By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
As homeowners change their energy consumption habits, marketers face pressure to move beyond fuel-centric business models and find success selling to customers who might not even heat their homes with oil.
It’s a huge transition that requires a business to recruit homeowners with a fresh value proposition that focuses on services such as energy efficiency, alternative energy and home automation. The company needs to see itself differently and forge lasting relationships that might not depend on fuel sales. No two companies will transform in exactly the same way, but every one of them will face the same daunting question: How do I make my company a magnet for new business?
Over the last two months, this column has examined the essentials of marketing a full-service fuel company and marketing a diversified home comfort company. The theme continues this month with a look at the essentials of acquiring new customers. Here are some vital steps to help you expand the customer base.
Set Targets and Develop Strategy. Begin with a strategy that covers both the long term and the short term. Management should identify key long-term objectives up front, such as what services to offer, what kind of customers to target, and how to be profitable. This should be broken down into annual objectives: what to launch in Year 1, Year 2, etc., with a sequence for targeting different new customer segments. It is a complex process that will tax the organization’s resources in many ways, so it is important to break it down into manageable steps and segments.
Do your best to think like a customer, and anticipate your future relationship with them. What are they looking for from a provider like you? What services do they need? What is their idea of convenience? How can you help them decide that you are the best provider?
What Are You Going to Sell Them? To acquire new customers, you need to offer products or services that can gain traction right away. You might grow by offering one popular product that is widely used beyond your customer base, such as propane, or you could focus more on selling home comfort services and service contracts. Whatever path you choose, the first sale to a new customer is arguably your largest obstacle, and it’s important to go into the marketplace with a compelling value proposition that can pique the interest of your target customers. Your long-term goal might be to build lasting relationships in which you can sell a wide variety of services, but for the short term you need an easy sell that will get your foot in the door so your team can start making a great impression. Study your market and look for voids that you can fill.
Send A Powerful Message. When you’re trying to grow the company, you need to motivate consumers. Regardless of what medium you use, you need a strong core message that will interrupt their status quo and cause them to do something new, i.e., hire you to help them. You need to get their attention, and in those precious few seconds when they are looking or listening, you need to influence them so significantly that they decide to contact you.
Sound impossible? It’s not, but it certainly requires a lot of thought and planning. You need to deliver a message that accomplishes a lot in just a few seconds. It has to get their attention. It has to highlight an opportunity they are missing. And it has to qualify your company as the solution provider.
You will deliver the message in many forms over the next few years, such as advertisements, website copy or direct mail, but in its essence it will always be consistent. It is your expression of why customers should choose your company and its services and products.
Make Contact. When customer acquisition is a key to your company’s future, you need to initiate a lot of contact, because the customers aren’t going to find you on their own – not in the numbers you need. Develop a marketing strategy that includes lots of outreach, so that you are making your target prospects aware of what you can do for them.
Advertising and direct mail can both be effective. Broadcast is cost-effective when every home in the market is a potential customer, so that no impressions are wasted. If you are targeting only a portion of the market, direct mail generally offers better value.
A special offer for new customers can pay for itself many times over when your strategy is to get one opportunity with them and then make a great impression in the hope of winning a long-term account. Craft a set of special offers for every season, so that you can continue soliciting prospects over the next year and beyond.
Commit to the process. Set a schedule for advertising and direct mailing and stick to it. Some prospects will need repeat attention before they finally contact you, and it is vital to give them time and attention necessary to let their interest gel.
Consider using a content marketing strategy in which you offer informative videos or whitepapers to prospects who provide their e-mail. That way prospects can steer themselves into your sales funnel and signal their interest in your services. Use website analytics and track customer interactions on the site. You can also use a “remarketing” strategy that serves your online ads to them repeatedly as they surf the Web.
Be Everywhere. Internet-savvy consumers often go searching online for what they want, so it is important to be highly visible on the Internet. First and foremost, improve search engine optimization on your website so that it performs well in Internet search. Many consumers simply expect the best companies to rise to the top of the search results pile, and they won’t dig deeply. Monitor the search performance of your home page and any subpages you maintain for extra search hits. If you are not showing up on the first page of search results for your key terms, you will be severely handicapped in new customer acquisition.
Second, sign up for Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau. It takes a lot of trust for some consumers to partner with a home services provider. Angie’s List and Better Business Bureau are important markers for consumers who place a high priority on trust. Get listed in business directories too. Any listing in Google+, Yahoo Local, Bing or Merchant Circle is another online point of presence that can connect a prospect to you.
While it is your Internet presence that matters most, advertising also provides great support for new customer acquisition. Identify venues in your market that serve your target audience – radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, well placed billboards – and purchase a schedule that coincides nicely with your sales season. Then produce advertisements that express the essence of your powerful message succinctly and cast the company in a highly professional light.
Blow Them Away With Your Website. In customer acquisition, all roads lead to the company website. Every marketing initiative you take – advertisements, public relations, direct mail, pay-per-click – will prompt prospects to visit your website. At the same time, every search that a prospect initiates themselves will also lead to the same destination.
This means that your website is providing a vital early impression of your company to virtually every prospect you hope to recruit. Within the first few seconds, each visitor will decide whether to consider you as a service provider. Your site needs to exude professionalism at a glance, and it needs clear navigation to strong informational resources that will engage visitors, such as articles and videos. Once visitors are impressed and engaged, the site needs to make it easy for them to connect with you and even make a purchase or request a service.
When planning a customer acquisition strategy, take a close look at the company website and make sure that it reflects well on you and offers straightforward navigation to key pages. If you have doubts about the quality, make plans to overhaul the website immediately. There is far too much at stake to cut corners on your Internet presence.
Customer Voices Instill Confidence. Many homeowners are wary when it comes to hiring a new service provider. One of the best ways to instill confidence is to feature positive customer reviews online. Gather testimonials from your customers and post a prominent link to them on your home page. If you don’t have enough testimonials on your site, reach out to satisfied customers and gather quotes that you can use in your marketing.
Guide Them In. Review and troubleshoot your entire customer intake process. Consider every avenue a customer might take, such as inquiring through the website or calling the office, and be prepared to create an exceptional customer experience that will help them like you.
On the website, encourage customers to contact you online by installing live chat or an easy-to-use e-mail contact form. Include a note that states how long they will wait for a response from you, and then respond at least as quickly as you indicated you would. Consider assigning members of your team to monitor e-mails inquiries overnight or in the early morning so that you can make a good impression with a prompt reply.
Create special offers specifically designed for new customers so that you can do some work for them right away, and make sure that anyone who speaks with the prospect or makes a service call is fully briefed in your new customer processes. By making their first contact and their first visit exceptional experiences, you will maximize your chances of forming a fruitful, long-term relationship.
As always, PriMedia stands ready to help with a full range of creative services as well as self-service applications for your website. To get started, please call me at 800-796-3342 or e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.