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Inbound marketing for the green industry

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Selling lawn and landscaping services: Are you changing with the times?

Chris Heiler | June 17, 2014

This article orginally appeared on Landscape Leadership.

I’m gonna drop some personal insights on you that I really want you to consider. And I encourage you to share your thoughts in the comments section below. This post will be long... Read it through! I’m sure you will disagree with some comments but at the same time I bet you’ll have some “Oh, shit” moments that you need to address in your business.

Many of you know that we’re a digital marketing agency for green industry companies. In my opinion we work with some of the best and most innovative companies in our awesome industry. And, trust me, we’re truly thankful for that.

But, here’s the thing, and I’m sure you’ve noticed this: Green industry service companies, like landscape contractors and lawn care operators, are very sales driven. Many of the top service companies in our industry were built on the back of a sales superstar. On the other hand, marketing is often brushed aside as if it’s the ugly stepsister to sales.

I can say this because I see it played out in company after company we speak with and in many we work with. Sales is prioritized, marketing is marginalized.

Because of this, there is a dramatic misalignment between sales and marketing in most organizations.

The way people buy has changed
Consider this: Selling lawn and landscaping services used to be easy. When new construction was booming you could quickly grow a company by referrals and folks seeing your trucks rumbling through their neighborhoods. I know many landscaping companies doing $1 million-plus in revenue who seem to have gotten there by accident. If they were starting today they wouldn’t have a chance to hit the same numbers.

Then this thing called the Internet came along and consumer habits quickly changed and evolved.

Your prospects and customers are smarter today. They have higher expectations. A referral from their neighbor or networking buddy isn’t enough to get you an easy sale like it once was.

Don’t believe me?  Go look in the mirror. Look at how your own buying behaviors have changed over the past 10 years. I bet in dramatic fashion, just like mine.

Think our industry is “unique” compared to all others and how you sell your services is immune to this shift? Wrong-O!

Your prospects are researching and qualifying you against your competitors like never before in the same way you would research buying a washer and dryer or purchasing a new home or vehicle.

On top of that, because consumers have full control of the buying process today, they don’t want to be bothered by you! They don’t need you like they used to. You know this, even if you haven’t admitted it to yourselves.

The direct sales approach of yesterday isn’t working, is it? Less and less people are picking up their phones. They’re not answering their doors.

Sooooo… If that approach is broken, then what?

Marketing saves the day!
Back to the ugly stepsister in the dusty, corner cubicle.

Here’s what I’ve noticed: Marketing professionals have adapted and evolved with the shifting consumer habits faster than sales professionals.

The problem for a lot of companies in our industry is that we’re so damn sales-heavy. Remember… We didn’t need marketing people when times were good--one or two sales stars was enough! Now we’re stuck with a team that hasn’t adapted to the changing times.

Our green industry has not adapted as it relates to sales. I read articles about sales strategy in all of our green industry trade publications. An article I read recently on “5 Sales Tips for….” is the same insight I would have found 10 or 15 years ago in the same magazine. Let’s step it up, friends!

Inbound versus Outbound
It should be very clear to everyone that we’re transitioning into a marketing world where the Inbound philosophy is finally taking hold over the outbound, in-your-face philosophy from days of yore. Imagine that, marketing that is actually helpful to you instead of interrupting your family dinner.

So marketing has evolved (even within our industry!). This is probably obvious to you. Google Search... Yelp... Facebook anyone?

But what about sales, the way we sell our services every day? In your business I’m willing to bet you’ve changed or adapted more new ways of marketing your services compared to how you sell them. Am I right?

Here’s the thing I want you to understand: Inbound marketing attracts a different kind of prospect or lead that your traditional sales team is not prepared to nurture (notice I didn’t use the word sell).

Remember, consumers are in control of the buying process. Today your prospects find you on their time when they’re ready. Some may be ready to open their wallets for you (Yay!), but many are not, they are simply in fact-finding mode not yet ready to make a purchasing decision. These folks don’t need (or want) you to sell them on anything. They’ll let you know when they’re ready to buy. It’s your job to nurture the relationship up to that point of purchase.

This requires a dramatically different mentality in a sales person, don’t you think? You require more than someone whose skill set is limited to knocking on doors, making 10 phone calls an hour and writing proposals.
 
A love-hate relationship
You know what your salespeople love? When a prospect calls directly on the phone requesting a consultation or asking for a quote. Hell yeah! That’s as easy as it gets, baby! “I’ll give you a quote right now over the phone, Mrs. Jones!”

Everyone loves leads like this because Mrs. Jones is ready to buy right now! Anyone can close that business.

Too bad this scenario doesn’t happen as often as it used too. Am I right or wrong?

On the flip side, do you know what salespeople do not love? Working the prospects at the top-of-the-funnel who aren’t yet ready to make a purchasing decision. It’s hard work after all! And if they’re not ready to buy right now why should you put in any effort?

I think the answer is fairly obvious: You want to be the company top-of-mind -- considered the trusted advisor -- when that prospect is ready to buy.

Let’s look at a practical example that illustrates the Inbound philosophy:

1  Because you and your sales team get numerous pricing-related questions before and during the sales process, you decide to create a helpful “Pricing Guide” which is a three-page pdf file that outlines the most important considerations and factors that go into the cost of a landscaping project.
2  You make this helpful resource available by allowing people to download it from your website in exchange for filling out a simple web form. The purpose is to educate, qualify and generate leads for your sales team.
3  Upon each web form submission, a notification is instantly sent via email to one of your salespeople.

What does this salesperson do with each new contact?

This is where the gap exists between inbound marketing and traditional direct sales in an organization! Sales teams have not adapted to this new “top-of-the-funnel” type of lead. Put simply, they don’t know what to do with them.

This is understandable, after all, it’s not like this new contact called you on the phone asking for a quote, they simply downloaded your helpful content from your website. Confusing things further, the salesperson, rightfully so, doesn’t have a clue where this prospect is in their buying process. Are they ready to request a consultation? Are they already talking to another landscape company? Are they just doing some initial research?

 
Selling lawn and landscaping services today and in the future
Here’s my advice: You’d better start stocking your sales team with the people who instinctually understand how to connect and engage with this new kind of lead.

To them, they see someone who downloads your “Pricing Guide” as an opportunity, not as a waste of time. That said, they understand it’s probably not an opportunity with an instant payoff, but just a first step in a longer process of nurturing that prospect through the sales process and into a paying customer.

The superstar salesperson of today and in the future will be able to:

- Gather lead intelligence on each new contact or prospect. (What did they download from our website? What pages did they visit? What social networks are they on? What is their job title?)
- Grade and prioritize new contacts and prospects based on this lead intelligence.
- Customize their follow up approach based on this unique lead intelligence (no longer is a one-size-fit-all approach to sales effective).
- Connect and start a conversation with this prospect based on their unique context.
- Qualify (or disqualify) this prospect and move to the next step in the sales process.
- Deliberately move this prospect toward a buying decision in a value-added way without a traditional “hard sell”.

Sound like hard work? You bet!

You don’t have total control over the sales process anymore. That’s a problem for a lot of salespeople! They. Don’t. Like. That. The challenge is to assemble a sales team that understands that control is now in the hands of the buyer and who are willing and able to work within these new rules.

Until you do this, there will continue to be a gap between the opportunities marketing brings in the door and how effective your sales team is in turning those opportunities into customers.

What do you think? I would love to hear your comments, whether you agree or disagree with what I’ve shared. Tell me, how have your own buying habits changed over the past 10 years? Do you see these same changes in your prospects and customers? If so, what are you doing about it?

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