As contractors mature they become increasingly aware that chasing after every potential customer requires a lot of time and money.
For more efficient sales results you must clearly define what type of customer is most profitable to your business. A visual representation of this effort has been referred to as the sales funnel. The sales funnel is the process of identifying the right customer for your business, which increases your "hit ratio" of landing desired work.
In this issue and the next we will look at proven techniques and processes that will significantly increase your hit ratio of success in selling.
1. Differentiation. The ability to demonstrate that you are unique from other pavement maintenance contractors is perhaps the most significant effort you can make toward improving sales. In marketing terms, we often refer to this as your USP, or Unique Selling Proposition. This can be a slogan, or phrase, but ultimately it is based not on what you think, but on market research that clearly identifies what your customers see as your advantage.
Most contractors answer the question "what makes you different?" by saying they perform quality work. Well, guess what? Every paving, striping, sealcoating, sweeping, and maintenance contractor in the United States believes he performs quality work. Quality is rarely a defining difference between two or more reputable contractors.
2. Marketing. The most obvious, but often overlooked, solution to keeping the sales funnel full is a well-developed marketing plan. Not advertising, mind you, but marketing. Effective marketing plans include a clear definition of:
- The products/services we intend to sell
- The pricing the market will bear for our products and services
- The promotion of our products/services
- The placement of our products/services
Marketing is designed to support the sales process by attracting the right type of client who is responding to our marketing message. Filling the funnel becomes a lot easier when you have a lead generation process. Good marketing addresses that lead generation process.
Many contractors believe that by simply placing an advertisement in the local telephone book that they are adequately fulfilling their marketing needs. If you have established that these ads provide a successful sales record, by all means keep renewing them. But for many contractors, the failed experience of such ads has sent them looking for other means of getting the message about their company in front of the right customers.
Another aspect to effective marketing is that your marketing plan and effort needs to be consistently executed. For many contractors, the need to get immediate results is paramount. If they do not see immediate results that overwhelmingly prove their prowess in the market, they pull back on the marketing effort, often cutting off the very source driving greater attention to their firm. Such negative reflexes will surely doom most contractors not committed to the long-term approach.
3. Referrals. Research has traditionally demonstrated that a satisfied customer will tell fifteen or more friends, business associates, or family members about your company. The question you should ask yourself is: Are you asking for referrals? If not, start today.
Satisfied customers want you to extend your products and services to their friends and colleagues. Why? Because it validates their buying decision and empowers them to have bragging rights with their contacts.
Every contractor, no matter how much work under contract, needs to be consistent with asking the following question:
"Who can you refer me to that would also enjoy some of the same benefits that you have experienced with me?"
Ask this question any way you want, but the bottom line is…ask it! Referrals represent the best of the best that go into your sales funnel.
Next issue: Goal setting and scorekeeping, public speaking, "consultative selling," and strategic retreat.