or secret art and it’s more like conjuring than science. The truth is marketing, like most other aspects of your business, can be predictable, systematic and process driven.
Yet, when it comes to marketing, are we executing a systematic process that yields specific results? If you’re like most shop owners and managers, you typically do not. Instead, the local high school comes in looking for a donation in exchange for putting your business card on their sports calendar. So you do that. Then someone from the Yellow Pages calls and asks if you want to renew your ad and you say, “Sure, why not?” Then everyone starts talking about social media and how important it is for small businesses, so you hire someone to take care of that for you. Pretty soon you’ve spent a lot of dollars but have no idea how it all integrates and if it’s effective at all.
Now, let’s look at how you might take a systematic approach to just one marketing channel, Yelp. Here’s what it might look like to approach Yelp in a systematic way:
First, you go into Yelp and claim your profile. Fill it out as completely as possible. Add text, photos and make sure all your contact information is correct and matches to the letter what is on your website.
Next, spend some time looking at your competitors on Yelp. What do their profiles say? What kind of pictures do they post? How many reviews do they have? How do they respond to reviews?
Then start collecting reviews. Ask every customer, especially the ones you really impressed to write a review. Send follow-up emails and a link to the Yelp listing so they can write a review. Keep in mind that Yelp filters most reviews if the person is not active on Yelp, but that’s OK. You can still post the review on other channels like Facebook, Twitter, or even your own website.
You will also want to install the “Yelp for Biz Owners” app on your smart phone so they can alert you with any new reviews or significant activity. Yelp has very sophisticated ways to track their user data, which will tell you a lot about how people are using Yelp to find you and even some demographics about the people who interact with your profile.
Finally, consider setting up offers on Yelp or even advertising with them. Up until now, there has been no cost but the next level will have to be part of your budget.
Once you have figured out one channel—and Yelp is an important one—you can start to integrate it with others. Once you have a few channels going and you’re regularly monitoring them, you will be well on your way to having a strategic, systematic approach, to marketing. And you will know its working when the phone starts ringing off the hook and more and more people pull in the driveway asking for an estimate.
After 12 years of trying to answer that manager’s question, I can tell you that my shop consistently has more work than we can possibly handle every week and that I recently purchased a second location to handle the overflow. While that is a challenge all to itself, it is, as the saying goes, a good problem to have.