You’ll never see a salesperson from Noon Turf Care make an in-person sales call to a potential client, walk the lawn with a tape measure and provide a handwritten estimate.
Instead, a salesperson sits in front of a computer and calls a prospective customer to follow up on a lead. While on the phone, the Noon Turf Care staffer explains the services the company offers. Since his computer has access to the potential client’s address, he can look up and instantly measure their lawn via Google Earth Pro satellite data, and deliver a quote right then. He closes the sale and starts service.
It’s this kind of efficiency that has helped Noon Turf Care, based in Marlborough, Mass., grow 206 percent between 2009 and 2013, ranking the company among Inc. Magazine’s 5,000 fastest growing companies for three years straight. The company’s focus on technology also earned it a 2008 Lawn & Landscape Innovation Award.
Along with the headquarters in Marlborough, the company, founded in 2001 by brothers Christopher and Matthew Noon, runs three service centers in Massachusetts and one in Connecticut. Altogether, some 50 employees contribute their efforts to manage 10,000 accounts and grow the company to a projected $8 million in 2014 annual revenue.
Christopher Noon, CEO, spearheads the design of the systems. He joined his brother, Matt, at the company after cutting his teeth in the advertising industry.
“A lot of companies are built over 20 years and are slow to adapt. We never had that problem,” Chris Noon says.
The Noon Turf Care office can be noted as much for what it doesn’t have, as for what it does:
- There are no ringing phones in the office. All salespeople use Bluetooth headsets tied directly into their computers. A customized version of Spitfire software prompts the salespeople to read from pre-written scripts. A customized version of Real Green software tracks all of the customer information, storing snippets of recorded phone calls, customer information, service notes and GPS data of the lawn measurements.
- The office is paperless. There are no file folders and no sticky notes. Instead, every note and client contact is entered into the customized computer system. All contracts are signed digitally through email using PDFs and a software called DocuSign that allows for the collection of digital signatures. All computer data is integrated to work seamlessly to allow any of the employees to access important data.
- There are no white boards to track service calls. All trucks are tracked in real time on large flat screens throughout the office using Fleetmatics GPS tracking software.
- There are no paper forms in the service trucks. Every vehicle is outfitted with a Samsung tablet loaded with interconnected software that allows a technician to report to the office. If a challenge or problem is found at a job location, a salesperson is alerted immediately.
Of course, this level of technological innovation doesn’t come cheap. Noon says the company has invested “hundreds of thousands of dollars” to create and refine its systems. The phones and tablets alone cost about $60,000, according to company CFO Stephanie Lee. By alleviating the need to send out trucks and personnel to measure lawns and write estimates, Noon says the company has dramatically shortened the time it takes to close a sale and saved “millions of dollars in the past six years” on outside sales wages, vehicles, gas and insurance.
till, for all of the technological innovation involved in the sales process, Noon says he learned the hard way that the human element is still important.
Customer retention is the best way to create stability in an organization. To do this, Noon technicians attend winter classes to learn the basics of agronomics. They also attend a month-long training with Noon Turf Care managers in February that not only teaches them their routes and technology, but it also teaches them customer service techniques that help them to establish a personal rapport with clients.
There was no one incident that caused Noon to make this change. Noon crunches numbers and looks at trends. He realized the industry model was about the number of jobs a technician completed in a day. And that in the industry, most technicians are paid by how many jobs, they do in a day. It does not emphasize quality.
“We realized there was a disconnect (between technicians and clients),” Noon says. “We had to dial it back. Let’s get this interaction with the client and the employee right and do a good job the first time.”
Employees are encouraged to establish a relationship with the clients. Noon used the example that if the technician’s name is Bob, and the customer knows Bob, knows he has two kids, Noon says, “it’s easier to fire a company than to fire a person.” Since the training program began, customer retention is up seven percent.
The value of the human element also became apparent in 2009 when Noon launched a fully automated website called SmartLawn.com. The website allows a person to input all of their information, phone number, address and, using a formula similar to what’s used in the office, the website spits back an instant quote.
“We thought we’d sell more work than we can handle. It generated a lot of activity and leads, but did not close sales,” Noon says. “I was naïve to think someone would go online and sign up.” Instead, the leads generated by the website were routed to inside salespeople who follow up with a phone call. “That upped our close rate to 85 percent from 35 percent over the internet,” Noon says.
“Isn’t that funny? I thought they’d go online, have everything at their fingertips, they fill it out, and boom, you have all this business. No.”
The lesson Noon learned was that the human element –people talking to people, no matter how much technology aids in the process – is still critical.
“You can’t alienate people with all of this information,” Noon says. “If I know every blade of grass on your property but if I don’t know how to talk to you or communicate that, then it’s worth nothing.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Mount Vernon, Wash.