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Sunday, April 21, 2024

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Fill Your Idea Parking Lot for 2024

by Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.


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Take your “what-if” and “why-don’t-we” ideas out for a spin now and then

I recently learned of a brilliant business strategy from a company owner who maintained an “idea parking lot” where all the why-don’t-we thoughts were kept. Why-don’t-we ideas are different from blue sky concepts. Blue sky thinking is all about what you would do if you had all the money and resources available. Why-don’t-we ideas are usually grounded in reality and often tied to enhancing a current product or diversifying a service.

There could be a wealth of reasons why a why-don’t-we idea isn’t picked up immediately. In many situations, why-don’t-we ideas come up while looking at solutions for a different task and need to be put aside temporarily. Sometimes, the concept isn’t fully formed and needs more work, or isn’t right for the company at the moment. It could be a matter of company resources – a lack of the financing, staffing, time or infrastructure necessary. And then there are those concepts that aren’t very good at first glance but might have a kernel of something to work around. Having an idea parking lot gives each of these ideas a safe place to sit, possibly get a tune-up or polishing, and then get moved to the front as priorities shift.

The parking lot concept also gives staff the freedom to think big during brainstorming sessions. No idea is too “out there,” and no idea is “bad.” Ideas can be grouped by company division or services … and jockeyed around the lot as needed. Management now has some space to inspect each idea in its turn and, if needed, ask someone to get under the hood.

There are two more things your parking lot will need:

  1. A physical (or digital) space. Whether it is a whiteboard in the conference room or a shared spreadsheet, the lot needs to be a place that management and team members can visit for inspiration.
  2. An attendant or valet (or several). Someone needs to keep track of what is in the lot, how long it has been parked, and if it needs to have its engine turned over. Your lot attendants could be project managers, the business owner, or various department heads nurturing their individual ideas … but they need the business knowledge to know when it is time to bring one out and see how it runs.


Fill Up Your Lot

The idea lot should be populated with ideas from your staff, your customers and consultants. It should grow organically as possibilities arise during brainstorming sessions, meetings and conversations – the what-if and why-don’t-we concepts that might otherwise get overlooked, lost, or discarded out of hand. Instead, the meeting organizer can suggest the team “put that in the lot” to review later. In our company, many of our most popular products and services have grown from a what-if or why-don’t-we mentality.


Here Are Some Why-Don’t-We’s To Get The Ball Rolling:


Why-don’t-we … update our website?

Business websites need regular updates to keep pace with changing technologies. They are your first introduction to potential customers and should reflect your company’s attention to current accessibility, service and design expectations. If your company’s website is more than a few years old, this is an idea that should be warming up in the front of your lot.

Google is constantly refining the signals it uses to rank websites and the companies behind them for search results. Your site content should be updated to reflect these changing goals. The changes in your company should be reflected too … new products and services need to be added, outdated promotions removed, and the content reviewed to ensure that the most current issues are being addressed.

Making sure your website is ready for today’s user means more than ensuring that it will re-size for a smartphone. Your pages need to be reviewed for how they display on various devices. Are callouts blocking navigation? Is the contact form buried at the bottom of a long, long, long scroll? Did your images and banners resize correctly? How long did it take for the main and subsequent page elements to load, and were sections shifting during the load time? These last two items are not just elements of the user experience that must be considered, but also items measured to the millisecond as part of Google’s algorithms.

While you are focused on your website, why-don’t-you add online customer services? Integrated portals can automate virtually every customer transaction for both residential and commercial/business accounts. Online orders and payments are just the beginning. Integrated customer portals can onboard new customers, manage paperless invoicing, provide tank monitoring, complete contracts for service agreements and payment plans, present and store documents, offer enhanced rewards and coupons, deliver personalized messaging to each customer, and so much more.

What’s the benefit to your company? A better, more-convenient user experience that will strengthen customer loyalty and lower your costs per customer. With a front-facing portal enabling customers to check balances, request service, view their latest delivery ticket, and even enroll in a price protection contract, your customer service reps will have more time to actually service customers in need.


Why-don’t-we … bring our sales management into the 21st Century?

Are you able to keep track of calls that come through the office: which sales rep got the lead, what product or service was requested, how quickly the call was returned, and what the status of the proposal or estimate is?

