Like Tony Soprano, to stay in business, you need an effective "Hit List." Fortunately for your prospects, they'll still be alive after the "hit." But unlike Tony Soprano's guys, yours will be hit again and again if you do it right.
The most basic weapon in your marketing arsenal is your collection of databases. These "hit lists" should contain a collection of all of the people most likely to bring or send business to your shop. These may include:
• Insurance executives responsible for direct repair or drive-in arrangements.
• Local agents capable of referring business and/or communicating the qualities of your shop to insurance company executives.
• Dealership owners, general managers, service managers, used car managers and parts managers.
• National and local commercial fleet managers.
• Vehicles claims specialists, possibly including appraisers, attorneys and auto auction managers.
• Local business: Chamber of Commerce executives, business publication editors, neighborhood exchange prospects, auto and other club executives and more.
And finally we come to possibly your most powerful potential increased business database:
• Your existing customers base, and
• Friends, family, business associates and other referrals from your existing customers.
Building your databases
I'm often amazed at how few shop owners I speak to who have their customer database in a format that makes it easy for them to mail greeting cards, an occasional announcement postcard, or other communication. Part of this is the fault of the estimating software companies. Whether a shop has ADP, Mitchell, CCC, or CompEst, usually most of their jobs are recorded in the estimating software files. The problem is getting this information into mailing and contact labels.
CCC's Pathways, for example, can export database information but the format is Microsoft Access, a program that few shop owners know how to use even if they had it. In trying to help clients capture customer information from their estimating files, regardless of the provider, I've found it nearly impossible to easily get names and addresses on labels.
Those shops with a management system like AKZO, ARMS, Crisma, ICM, and Summit can usually output labels, but many other shop owners still have to turn to their printed records to get customer information. Fortunately modern technology has made that an easier task. An amazing device called a hand-held scanner allows you to scan name and address information on estimates, repair orders, letters - and copy it into a database, contact manager or directly onto labels.
Handheld scanners are a convenient way to get any printed text into an editable format on your computer, but many of the devices are relatively expensive. Here are some of the devices available as noted on Amazon.com (check for current price):
• Wizcom QuickLink QL-1000 handheld pen scanner: $148.99
• IRIS Pen II Executive Scanner: $169.99
• IRIS Pen Express Handheld Scanner: $116.94
In addition to scanning customer information, the hand-held scanner also simplifies capturing commercial prospect information from the phone book. Of course these days it's usually faster to just go to yellowpages.com or superpages.com on the internet. You can put in the ZIP code for the agent or company you want to add to your mailing list and then copy and paste the information to your database or label sheet.
Prospecting with a database
While some prospects in these databases can be put on a regular contact schedule through mailings or delivered locally by a "goodwill ambassador," the top "hit list" prospects call for a much more focused plan of attack. You will want to use software that will allow you to note dates and times you contacted key executives, had lunch meetings, conducted shop tours, and more. You will also want to have a place to store notes like the executive's sports interests, birthday and anniversary, secretary's name and number, entertainment preferences, etc. To do this well, you'll want to use contact management software like Microsoft Outlook, Maximizer (see Maximizer.com), or ACT (act.com). These software packages sell in the $100 range and are well worth it if you want to track each contact and plan future contacts.
If you're into hand-held organizers, you can capture information electronically during a meeting and download it into the contact management software when you get back to your office. If you're like me, you can easily have forgotten half of what went on and what you learned by the time you get back to the office. Collecting those tidbits of information as you go can add valuable personalization to your communications the next time you write, call, or visit.
This past week I was in an executive's office and noticed a cute picture of a dog over the desk. I asked about the dog and found I had plugged into a major area of interest in this person's life. On my next visit, I made sure I asked about the dog. Another executive proudly displayed his golf trophies. These made obvious conversation starters on site, but I could easily have forgotten about them when talking long distance. Just a few brief notes called the entire golf conversation back to mind and added a personal dimension to the next conversation.
Database detective work
While identifying key contact people in some organizations is fairly simple, others can be as elusive as a movie star or president of the U.S. It can take real detective work to dig out the right person to contact in some major insurance companies. A good executive "hit list" can be worth its weight in gold. These lists are generally very regional, so a list of contacts here in Southern California, would be worthless in New York, Florida, or Seattle.
A more challenging detective job is identifying and building a database of owners of specific makes of vehicles in your area. Some shop owners have chosen to focus on a particular make of car like Mercedes or Porsche. For them, buying or renting a list of local owners can make good marketing sense. Marketedge-Solutions.com is just one mailing list broker that provides lists of specific vehicle owners by ZIP code.
Unfortunately, only those owners who subscribe to a specific vehicle publication (like "Muscle Mustangs") or belong to a car owners club (like www.fordcarclubs.com) are usually included in these databases. At one time, vehicle owner information could be obtained from a department of motor vehicles, but it has become illegal for the DMV to give out that information in most states. Fortunately, it is still possible to obtain lists of accident reports in some jurisdictions, and that is even better than lists of car owners.
Not all database marketing is equal
If you had unlimited resources and could send to all of the hit lists above, you could make the name and qualities of your shop known to just about anyone capable of sending business in your direction. In reality, you probably have to pick and choose among these various prospect lists. Which ones are most likely to bring in the kind of business you're looking for? How much printing, mailing or delivering can you afford?
Some clients tell me they don't want commercial business. Others say they don't want low-ball insurance business that caters to high-risk, low-income drivers. Quite a few tell me they only want high-end cars. Whatever a shop owner's preference may be, there's a database to help fill his or her needs.
Once the appropriate hit lists are selected and compiled, the best key to getting the business is still the "DRIP" marketing system - "Delivering Repetitive Information Persistently." If you continue communicating the best qualities of your shop, and keep getting that information to the right people who can send business and who will appreciate your message, you will eventually get the business you're reaching for.
Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.