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Why Some Pool Builders Grow in a Downturn…

..and what we can learn from them.

By Brett Lloyd Abbott, MYM Austin Inc.

The last two years have been tough for most pool builders. While a few builders saw growth, most continue to fall short of their sales for the previous year. And this year doesn’t promise to be much better. So let me take a moment to show you why “a lucky few” do well in a downturn, and what you might do to finish stronger this year.

I work closely with a lot of different pool builders all over the US and beyond, so I have a special perspective on “what works” and “what doesn’t.” I’ve found that amongst the pool builders who are still doing well, they all have at least one of these things in common:

  • They’re still advertising
  • They have a strong & compelling “story” in their marketing (especially their website)
  • They’ve fine-tuned their selling skills & selling process
  • They have a consistent follow-up system
  • They’ve maintained a strong “referral channel”

Let me offer some ideas of how you can emulate their success without spending a ton of money….

ADVERTISING -In most cases, these guys don’t “advertise like crazy.” In fact, in most cases they’ve cut back on their ad spending. However, by testing all results, they were able to shift spending away from lousy performing media, and over to better performing lead sources. (I’ll share some results and suggestions in a future email.) BOTTOM LINE – If “advertising” (as opposed to “referrals” or “internet”) is a key source of leads for you, then it’s important to continue some level of advertising through the downturn.

A COMPELLING STORY – There are fewer buyers now than there were two years ago. And these buyers are generally more skeptical and reluctant than in the past. So each pool builder comes under much greater scrutiny in the buying process. Decisions aren’t being made solely on the performance of the sales rep. Your “believable story” (on your website and in your brochures) that proves why you’re a better choice will play a much greater role. Empty promises and meaningless platitudes score worse than zero . A clunky or under-compelling website has a similar effect. Have you updated your website lately? Have you developed and practiced your ” elevator pitch “?

SELLING SKILLS – As desperation seeps in, many builders are resorting to price cuts to steal the business from the competition. We call that a ” going out of business ” strategy. Much better to focus on giving the homeowner what she really wants, which is almost never “the cheapest pool I can buy.” Not an easy task, I’ll admit, so let me share with you one quick tip that’s worked well in 2008 – The owner will tag-along on the sales call. The sales rep still handles the call; the owner is just there for moral support. The homeowners told us that the presence of the business owner gave them the confidence they needed to go ahead and buy. If your business is down, consider taking a ride with your sales reps.

CONSISTENT FOLLOW-UP -Many a homeowner has decided “now is not the time,” and then a year or two later decided to proceed. They almost always zero-in on whoever has reached out to them most recently. (Which has absolutely nothing to do with the quality or value of the product they build.) Most sales reps are too busy chasing current leads to also continually reach out to past prospects that won’t return phone calls . And admittedly, the return rate on these prospects is generally low.

So the solution is not to beat up the sales reps. The solution is to set up a system that reaches out to “cold leads” automatically at least once, preferably twice a year, A postcard system is best, because if they’re still thinking about a pool, your postcard will get their attention. Custom greeting cards from www.SendOutCards.com/mymaustin are good too. A low-cost e-mail system such as Constant Contact or Vertical Response can work too, but only if you have their email addresses.

PROACTIVE REFERRALS – Nobody has to be talked into wanting or taking referrals. What I’ve found challenging is teaching builders and sales reps to take all the necessary “little steps” to win over the hearts of your customers, and generate referrals automatically . I’m not opposed to referral checks, but I consider it a secondary and inferior strategy to proactively converting your customers into “raving fans.”

If your customers love you, you won’t have to bribe them with a referral check . Some sales reps do this instinctively, and get all the referrals they can handle. Most do not. As a minimum, make sure your sales rep has a conversation with the homeowner several times throughout the construction process, and at least once after the pool is finished. Gifts can work well too; more about that later.

I hope you’ve picked up a few tips in here to help you through these challenging times. I’ll share more suggestions and ideas in future newsletters, as you remain subscribed.

Sincerely,

Brett Abbott

2010 Brett Lloyd Abbott / MYM Austin Inc.  May not be used without permission.

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