If you can’t get the answers to those questions with a few clicks, you are wasting time and losing business. You might still be using a notebook to manage leads, and I would guess it is overflowing with loose papers, sticky notes and business cards. That might have worked when you had one truck, a few hundred customers, and you were your only salesperson. As your business has grown, your sales management system needs to evolve.

A digital sales and lead tracking system will help you nurture your leads, better manage your sales team, and close more sales. Gone are the days that a customer is lost because no one followed up or the proposal was never sent. The tracking system sends time-sensitive reminders to the salesperson and alerts to the managers when the reminders aren’t cleared. It centralizes all the data necessary and can integrate with your enterprise software to automatically pull historical data on leads from current or past accounts and turn closed sales into new accounts. This removes the duplicative work of transferring contact and billing information from one system to the other.


Why-don’t-we … test new marketing methods?

It’s a hard pill to swallow, but most home buyers came of age around the turn of the century! (This past one, not the 1900s.) Over the last five years, approximately one-third of primary homes were purchased by individuals aged 25-34, and one-quarter by those 35-44.

We are well aware that new homeowners frequently choose a fuel provider other than the one who most recently serviced the property. Something else we’re aware of: Millennials do not regularly read print news. In December, Statista released a survey showing that in a two-week period, only 23 percent of respondents 30-49 years old had read a daily newspaper, and only 15 percent of those 18-29.

It’s right there in black and white: if your marketing campaign consists of print ads in the local newspaper, you are not reaching new homeowners. Millennials are online – they get their news online, if at all. They play games, watch movies and television shows, and listen to music through apps and streaming services. Traditional print and broadcast outlets (TV and radio) can still reach Baby Boomers and older Gen X customers and may have a place in your marketing mix. However, to reach the newest homeowners, the ones most likely to switch companies and who need to be educated about renewable liquid fuels, you need to market on the same apps and streaming services.

These platforms are not included within the Google network, but instead are reached through programmatic advertising campaigns. Programmatic campaigns offer the choice of thousands of detailed demographic, location, behavioral and financial data points; can utilize encryption and other anonymization methods to target your audience by home address, cell phone number or email address; and once users are captured, cross-identify other devices they use, including home and work computers, cell phones, laptops and connected TVs. Programmatic offers many tactics, including geo-fencing, geo-addressable/curated, keyword and context, site remarketing and other targeting, and has been effective for commercial, residential and employment campaigns.

We have found that programmatic campaigns are the rising tide that lifts all boats. With a cost-per-impression of a fraction of a penny, the reach of programmatic is unmatched by Google Ads or social media. However, most users who see or hear a programmatic ad do not immediately click through to the website. They are in the middle of other things and not searching for a service. That said, we have found that programmatic campaigns exponentially lift organic, direct and paid search traffic to our clients’ websites. A new marketing campaign incorporating programmatic should encompass all digital platforms for the best overall results.


Why-don’t-we … train the office team?

You don’t think twice about refreshing and updating your techs’ skills. You invest in training on new equipment and technology, whether it is a manufacturer’s rep coming to your shop, or sending your techs to a third-party for certification. Why not offer the same options for your office staff?

Even employees who have been with you “forever” could use refreshers on phone and office etiquette or dealing with angry customers. If you have updated any of your enterprise or customer service software, did you make sure that everyone was given training on the new systems? When was the last time you reviewed your service and pricing plans with the people who are most likely to be asked questions about them? Have you diversified into new products and services, or are you acquiring a former competitor? Can your customer service representatives explain, without notes, your top services and current promotions?

The more knowledge your office team has, the more they can help you succeed. Your customers will be happier because your CSRs will be more responsive and informed. Your dispatcher and service manager will be relieved because the CSRs can handle questions that would have previously been passed to them. Your financial advisors will be happier because informed CSRs can sell more products and services. That will make you happier, too!

These are just a few ideas for your parking lot. The best ones will come when you least expect them, which is why the lot is there. Park the idea. Let it idle for a bit, then kick the tires, see how much it might cost, and envision yourself in the driver’s seat.

Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., an integrated marketing and communications firm specializing in the home energy sector. He can be reached at rrutigliano@primediany.com or 516-222-2041.


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