Dick: Good afternoon. I want to thank everybody for jumping on the webinar today. Knowing your lawn and landscape business in today’s day and age can be challenging, to say the very least. Best marketing practices have changed quite a bit in the last several years. We’re going to cover a variety of topics today, and by the end of the call, you should all have a better understanding on how doing the right things in March will have a big impact on how successful you are the rest of the year. Today, we have two guest speakers with us, and they are both leaders in the lawn and landscape industry, Tom Kelly and Jonathan Pototschnik.
Tom Kelly has been in the lawn care industry since he graduated from Syracuse University back in the early ’90s. He co-founded the largest privately held lawn care company in the Northeast, servicing over 20,000 clients at its peak. Tom, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what’s been going on with you the last couple of years?
Tom: Yeah, sure no problem. Thanks, Dick. Hey, good afternoon everybody. As Dick said, I’ve been in the lawn care business for more than 20 years. The last couple of years have brought me to the organic industry. I am the founder and now run a company called BeeSafe Lawns. What we do is focus on helping lawn and landscape companies introduce an organic program into their business. One of the main parts of dealing with that is helping them grow their business. And, it’s always a challenge. It’s probably one of the biggest challenges that our applicators face and we spend a ton of time on it.
The last couple of years we’ve been working on trying to help lawn and landscape professionals introduce a more organic method into their business, as well as, constantly working on marketing. It’s something we’re always working on every single day.
Dick: Great, thanks Tom. We also have Jonathan Pototschnik here with us. He started like many of you on the call today, a guy with a truck, a mower and a dream. Only, Jonathan was 14 years old when he started his first mowing company, so I guess he wasn’t old enough to own that first truck yet. He went on to major in computer information systems in college and founded several companies after graduation, including a lawn care company that currently services thousands of clients north of Dallas. Jonathan, there’s a big difference between programming and lawn care. Can you give us a quick rundown on what you’ve been doing the last few years and how the synergy between lawn care and computer programming came about?
Jonathan: Sure, Dick. Thanks for hosting this. Hey, Tom. It’s good to talk to you again.
Tom: Yeah, good to talk to you too, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Yeah, so basically, how the whole thing happened is, I have been in technology for, going back into the latter part of the ’90s, and I never really got out of it. I’ve been in it the whole time and co-founded my first software company with my current business partner in Service Autopilot back in 2001. Over the years, we’ve built a lot of systems for other companies. For example, in ’08, one of the last big systems we built was in the health insurance industry managing private medical patient data. It just so happened that along the way, I got out of the lawn care business.
I got out when I was a freshman in college, but got back in it in 2005. And, to this day, I own the company in North Texas, just north of Dallas. We are a full-service company providing lawn care, pest control, maintenance, the whole deal. At that time, I also owned a commercial cleaning company, and I was looking around trying to find technology that could get my service companies to the size that I wanted to take them. There was a lot of stuff in the marketplace but, since I really understood technology and could guess where those solutions were going, I just couldn’t find anything that would meet the needs. We had looked everywhere.
John, who’s my business partner in Service Autopilot, and I basically thought there was a huge market opportunity here and we talked about it for a couple of years before we finally did it. Really, that’s how we ended up in it. It was all because we saw a need. I desperately needed something that could handle the transactional volume of my business and something that I thought could manage a business the size I wanted to build. That’s how it came to be.
Dick: Great, I appreciate that. Hey Jonathan, Tom’s going to pass the screen over to you now.
Jonathan: Okay, yeah I got it.
Tom: Are you cool with that?
Jonathan: Yeah, waiting on it. I’ve got it. Okay, I clicked it.
Dick: Why don’t you tell us a little bit about organization and why that’s so important in marketing, lawn care marketing specifically?
Jonathan: Okay, so my take on this, having had a lot of experience running both service companies, and then also being solely focused on Service Autopilot and my lawn care company, I think it is just really important for us as business owners to become extremely focused. I used to, by the beginning of 2009, own four companies in differing industries, and so, I really see the value in focus. It leads in to what you’re asking in that, for me in my own life, I want to be in and do so many different things. I really have to force myself to focus. And, I think as business owners, we have to do the same.
I’m at this point where I’m predominantly focused just on this industry. In our businesses, we have to focus really, really closely on our business. And within our business, focus very closely on a certain type of perfect clientele, as well as, serve a perfect service offering that we really understand and can execute well. Part of being focused then, is about monitoring and measuring certain things, and paying close attention to certain things. On my screen, I have up a fake demo Service Autopilot account just so I can point out some things, not so much to point them out because of Service Autopilot or to show off Service Autopilot, but really to point out some things to think about that I’ve come to believe and learn over the years.
I think it breaks down to about three things that we need to be watching, measuring and paying attention to. The first one is that we’re building teams. Our teams are paying attention to what we’re doing. If we personally are completely scattered, if we’re not living from a schedule at some level, if we don’t represent having any form of organization in our life, then our team sees that. If you’re not an organized person, then how can you expect them to keep organized and be most efficient in the company?
