By David H. Martin
A tighter marketing budget in 1991 may mean less money to communicate with prospects. But everyone can afford to improve the quality of their communications, written and verbal, with past and prospective customers and with employees.
Start by contacting past customers
If you have been in business for five or more years, chances are more than half of your sales today can be traced to direct referrals from satisfied customers.
The easiest referrals, however, come from the most recent body of customers – those who bought equipment from you in the last year or two. This is, of course, true because those most recent buyers are still enthusiastic about the positive changes that quality water has made in their lives. They still remember, full well, what their lives were like before they made their decision. These still-recent purchasers delight in telling their friends and neighbors about their “enlightened” decision for quality water. After all, they are still looking to justify the decision in their own minds as a “smart decision.”
Why not call each one of them, ask them if they are happy with their equipment, then ask if they would give you names and numbers of three friends who might want to learn about the advantages of quality water. Many water treatment dealers make it a practice to contact recent purchasers for referrals. Some offer a free carbon filter change or other small gift as an incentive.
However, relatively few water treatment professionals continue to contact old customers beyond three years after purchase. This is a mistake, especially in hard times when you must turn over every stone to find new customers. Why not direct a mail-and-phone campaign towards this group of old customers who bought from you more than three years ago?
A simple postcard that alerts them that you will be calling this week to offer them a free filter change or other service in exchange for three referrals will communicate your intentions up front.
Communicating with new prospects
With promotion dollars scarce, you will want to rethink your advertising strategy in 1991. Perhaps you want to eliminate advertising in more expensive mass media such as radio, TV and large newspapers that have large “waste audience” built into their circulations or audience.
Take a close look at direct mail and telemarketing, two “targeted” media that can eliminate the waste you’ve been paying for in other media. These two media can let you communicate directly and more candidly with better-qualified prospects.
Another important reason for targeting your advertising dollars better than you may have in the past is the tremendous clutter of messages that batter each of us every day of the week.
Last year, the American Association of Advertising announced that the average American is exposed to approximately 7,000 advertising stimuli in a single day! (Years ago a similar study pegged it at a mere 2,100 messages per day.)
This endlessly repeating pattern of advertising messages too frequently triggers the finger to zap the TV commercial or turn the page before reading the ad. How can you best meet the challenge of seeing that your message is one of the 7,000 that will stick?
Make sure your message addresses consumer concerns about water
Selecting the right targeted medium is half the battle. Selecting messages that communicate consumer needs and current concerns is the other half. Remember, in good times or bad, good advertising tells your customer why he should buy what you want to sell and why he should buy it from you.
Advertising price is rarely a smart strategy for service-oriented water treatment dealers. This is especially true today when mass-merchant retailers advertise low-price drinking water systems on far bigger budgets than specialty dealers can muster. Why try to compete?
When a drinking water professional advertises price continuously, his options shrink and the competitiveness from mass retailers will grind him down. Instead, the water treatment professional should communicate the differences between the $100 system sold at retail and the $600 system represented by the POU dealer. (If your answer is “$500,” you are in trouble!)
Advertising Tips for 1991
l Advertise your ability to fill needs, not price
l Differentiate your products, based on superior performance
l Stress service (mass retailers can’t match yours)
l Develop a market niche in your ads
Don’t be a sheep and react to the ads of other POU/POE dealers in your market. Develop your own unique point of view, one with customer needs in mind. Your niche might be communicating your business as “The place where people who are serious about water quality come to buy.”
How to communicate better to groups
Group presentations are a low-cost way to communicate your unique quality water service message to influentials in your community. Visuals are an important part of your presentation. Here are some tips for using presentation visuals more effectively to support your message:
l Use overheads when you want to involve the audience. They allow a flexible order and enable you to leave the lights on.
l Use slide projectors when you want to look professional. They permit quicker changes than overheads and aid your mobility.
l Use illustrations and charts when stressing key ideas.They are more memorable than words or numbers.
l Make sure your visuals are legible. Legibility leads to better attention which improves communication with and commitment from the audience.
Improve your communications in business letters
Business letters are an important low-cost way of communicating with past and prospective customers. The key to writing effective business letters is knowing how people read letters. Reader eye-movement studies show that people read letters in the following way:
l They first look at the salutation. In a non-personalized sales letter, they focus on the headline.
l Most readers then glance at the signature to see who sent the letter.
l Next, they scan the P.S. if one exists. Tip: Include a P.S., especially in sales letters. Make it function like a headline – to entice, to promise, to sell a secondary offer, etc.
l Finally, they return to the salutation area and begin reading the first paragraph.
One more thing. Make your letter at least two pages long. It won’t require a penny more in postage and, while people read shorter letters more often, they respond better to longer ones. The additional space will allow you to communicate more information about your product. Include “percentage of removal” data along with complete feature/benefit information. Remember, in the reader’s mind, you may be competing with lower-cost equipment that can’t compare with your equipment if the whole story is known. Communicate the whole story so that the higher price of your system is justified in the mind of your prospect.
Communicate better in 1991 with employees
Make a New Year’s resolution to conduct better job reviews in 1991. Set pertinent criteria for employees. Develop bench marks by which to judge employees in different jobs, and decide how you can gather the information you need to judge their performance.