Talking About the Competition

I used to tell customers if they chose a company that was dishonest or did shoddy work because I didn't want them to get burned. Morally, that is an obligation to fellow man. However, I learned to offer my warning via the adjudications and complaints filed with the licensing agency of the government or unhappy past customers. This way I was out of the buying decision, and the customers had been warned about the quality of the company trying to get their business.

Technician Canvassing

Your best marketing is done by your technicians. As they finish a call, your technicians should go to each house on both sides of the current customer and the house across the street (in fact, they should visit all houses on the street if they have time).

Coach them to knock on the door, introduce themselves, and your company:

"Hi, I'm Rusty with XYZ Air Conditioning. We just serviced your neighbor next door, Mrs. Brown. Since your house is about the same age, I wanted to introduce myself and give you some valuable coupons. We would love to have you as a priority service customer, too, and give you a free energy analysis. Here are your free coupons and please call me if I can be of service. Have a great day."

If your tech is on performance pay and generates the work, he gets the percentage money. With the extra pay, marketing becomes fun and rewarding. Anything that gets rewarded gets repeated. Imagine all your techs selling service agreements and producing income.

However, many companies can't even handle the calls they have now! What would you do with more customers? It scares me when contractors go after more business when their business isn't working well as it stands. Get your business working first, put the systems in place, and slow down, running three or four good calls per day per tech.

Technician Time Cards

I didn't know you could pay a tech without a properly filled out time card. It seems to me that filling out the time card is his responsibility, not yours or the payroll clerks. You certainly wouldn't pay a salesperson if he didn't turn in a commission sheet.

I have heard this problem for 15 years: poor paper work, no time cards, etc., yet we keep on rewarding people for not being responsible for themselves. We hold our children accountable for their actions. Sometimes it appears we are working for the employees!

If a time card is sloppy or incomplete, fill out the employee's paycheck in the same manner. I had a tech come back from his bank to tell me, "Mr. McCart, the teller wouldn't cash my check because there's no endorsement and she can't read the amount!"

We then reviewed his invoices for the past week — which were just as sloppy as the check I had written. He got the point and we had no more time card or invoice problems.

What is your company policy on time cards and invoices? Set performance standards and stick to them. You get what you are willing to accept.

Techs With Checks

We had checkbooks printed for each tech. They were printed like any other checkbook, but they were all pre-printed, “Make payable to: XYZ Company.” The check could only be used at that company.

Every tech had a checkbook and could write checks for $35 to anyone. The tech would fill it out and on the memo, would write, “First service call.” He would sign it, tear it out, and hand it to potential customers or neighbors of your present customer. He’s got a good reason to go next door now!

The techs were also empowered to write checks for up to $100 per ton for a trade-in value of the prospect’s existing system as long as it was still running and over 12 years old.

Use your imagination and the possibilities for marketing are limitless. Techs love pulling out the checkbook and writing and signing the checks.

Telemarketing vs. Tell-Marketing

It is not telemarketing if you call back an existing customer. That is called "courtesy" and is a basic part of all service businesses.

It's a fact that about 70% of your business is due to existing customers or referrals from existing customers. These figures have held true for many years.

Based on this knowledge, if you are getting these percentages, wouldn't it make sense to stay in touch with your best customers? We used to call this "back selling" and had a direct mail campaign and a happy call campaign working every day, six days a week. It was a tremendous lead generator for us.

I call my program "Tell-Marketing" with scripts for agreement sales, energy audits, safety inspections, finance programs, allergy sufferers, and on and on. I feel it is your responsibility to TELL your customer of new, different, and beneficial opportunities when they arise. This is not intrusive telemarketing. It's a service company taking care of its clients and does not fall under the telemarketing laws.

The investment you make in marketing to your existing customer, who already knows you, obviously likes you, and has presumably paid you, will pay you big dividends in future business and referrals. It's much more economical to market to an existing client than it is to generate a new one!

I'm sure you have several filing cabinets just stuffed full of old clients that have not heard from you in a long time. that's the place to start.

10-Year Parts and Labor Warranties
The 10-year parts and labor warranty is absolutely the best product on the market. Why? For customers, they prepay their labor rate in the year 2013 at today’s labor rate! For you, the customer becomes your customer for 10 years! They're extremely valuable to you if you consider maintenance, repairs, warranty work, add-on sales, referrals, and future replacements.

Tracking Callbacks

Callbacks should first be a training or teaching opportunity before they become a policing vendetta. The important thing is to track, track, track everyday. The dispatcher should already be entering this information into the computer, but someone has to read and analyze the data.

How many companies out there really measure their callback rate and dollars and their warranty burden?

Unique Selling Proposition

What should you address with your USP (unique selling proposition)? How about:

  • Responsiveness - Cutomers' time is important
  • Assurance - You'll do what you say, and when you promise it
  • Tangible - Good image (i.e., uniforms, clean trucks, well-stocked parts, etc.)
  • Empathy - Ability to understand customers' needs and requirements
  • Reliability - Your company and people are dependable, honest, up-to-date, and knowledgeable.

War

Most of your customers were using someone else before you. What made them switch? If you haven't heard yet, there's awar going on out there: for your customers’ discretionary income!

The Worst Neighborhoods

Charlie Greer and I used to canvas a street with him on one side and me on the other. We found our best customers were in the worst neighborhoods. They all possessed a critical qualifier: EQUITY. Equity and debt consolidation loans were easy to get and easy to qualify for because of the equity in the real estate. Don't limit yourself to one neighborhood. Buyers are everywhere.

Canvassing neighborhoods sure beats setting in the office. This source of lead generation will make you more money than anything else. The only thing that comes close is your existing customer files.

A long-time contributor to Contracting Business, Tom McCart was HVAC’s first million dollar residential retail salesperson. Tom died of Lou Gehrig’s Disease on Jun 10, 2004. ALS took a toll on Tom physically. It took a toll on his family financially and emotionally. Tom’s business has survived. Please support Tom’s survivors and his legacy by purchasing his books or attending No Secrets training (www.nosecrets.com).

You can also purchase “From the Sky Up, the Tom McCart Story on DVD,” or any of Tom’s seven sales, marketing, and management manuals, at www.hvacprofitboosters.com. All proceeds from the sales of Tom McCart’s products go to Tom’s estate to help his survivors pay Tom’s medical and long-term care expenses.

For more information about the Service Roundtable, including a FREE e-book on service company marketing, visit www.ServiceRoundtable.com, call Liz Patrick at 877/262-3341, or e-mail liz@serviceroundtable.com.

Matt Michel is president of the Service Roundtable (www.ServiceRoundtable.com), an organization dedicated to helping contractors prosper. Matt is also the publisher of Comanche Marketing, a free marketing e-zine. Subscriptions are available at www.ComancheMarketing.com. You can contact him directly at matt.michel@serviceroundtable.com. Or send your comments to Contracting Business at letters@contractingbusiness.com.