I think it starts with us being the leaders of our business and the representation to our team. I’m going to talk about some metrics here in a second, but it’s not really a metric that you’re watching. It’s what you’re doing. For example, I’ve got up just a real simple home screen for Service Autopilot here where I can track my time for the day. This isn’t so much again to show off Service Autopilot, it’s to make a point that I can have my full calendar. I really believe in living off a calendar.
Every phone call I have is pre-scheduled. Everything I do is pre-scheduled. When I’m going to check my email, I do it at a specific time every single night. I think that’s critical. The only way you can do that is to have a few tools that allow you to do it. You’ve got to have something where you can manage your day, manage your calendar, track your commitments, track your phone calls, keep up with your to-dos, and have things scheduled on a calendar. I think it starts there. That’s the first thing. It’s not a metric but, it is a way to keep up with what you’ve got to do.
The second thing is the entire purpose of this month…to sell. That is what we are supposed to be focused on right now. This month and April, in most markets, are our best time of the year to sell the highest percentage of work, and hopefully have the highest conversion rate. We have to really be working on making our marketing work for us and then tracking if it’s working. Just as an example to give you an idea of maybe how you think about this…I did a couple of screenshots real quick. What I care about are leads. How many leads are we driving every week? How many are we converting? What’s that conversion percentage?
More than that, if we just know that we brought in 500 leads for the month, that doesn’t really tell us anything. We really need to know what’s working. Are we getting leads from people seeing our trucks? Are we getting leads from the Google Adwords campaigns that we’re running? Where are these leads coming in from? I really firmly believe that you need to be watching at a deeper level, so as an example here, I have an example on the screen from Service Autopilot. For example, I can tell that there are 56 referrals in the month of March. There are 34 that have converted into clients and they’re converting at a 60% conversion rate.
Now, that kind of stuff is really important because if you see from month to month and are able to compare the progress each month, you can immediately hop on it when something isn’t working and you can deal with it immediately. Watching your conversion percentages right now is really important, and everyone has a limited amount of money they can spend on marketing. Watching what’s working with the marketing activities that you’re doing, if one’s not working, you stop and you reallocate the money.
This is the month of execution. It’s not the month of creating a new plan and putting new procedures in place. It’s the month of executing. We’re executing and we’re making little adjustments based on the plan that we’ve already put together, and so that’s why these metrics are so critical. You’ve got to be able to react fast. You’ve got to be able to say, “This isn’t working. We’re shifting the money. We’re shifting the team. Our conversion percentage is down from last year. What are we doing differently? Are we not answering the phone as fast? Do we not have enough people staffed to answer the phone? What’s the scenario?”
I really believe in watching these types of metrics and I really think you need a lot of these metrics in your business. You need to know how many leads are coming in, how many clients are converting, how many new clients you sold this month of this year versus last year. You’ve got to have statistics to do this, and then I would say, the third thing here in terms of really being on top of your business is its operations. We can sell all day long but if we disappoint the clients that we’ve brought in the door, then they’re going to go out. They’re not going to refer us and they’re going to spread that word. They’re going to say bad things about us. They’re going to give us bad reviews on Yelp and in Google.
Operationally, this is the third area that you’ve got to execute at this month. It’s the easiest time of the year to drop the ball and make people unhappy because we have all these, hopefully all of these leads coming in, and if we’re selling too much and can’t execute, we can really make ourselves look bad and ruin our long-term reputation. The third set of metrics that I believe in would be watching what’s going on.
For example, you’re in the middle of round 1 of 5 or 6 that you do annually and you’ve got 1,000 clients to take care of. You need to be aware of your progress. Have you done 500? Have you done 300? How many do you have to go? How much money have you generated so far? When you finish this round, how much more money are you going to generate? In this example, you can zoom in and you can see exactly what you’ve got left to do. Again, the point is not about Service Autopilot. The point is whether or not you have this kind of stuff in your business. If not, how can you put it together or where can you get it from so that you can be watching it right now?
Dick, did I keep on task with your answer there? Does that make sense?
Dick: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, it actually ties really into what Tom had just talked about. I work directly with Tom, and I’ve heard him say the words plan, implement and adjust over and over and over, and it sounds like you guys have the same views on that because you’re talking about if something’s working, you have to tweak it to make up for it. Tom, why don’t you take control of the screen and go into what you were just about to talk about?
Tom: Absolutely. You’re talking my language big time, Jonathan, so for all the people who are on the call today, a lot of our BeeSafe applicators, they hear me say the same thing over and over and over again: analyze, plan, implement, adjust. Those are things that you absolutely have to be working on all the time, and now isn’t the time to analyze. Now isn’t the time to plan. Now is the time to implement. It’s absolutely critical that you’re the one or whether you are responsible for a team, to actually do the implementation. You have to stay on it and you have to stop and ask yourself at least a couple of times throughout the course of the day. You have to stop and say, “Is what I’m doing right now getting me closer to my sales goals?”
