Was John justified in cutting these marketing costs?
After three months it was reasonable to expect at least a few calls from his ads -- IF the ads were any good. It was entirely possible he chose the wrong publications to advertise in, or that the ads were poorly designed. Or because many people now get all of their news on the Internet, maybe nobody was reading those publications anymore.
But what about his attempt at direct marketing? Should he have seen some results after six months of paying for live calls to prospects? It is possible he chose the wrong person to make the calls for him. But probably someone would have contacted him if the marketing rep were unpleasant or downright offensive. It’s more likely that his expectations were too high for this kind of gradual marketing. Probably he was just impatient.
Breaking down initial barriers
Most business people are annoyed when interrupted by uninvited solicitors. Agents, dealership managers and fleet managers are generally busy people. Unless there is a clear advantage to taking time to talk with a stranger who stops by to solicit business, most will show that stranger the door very quickly. A smart marketing person will stop by, leave some literature and perhaps the donuts, flowers, or pens, and move on before anyone gets annoyed.
After several weeks or months of these inoffensive visits, the rep should begin to get a more pleasant reception when he stops by. And he may even have an opportunity to say a few words on behalf of the shop. If everyone on the call list is visited only once a month, six months may not be long enough to break down those initial barriers. I’ve found with many prospects, it can take a year or more.
Adding follow-through to initial calls
In the world of sports, it’s well known that follow-through is vital to great performance. Golf pro Steve Fontaine says your follow-through arc “carries the speed and power of your swing.” A top baseball coach tells his pitchers, “A good follow-through is critical for speed, control, and proper fielding position.” Tennis coach Jeff Cooper says follow-through is one of the seven keys to a power serve in tennis. In the world of sales and marketing, follow-through is equally vital!
From time to time, a client calls me to say business is way down. He needs to do some powerful marketing and sales right away! This is already a silly request because in general marketing efforts take time to develop and to realize a result. The best time to market is when you don’t really need the business. By the time you’re desperate for more business, it’s generally too late.
John had the right idea when he sent someone out to make those initial calls, but he was only scratching the surface. Follow-up was needed to dig deeper to hit pay dirt.
Send informed contacts for follow-up
While someone with limited knowledge of the collision repair industry can initiate the first contacts, any real marketing efforts must be made by someone knowledgeable enough to answer detailed questions. Only an experienced estimator will be able to answer specific repair questions. If the contact will involve negotiating specific prices, discounts, and concessions, only an owner or manager will be qualified to discuss these serious issues.
John should have asked his representative to be more of a “bird dog” to find out who he or one of his estimators could talk with personally. Then follow-up calls could include an invitation to the shop or to lunch for some serious discussion -- but with someone knowledgeable enough to discuss real terms.
Why patience is so important
Most marketing activities take place in slow motion. Perhaps you’re seeking a direct repair relationship with an insurance company, a dealership or national fleet management company. After initial inquiry calls, you finally find out who is the key contact person. You make contact and perhaps they send you an application form. You fill in the form and send it back with a carefully prepared presentation portfolio. Weeks go by and you don’t hear from anyone. You call and often find out there are currently no openings for additional shops in your area. What do you do now?
I’ve often said that referred business relationships are like marriages. Nine out of 10 eventually end in divorce. Your best hope is to be the next suitor in line when the break-up with the current darling shop ends. Hopefully you’ll be selected to be the next favored facility. But this will only be possible if you’ve continued to knock on the door and announce your availability over and over. This requires patience and the right kind of follow-through.
Local marketing moves
When someone wants a faster, more immediate marketing result, I don’t suggest insurance companies, dealerships or national fleet management companies. These all require patient, complex, long-term marketing projects. For quick action, I suggest focusing on local businesses. Exchanging referral deals with mechanics and other local automotive specialists are obvious first choices. Next should be businesses with service vehicles, like pest control, security control and various delivery businesses.
I have found that many of these businesspeople have never been called on by autobody shop owners. After all, this is an out and out sales call. Not many shop owners make this kind of sales call. You want to emphasize the importance of keeping their vehicles looking great out on the street to show the quality of their business through the quality of the appearance of their vehicles. You can also find out what company carries their vehicle insurance. Perhaps you already have a relationship with that agent, insurance company, or some adjusters. At this point you can offer claims handling help along with a special multi-vehicle repair deal.
Patient follow-up is the key
Don’t expect too much from a first visit by your representative. This contact person may have been surprised by a call from a body shop person at all. Patient follow-up is the key to getting the business. If you’re nearby, you can offer a tour, a lunch, a small free service, or even a small gift for bringing a vehicle in to test the quality of your work and service.
You may be surprised at how effective paying a bit of attention to local commercial vehicle owners may be. You may be the first body shop owner to persevere for their business and their attention. You may find they appreciate it and in turn, respond well.
Follow-through with patient persistence
Ray Kroc, the man who put McDonald’s on the map, said: “Press on. Nothing can take the place of persistence.” Securing long-term referral relationships is very much like a courtship. Very often the patient, persistent suitor may not be the brightest, the strongest, the richest or the best looking. But if he is always there, with the same patient, persistent, positive message, there’s a good chance he’ll be the one to win the fair maiden. Or in this case, a profitable long-term business relationship.
Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for 40 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 email: firstname.lastname@example.org.