If the answer to that question is no, you have to change what you’re doing to get closer to your sales goal. You have to be hyper-focused on making sure you hit those goals. Part of being able to do that is working off of a plan and Jonathan, you were talking about how March and April are the key months in being able to make those sales. It’s absolutely positively true. Everything that you do has to revolve around making those sales. What I thought I’d bring up here, and perhaps Jonathan, maybe you and I can go back and forth a little bit on some of these actual source codes here.
It’s easy for me, much the same way you brought up Service Autopilot, it’s easy for me to bring up a BeeSafe sales plan. It’s a company starting from zero sales and from zero customers. What we want it to do is get to about 450 customers. What we did was we built a sales plan to make 482 sales, knowing it will take a small amount of cancels and we can’t predetermine what our revenue per customer will be. We built in some of our optional services here to come up with the gross sales.
Before we actually get to that revenue, we have to put together a campaign that’s going to get us there, and I love the way you brought up some of those screens of Service Autopilot because the metrics are so incredibly important, not necessarily to what you’re doing right now, but when you write this plan again next year, and you should always have your plan, your budget written, your sales plan done in the off-season. You need to make sure that you’re ready to go in January. This plan was written in December to be able to be implemented January, February, March and April.
When you have all those lead sources up and we’re drilling down, I think you call them closing or conversion percent, I call them closing percent, historical data is literally the most important key indicator of any plan. When you write your plan for next year, you’re going to look back at what happened this year and after a while, any lawn care or even landscaping marketing plan becomes almost a math equation. There’s not a huge amount of creativity that goes into it after a while because you can count on certain things happening year after year after year.
What I thought we’d do right now is take a look at this particular sales plan and look at some of the sources that we’re going to try to get sales from. Then, literally drill it down to the best way to implement it, and Jonathan, I’d love to get your opinion on a couple of these sources.
This is an actual plan. It’s not something that I put together specifically for today’s webinar. A lot of it’s based on historical data that we’ve learned from over the years, especially when you talk about closing percent. I’m just going to run through a couple of these, and Jonathan, I’ll ask your opinion on some of them too, because I think some of the advice that we can get on how to execute some of these lead sources is really important.
I’ll start with referral. Referral is really one of the most important lead sources that you can ever build into your plan. Sometimes, people make a mistake of just assuming that referrals will happen, and in my opinion, it’s absolutely critical that you push referral sales all the time with every single thing you do. Back at Lawn Dawg, when we would implement that referral program, every single bit of information that ever left our building or ever left the branch, whether it was paper or electronic, email or anything, had some sort of reference to the referral program.
First of all, you had to start with an incentive. You have to give people a reason to want to give you referrals. Some companies will do $50. Some companies will do a free application or free mowing, something like that. There has to be a reason for people to want to do it, but it has to be implemented. You can’t just assume it’s going to happen. Jonathan, you must deal with referrals a lot. Do you have any thoughts on referral sale?
Jonathan: I have a lot. We can probably talk about this for the rest of the time, but referrals for me is not the most important. I’m speaking from experience here and data that I know in my own business. When I say my own business, I’m referring to the lawn care company. For us, referrals have our highest conversion rate or closing percentage, to use your words. For us, it runs in a low 90% range year after year. There is nothing in our business with a higher conversion rate than a referral. We do actually encounter some expense. They’re not free to us. For every referral, we’re sending out a thank you card and a gift card to a local restaurant through the person that gave the referral.
I really believe in referrals. It’s not our number one lead source, but it’s our best conversion. We actively try to get our clients to make the referral. We give them gifts. We say thank you. We go out of our way because we’re encouraging behavior. We’re trying to train behavior. We want them to give us another referral. This is one, if I was picking the top three things that I would do if I was starting over today, referrals would be one that I’d focus on.
The reason I said we can talk about this for a long time is we’ve actually built an entire strategy around referrals, where what we do is we give our clients a gift card to give to their friends. That’s why referrals aren’t completely free to us. We give our client a free gift card, like you would think of going to the store and buying a gift card to Best Buy. They give that gift card to their friends, and then those friends a lot of times will hang it on their fridge. It has value to it and they won’t throw it out. Someday down the road, they’ll redeem that gift card with our company when they need service. We have an opportunity to show off what we’re able to do and the level of our customer service, and they become a client.
There’s this huge strategy we’ve built around it. I think it’s got to be one of the top three things that a company focuses on when they’re building out the business.
Tom: I couldn’t agree with you more! But, one important thing that you said there is it requires a strategy. You always will take referral leads and referral sales just by doing what you do. But, if you do implement some strategy where you can put together a plan and a program and really make it happen, I’m in total agreement. You will make a lot of sales by pushing that referral.
A couple of people have asked about direct mail. I’m going to speak to direct mail for a couple of minutes because it really does have a place in your marketing plan. I think when we talk about the most successful, or the source that will drive the most sales, direct mail can do that for you. But, you have to be careful with it because it can get very expensive and you’re kind of taking a risk with doing it.
It wasn’t that long ago where many lawn care service companies, and I’m talking mostly fertilization and some of the big companies, Truegreen and Scotts, their main source of sales came from direct mail. When managers switched away from telemarketing to direct mail, they just pumped millions and millions of dollars into direct mail. It’s not always the most cost efficient means to make sales, but there’s absolutely a place for it.
Let me throw a couple of things out there and see what you guys think. Direct mail, you can typically expect less than 1% response rate. I remember one year at Lawn Dawg, we sent out 500,000 direct mail pieces and we got a spring northeastern. We got a snowstorm that wasn’t forecasted. It literally, I mean it was devastating. It was a lot of money to put into direct mail. That’s what I’m talking about in regards to the risk. But, you should only expect about a 1% return from it, and basically, what you’re doing is you’re generating estimates.
You should be able to close those estimates at a pretty high rate, and I think at this particular plan, you’ve got them in at 62%. If we were going to generate 200 direct mail leads, we’re going to expect 124 sales from that. That’s a fairly high amount as a percent to what we’re doing from this entire plan. But, it’s going to cost a few bucks to do that. Jonathan, have you had any experience with direct mail or, what are your feelings on that in today’s day and age?
Jonathan: I think there’s a move away from direct mail because the web is so incredibly successful for so many companies and it’s perceived to be near free, though it’s not really. I see direct mail as an awesome opportunity. I still love direct mail, but you nailed it. You nailed it on several fronts. There are guys who don’t even get a 1% return. Quick example, you’ve got to be very aware of your market. For example, if you’re mailing to a residential street where two out of every 10 people on that street are even a potential buyer of the service you’re selling, you’re mailing out an awful lot of marketing pieces that have zero chance of getting a return. Only two out of 10 even have a chance of even having a person in response.
The very first question in direct mail is, “Am I targeting exactly the right areas with the highest propensity to buy…the highest potential?” If you don’t, your returns could be 1/4 of 1%. They could be a disaster. You nailed it on the snow. I mean if it’s raining on the day the direct mail gets delivered or it’s overcast, it kills returns. There’s all these variables in direct mail that will just kill you. You can mail the same piece to the same area and you get a 2% return. If you mail it again three weeks later you may get 1/8 of 1% return. Why? It’s hard to explain sometimes.
That doesn’t mean you don’t do it. I think the guys that do it are going to win in the long term. Tom, here’s how I look at direct mail. I think the web is it. I spend a lot of money on the web, and a lot of guys are shocked when they come to find out what it takes to get good SEO ranking. It really does cost a lot of money. But, it’s the best money you could spend. But, the best way to grow your company from a profit standpoint is with direct mail, and here’s why.
This is my opinion of course, but my strategy and my belief is, you spent a whole lot of money to get yourself out there on the web so that people are coming to you. If you rely completely on the web, you will end up with a business that is scattered across your service market. I will use a residential example, but you may land on one street because you sell a client there, and then you may land on another street a few miles away, and then on another street a few miles away from that. All the money is in density. There’s a ton of money in it when you’re dense.
Direct mail is how you get dense. The web drives where you land. Then, when you land on that street, you go in to own that street and you own it through direct mail. You have to know your market and you only direct mail to the streets with the highest percentage of potential buyers.
That’s my belief and that’s why I do believe in direct mail. It is a more expensive sale, but it’s the best sale, because it leads to the most profit because you build density.
Tom: Yeah, and you know what? You’re nailing it man. I can tell by the questions that are coming in here. Density is absolutely the most important part of profitability, and when it comes to lawn mowing especially, if you can park that truck and do six lawns, that’s as good as having a 50,000 square foot property. It’s going to be much more profitable. One of our branches in Portland at Lawn Dawg years ago, had 750 customers in just one zip code. The guy would literally just go and park his truck and treat 15 lawns at a time. They were tiny little 3,000 square foot lawns, but he did 40 lawns before 1:00 in the afternoon. It was by far the most profitable route.
Many people are asking about the United States Postal Service doing a direct mail option. They really do reduce the cost of it, but I’m not a huge fan of it because it doesn’t allow you to target the way a good list does. I think the importance of having a good list far outweighs the cost. That’s how you build density. That’s how you improve your profitability.
Jonathan: Yeah, can I make a quick comment there, Tom?
Tom: Yeah, go for it.
Jonathan: I’m going to give an exaggerated example, but if you use this mindset in thinking about marketing and especially direct mail, it will help. Let’s again use a residential example. You’re out and you’re doing estimates and you’re meeting with clients, and this is again a very exaggerated example. You have all these clients and you go out there and you meet with them, and you walk away from the property and think, “I like that guy. Every time I meet with him, he’s a great guy. He’s a great customer.”
One day you notice, and again, this is a silly example, but one day you notice, “You know what, that guy that I just liked. He lives in about a $400,000 house and he’s got a BMW in the garage.” Then a week later, at another client’s home, you’re like, “Oh, that guy, his house is about 400 and what do you know, he’s got a BMW in the garage.” What you start to do is, you start to see these trends and you’re like, “You know, the guys I tend to like, they tend to be entrepreneurs, doctors, chiropractors, some kind of professional who tend to live in about a $400,000 house and they drive a BMW.” Then, you can go to your mailing list company and you say, “Hey, I want to buy a list of everybody in my city that lives in a house between $350,000 and $450,000 that has a BMW and so on and so forth.”
Now, that’s a more expensive list to buy. You’re going to spend some money to buy that list. But, now you’re mailing to a group of people that the entire demographic probably has close to 100% chance of being your buyer, instead of mailing to a street where two out of every 10 people, or three out every 10 people might be your buyer. What you’ve done is you’ve shifted some of your expense. If you’re spending 28 cents apiece to get bulk mail and post cards out the door, now you spend several pennies per name to buy the name, but you’ve immediately eliminated thousands of pieces that you would have sent that were a complete waste because you weren’t mailing to a specific list.
Exaggerated example, but that’s the mindset in direct mail. How can you narrow the market you’re focusing on and only get mail to the people that are your most likely buyers?
Tom: It’s almost as if you and I conspired about what to talk about.
Jonathan: We didn’t.
Tom: We’re doing this on the fly, but what’s happening is, that we hit on specific things that literally make the biggest difference to implementing a marketing plan. Let’s stay on this for a minute because I think we need to actually take that exaggerated example that you gave of the BMW, but bring it down to a realistic point of view. In my opinion, bulk mail is an option, but I’ve always been a firm believer in that, if you can identify who your best prospects are, you’re going to increase your closing percentage drastically, or even your response.
If you’re getting a 3/4 of 1% direct mail response, by increasing the validity or the quality of your list, you can get 1% or even higher than 1% response. When you’re talking about the numbers we’re dealing with direct mail, that’s a make or break 1/4 of 1%. I think that the BMW again is perfect, but when you get right down to it, you want to deal with a couple of parameters in regards to your list. You want to only deal with single-family dwelling units. If we’re talking about residential here, you want to clean out the condos. You want to clean out the apartments. You want to get rid of the renters. You want to deal with single-family dwelling units only and you want to use two things as your main cutoff with who you want to mail something to. It has to be home value and income level.
Most of these companies can actually take it beyond that, and you’re absolutely right, man. You can get lists based on specific interests, whether the people like to play golf, what kind of car they drive, whether they have a vacation home, kids, everything. In our case, if you’re trying to sell organic lawn care, whether or not somebody has children is a big deal, right? If you can specify that in your list, it’s very important. But, I think it’s different in different parts of the country. But, you want home value and income level to be the two main things. I don’t know if you want to speak to that at all, Jonathan, but I think it’s important that we let you guys know that the list is a big deal.
Jonathan: Yeah, I’m going to second that with one little comment. It’s not that expensive a list to buy. The common list is the one with the home value, the age, and a few demographic pieces of information. For example, the age of the person. That’s a very common list to be able to get a hold of, so it’s not a lot. It’s not very expensive. When you go and add my exaggerated example of the BMW to it, that gets more expensive because now, you’re matching up multiple lists. That is what ups the price. Tom, the list you’re talking about, it’s a very affordable, doable list and I’d add one little thing that I just learned over the years. Part of building your company is about building your company with clients you like, and clients that you like doing business with that pay you on time.
You don’t want to build your business around a company you hate because you’re dealing with a bunch of people that drive you crazy. Years ago, I spent $200 and had this huge wall map of my market made. This was back when I was still working the phones at CitiTurf in the early days. I hung this thing up on my wall and every time I got off the phone, I put a push pin in the wall for a lead and I put a different push pin in the wall for a sale. The thing that happened was I realized that in my market, there was this one section in my entire market that was about a 1/2 mile by 1 mile. That’s where all our best customers were. They would buy anything we wanted to sell. They weren’t million dollar homes. They were $275,000 to $450,000 homes and just that little activity clued us in where we wanted to be. That’s when we bought a list exactly like what Tom just described. It’s a very successful, very affordable approach.
Tom: We could do all day on these sources here, but we only want to spend about an hour with you guys and we can revisit it later, but what Jonathan was going to talk about next was the importance of that database and how that marketing universe and the flow of information is so important with the way that you run your business and track things. Jonathan, I don’t know if you want to go into that. I can give you the screen back. I know you were going to show some of that marketing universe and how that data is important.
Jonathan: Yeah, you can give me the screen. I can show just a couple of things really from a standpoint of maybe a few things to think about. This leads in my mind to the topic of speed. It’s not exactly what you asked, but it really gets into this speed issue. If you think about where clients are, or potential clients are in the world today, everybody’s multitasking, everybody’s moving 100 miles an hour, everybody’s got a to-do list that’s way too busy, and everybody gets easily frustrated. I mean, you know from reading reviews on the web, most of the reviews a lot of times are negative because people are so busy.
When they are actually going to take the effort to do something, it’s usually when they’re not pleased with the outcome. My point of that is that our selling advantage, I believe, anymore is on speed. When I say “our”, I mean as our industry. The client wants fast. They want speed. If you don’t answer your phone when the phone rings, you’re at an immediate disadvantage. You’re probably not going to win the business. They’re not going to wait on you to return the voice mail. They’re going to call three other people. If when they call you, they have to wait two days for you to come do an estimate, the first guy that shows up with the estimate that they halfway trust, is winning the business.
Everything is becoming about speed. The way I see it and what the market’s demanding is to give your potential client the dream come true experiences. When they call you, they want the phone answered. They want somebody to be able to answer their questions who understands the industry and they want a price right there in the moment. They want their questions answered and they want to feel comfort in what you can do for them. Part of this is speed. You have to have some kind of a system to execute so that you can deliver speed and then you also have to have a team that’s trained for speed.
You have to have a team that understands that we answer the phone immediately. The team that understands that when we get the client on the phone, we don’t say, “Well, somebody will get back to you in 5 minutes. Somebody will get back to you in an hour.” The team is trained to get the sale on the phone. It’s a hard thing to do. It takes time to build the business to that point, and it takes time to get there, but the guys that get there are the guys that win. In terms of execution and speed, as an example of just maybe using a Service Autopilot example, understanding everything that’s on and it’s just a demo here, if I go in and I go, let’s just say I pick a customer out of the system here. Part of speed and part of execution is understanding what’s going on with the client.
That is about having a system, whatever your system is, that can give you everything you need to know in the moment, on the phone, so that you can close the deal. I’m really focused on selling since it’s March. This is all based around selling. For example, when the phone rings, you have to know all the details about that client, all your past communication, when you’re going to be out there next, all these little facts, then you have to be able to produce an estimate in the moment. I would do one little side note trick that we’ve learned that works in helping conversion is, we’ve come to conclude that if you can run in your advertisements that we will send you an estimate by email, which we do, but after we’ve spoken with you because we can convert the vast majority of people that we speak with.
Just a little tidbit in your advertisement that we will send you an estimate by email. People seem to really like that. They think that they’re going to give you some information. You’ll shoot them an email. They’ll never have to talk to you, which they love. That’s what they want. You have to be able to execute that fast. For example, inside Service Autopilot, we have a whole system where you can go in and if you’ve got a residential client on the phone, you can pick residential or load up every service in the system that might sell a residential client. You’ll take into account their square footage. It will price out their work and you can click send and blast them an estimate.
That is what people want. How can you create that scenario in your business? The phone rings. You get their address. You figure out what their square footage is. You put it into a system and it prices the work. You give them a quote over the phone. If they don’t close in the moment, you immediately follow up with an estimate. And, if they don’t close through the estimate, then you immediately follow up in two days with a phone call.
It’s really about the speed and immediate execution. If you want to massively up your closing percentage, you’ve got to be the guy that answers the phone and gives the quote today. You can’t be the company that’s going out to walk the property and do an estimate. You can’t be the company that’s going to walk out and evaluate all their needs and try to give them a price for 50 different services at one time. The goal is to sell them on one service today, make them your customer, you take them off the market, and then you can sell them all your other services tomorrow. But, when you’re selling them all of the other services tomorrow, they’re only evaluating you because now, you’re their vendor.
Tom, was that on point?
Tom: Yeah. It is all about speed. You can get away with a higher margin when you’re able to react quickly. One thing I always think about is, say your water heater breaks, and you need to call somebody to get your water heater fixed. One guy you call says, “Yeah, I can do it for this. I’ll be out in two days to take a look at it and it’s going to be pretty inexpensive.” Another guy says, “I can do it. I’m going to charge you an extra $250 to get out there today, and then I’m going to charge you what it’s going to cost to fix it beyond that. Nine times out of 10, the person is going to pay the $250, right?”
When you want something, you want it now. The way our society has changed is that people want things instantly. I’m going to take the screen back from you, Jonathan.
Jonathan: Okay, yeah.
Tom: Let me show you how BeeSafe has actually adapted to that. There are things popping up on my screen. Hopefully, everybody can see everything all right. Again, for example, I’m using our company to prove a point to you guys. I want customers to be able to do their own estimate. We were able to implement the system into our business here, where a homeowner actually enters their zip code, and it brings them to potential applicators in the area.
What I’ll do is actually click on Get a Realtime Quote, and when they enter their address here, it’s going to bring them directly to a satellite picture of their home.
Jonathan: Let me interrupt you one second to say one thing. A lot of clients have this to-do list. They come home at night and after dinner or after a TV show they want to go to a website and get an estimate. They want to give you information so you can call them tomorrow. The advantage of something like this, there’s a huge percentage of homeowners or people that are doing this at night when there is nobody there to answer the phone. Now, it’s self-serve. They can get their price, get it off their to-do list. They can do it in the evening, when you see so many people wanting to do it.
Tom: Yeah, huge, huge, it’s like having a salesperson on 24 hours a day. A lot of times, guys get a little bit nervous. Like in this particular case, the address I picked, there are trees there. You know what, the person who’s doing the measuring is actually the homeowner, so they know, right? They know they’ve got lawn beneath those trees. I’ll just go in really quick here. They measure their lawn, and go ahead and get a square footage. It’s going to bring them to an exact price quote for their particular property. Now, this is everything that we’ve built in using My Lawn Quote to make it work easier. It’s very simple to do.
They’re able to get a specific estimate for whatever services they are interested in. They then hit on Let’s Continue. It brings them to another screen that allows them to even go further. They can actually do prepay discounts. You can do everything. It gives them options.
They can say, “I’m interested.” They can prepay us at 2:00 in the morning. My point here is that I agree so much with you. The speed is huge. It makes the biggest difference, and what you said about getting somebody on just the program is huge. You don’t want to scare them with 100 services. You want to sell them your program, whether it’s mowing or fertilization. Then, you all sell them later. Speed will increase your closing rates astronomically. In this case, we took the whole estimate process out of it all together. We’ve got customers being able to perform their own estimates.
On the other hand, we can use the same program when a customer calls in. Basically what we do is we get their information. We put that into the system. We’ve got measurements of their lawn, and then we email them that estimate instantly. The goal is to not generate estimates. The goal is to generate sales. We are able to respond immediately to what that person wants with a price. I think that’s where the industry is going, but to be honest with you, very few companies are willing to adapt at that whole execution thing. They are a little bit worried about how it works. I think if you’re able to implement a system like this, you guys are going to see your closing rate and your business skyrocket in a big way.
Dick: Hey, this is Dick. Tom, let me jump in real quick because I want to ask Jonathan a question. Jonathan, with a system like this and a system like yours, where getting the email is so important, can you touch on lead nurturing a little bit? I’m sure that’s a big part of Service Autopilot.
Jonathan: Dick, can you give me examples of what you mean? I understand lead nurturing, but can you give me an example of how you’re referring to it? Are you talking in terms of the process of following up once I become a lead, or what?
Dick: Well, the importance of keeping that database healthy, and just because you don’t close a deal today doesn’t mean you’re not going to close a deal next month.
Jonathan: That’s so true. There are a couple of things in the database that are really important. One is when that lead flows in, where are they going to come from? Are they going to come from this website initially? Do you have an estimate capture form on your website? Do you have a contact? However that happens, that lead has to be captured. You’ve got to know at all times how many leads you have that are open. You’ve got to know when they became a lead, so that you know, when your clients become a lead versus when they became a client. You need to know those types of pieces of information.
Unless you’re capturing this information in the system, unless you’re actually logging the history, you’re keeping up with the estimate you actually gave. That’s why electronic estimates are so valuable. Even if you put them out, you’ve got a record. Handwritten doesn’t seem to work.
Then, you’ve got to have a process internally so somebody can follow up on the leads that haven’t closed after a day or two, and even all those leads that somewhat go cold this season. These leads are potentially valuable to us for a couple of years.
Part of nurturing the lead is following up by phone. That’s part of making an impression that we care. We follow up. We’re on top of our game. It’s about over time following up with direct mail or a letter. Following up because you have the email address from some automated email marketing…and not from a sales standpoint…but from a teaching, informative, and educational standpoint just so you stay on top of your clients’ minds.
I’m a huge believer in what they call auto responders, where you stay in front of your client once a month, or a couple of times a month via email, with something helpful and informative. The next time the competing lawn care company forgets to close the big gate for the second time and the dog gets out, you’re the first company that comes to mind.
The list, or the management of it, is critical.
Tom: Yeah, and I clicked on this example here. Whenever somebody does an estimate through that site the way I demonstrated it, it always gets tabulated and kept track of in this particular system with inbound and outbound notes. Dick, what you said is true. No doesn’t always mean no. No usually means no, not right now. Your best potential customer is always somebody who you’ve been in touch with previously. It’s absolutely important and vital that you maintain that list and you maintain all of the contact information as much as you possibly can so that you’re able to sell it later on.
Dick: Right, and circling back around to the beginning of the conversation, we were talking about how so much direct mail is wasted because you don’t know when you’re mailing to a street if there are two potential buyers on the street or four? When you have somebody that called you or responded to your original marketing, they’re a potential buyer. 90% of that list is probably a potential buyer. The most effective direct mail you can do is going back to the list of people that never bought from you that you still would like to win their business. That’s the first list you go back to in direct mail.
Tom: Yeah, absolutely. That was part of the plan, the previous customers, the previous rejects and cancels. You’ve got to go back to them. Dick, I’m sure you’re about to cut us out here because we’re about at an hour and I’ve got a lot of questions. I don’t know if you guys can see the questions as they pop up, but there’s a long list of them and I encourage you guys that if you have any questions you want to ask before we wrap up, please do. If you don’t mind, I’ll read a couple of them now and maybe, Jonathan and I can answer them.
When we were talking about lists, lots of companies and guys and girls were asking about where do to get this list. There are a lot of list companies out there. Jonathan, I don’t know if you’ve worked with one specifically or if Service Autopilot has a relationship with somebody. But there are plenty out there.
Jonathan: Yeah, we don’t have a specific relationship. I tend to like a company called Zap Data for simple lists. They can get you a simple list. The future of Service Autopilot is to have a relationship. What I do like and what I do recommend is, there are all kinds of different printers, and if you get a printer that knows marketing, they will have relationships with list brokers. You can work with them closely and if that printer’s in your local market, they’ll have a little understanding of the market when talking to brokers.
I like to use some local relationships for that stuff.
Tom: Sales Genie, which is a great B2B store for leads. They also have a consumer database. Mostly, everything spins off a company called Info USA, and they seem to be on the top of the food chain. Another great list or way to drill it down is to get new homeowners and that was another thing on that source plan. A Google search will get you a long way, but we usually recommend Sales Genie to start with, then Info USA.
Jonathan: The first company that has to know about new homeowners is the water utility company. Some of the utility companies provide those lists for a fee or for free. For example, my market is provided every Monday morning and you don’t even have to pay for it.
Tom: Man, that’s us and I didn’t even know that.
Jonathan: You just look around. It’s not true everywhere. There’s a lot of websites out there that will be the county and then CAD.org. Across the US, you’ll find a lot of these, and there are ways through some of those sites you can get lists of new people. It’s all different all throughout the United States, but if you’re a little creative and look around in your market and do a little research, you can find some good lists. Sometimes, they’ll have the name, whereas with a lot of the cheap Info USA lists, it’s not the same quality list but an inexpensive list.
You may not actually always get the name or you may have to pay more to get it. Some of the local markets, you can get some of that for free if you go look at the utility companies, and if you have a company in your market that is in the business of welcoming new homeowners to the market, they’re a great place to start and ask questions because they have to buy that kind of data and then point you in the right place.
Tom: Yeah, and let me add there, never send something to somebody that says current resident or homeowner. You always want to have their name on it. It’s what’s called the mail moment, when somebody gets their mail, and then stands next to the trash and throws stuff in there. Anytime, and I’m speaking from my own experience, when something comes to me addressed to resident or homeowner, that thing’s going to the trash right away. It’s a metric, you get the homeowner’s name for sure.
A couple other questions here in regards to that auto estimating program…
Yes, you can put a disclaimer in there with regard to mis-measured lawns. I want to throw something out there in regard to that. I would rather give out a little bit of measurement for volume any day. I’d rather have 1,000 estimates that might be off a little bit than 100 that are perfect, but using the program that we built into the system, before anybody can purchase, before anybody can commit or pay us something, there’s a disclaimer that basically says we reserve the right to make any adjustments that we need to. What a lot of companies have done is made it humorous, saying, “Don’t try to misrepresent your lawn. We won’t accept every single quote. If you’re trying to get away with something, you can’t.”
Dick: Tom, while you’re looking through the questions, let me just jump in. We’re going to be doing this webinar every month. We’re going to have a different topic. In April, we’re going to be doing lawn on branding and upselling, so be on the lookout in your email for that link, and we would like to see you back on here. Jonathan and Tom are a wealth of knowledge, have years in the industry and are at the top of their games, so branding and upselling should be a good one.
Tom: Yeah, and you know what, we’re over on our time so I’m not going to go through any more of these questions. I will at least offer that if anybody has anything that they want to throw at me, they’re more than welcome to contact me via email or telephone, tkelly@naturaltech is my email. You can find the phone number just by looking at BeeSafe. I’m happy to speak to anybody about anything, anytime and would be glad to help you out. Jonathan, I don’t know if you want to speak to that.
Jonathan: I’m happy to answer questions. Actually, I have this site called Lawn Care Millionaire, where over the years, I’ve probably answered 1,500 questions via email and I’ve answered hundreds of questions via video. My email address is there. I check that email every couple of days. That email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. The site is setup with a whole lot of questions that have been answered if you find it interesting. If you shoot me an email there, I’m happy to answer the question.
Dick: All right, everyone. We appreciate you jumping on today. Tom and Jonathan, I appreciate you guys jumping on. It was a great call, a lot of good information out there, and that’s it. Have a good day, guys.
Tom: Thanks guys, I appreciate it.