When profit margins decrease and competition grows, attracting more first-time and repeat business requires an exercise in creativity. There's no shortage of ways for a custom installation company owner to dig up new sources for business opportunities that the other guys aren't. Marketing is a major key in this process.
Marketing's techniques add value to each transaction you make, differentiating your approach and message, adding value to your service, and creating a distinguished image that will make potential customers choose you out of the sea of competitors.
For custom installers, building a positive, unique image is not a matter of dollars. Instead, it is about appealing to consumers with more than just products. As any successful installer knows, the vast majority of clients buy for the experience a product provides, not the greatest native resolution or progressive scanning capability. Combining this point of view with the tools for success that are already within your reach goes a long way toward increasing your competitive edge in this young industry whose rules are constantly changing.
Trying to market your company without a brand is like running a plasma display without a movie. You can advertise with a gorgeous billboard on every highway and a 60-second cinematic commercial during the Super Bowl, but if you don't give the audience a distinct identity with which to associate the message, all impact dissolves.
You are the brand; you sell yourself, not the lines you represent. Brand is the experience you provide, which no one else can duplicate. Brand inspires all of your marketing efforts and is expressed in your service as well as the tasteful stylishness of your logo, the crispness of your uniforms, and the cleanliness of your work vehicles; everything from your services to the way you serve.
2) Marketing Collateral
A striking business card, an inviting and informative brochure, or an eye-catching and entertaining postcard can distinguish your business from the next guy. Though you may be the most qualified firm when it comes to designing a future-proof wiring platform, a potential customer may never find out if their first impression comes from sloppy support materials. When designed well, these pieces balance form and function--graphically expressing your brand and style, while carrying essential information about what you do. To start your imagination, take a look at what others are doing, and not just electronic systems contractors. Look at the different types of paper available as well as printing techniques; skimping on one of these after paying a talented designer to create a great piece will sabotage its effect.
3) Media Kit
A media kit is a package of materials containing company information designed for consumption by--guess who--the media. Kits are usually a folder containing a company history, staff profile, services list, significant press releases, printed advertisements, CD-ROM slide shows, and more. The information aims to position your firm as the field expert, and ought to be sent to TV and radio stations, newspapers, and magazines to get you in all their PDAs and Rolodexes. It's important to follow up after sending kits out to build your relationship with media outlets. Doing so gives you the edge when one of these organizations runs, say, a technology piece on the flat screen TV boom, and a reporter wants to quote a professional. This is terrific public relations because the media's independence and selectivity creates credibility to which few can lay claim.
4) Public Relations
PR is about expressing to the public values somewhat outside of normal business practices, though possibly through your business' capabilities. Say you install a PA system pro bono at the local children's hospital, church, or boys and girls club; that's the kind of time and labor investment that demonstrates support for what your company finds important, and can return jobs from others who appreciate the work you've done.
Press releases are an essential part of PR. They announce important events (grand openings, anniversaries) and achievements by staff members (certifications, promotions). Releases should be written about topics of true benefit to customers and associates, and should be scheduled with discretion; too many releases sent close to one another creates a "boy who cried wolf" effect and comes off as junk mail.
5) Show Your Stuff
Have you and your employees undergone manufacturer training, or gotten trade association certification under your belts? Let the world know! First, you ought to send a press release to the appropriate publications. Next, put the certificates in handsome frames on your office wall. Create a "Hall of Fame" and, when a customer visits, let the documents speak for themselves. Further enhance their effect by putting mini-spotlights on each certificate--and use custom tracklights that your firm just happens to offer for homes: "Aren't these lights great? You know, we just put some in the last kitchen we did and the owner just loved the effect ..."
In advertising, repetition is the key. We're constantly bombarded by ads, so the impact of each one is dramatically reduced. Audiences need multiple exposures to an ad to remember the company or message. Because few of us have Fortune 500-sized budgets, non-broadcast options and placement creativity is useful. Where does your target spend its time? Homeowner association newsletters are useful. How about a pre-show theater screen ad ("Take the theater home with you!")? The Yellow Pages are another option. The video store, or a city newspaper, and don't forget the church bulletin board. There's also the coffee shop, and--you get the idea.
Industry events provide a target-rich environment tough to find anywhere else--and you don't need a fancy booth to make an impact. I recommend the "booth-in-a-bag;" carry essentials with you (installation shots, brochures, business cards, etc.) to make a presentation anywhere, anytime. That way you look sharp without the cost of a booth. While tradeshows like CEDIA or CES are considered the must-see events in our industry, your tradeshow involvement shouldn't begin and end there; homebuilders, architects, and interior designers, and restaurateurs fill venues for their own shows, and are potential partners. Or spend a few hours at your city's home show to appeal directly to end-users. Just remember to focus your approach on benefits, rather than gear.
8) Special Events
The opportunities to promote through special events are practically unlimited. Events are all about creating an experience--fun and interactivity that leaves participants anticipating the next one, and wanting to find our more about you in the meantime. Depending on your goals and budget, you can tailor an event to highlight your specialty and generates word-of-mouth buzz. Set up a big flat screen or projector and a floor-shaking surround sound system, then advertise a genre movie marathon at your office/showroom. Hold some mini-games and award prizes--they can be as simple as movie rental coupons or DVDs. Meanwhile, your guests "ooh" and "ahh" at the impressive theater equipment, and if just one goes for a system, your time and money is rewarded.
If you don't have your own showroom, help a new client break in their distributed audio system with a cocktail party. You can ensure everything works smoothly and show off the technology to the neighbors. Bring plenty of business cards, some appropriate snacks (wine and cheese, anyone?), and maybe a gift basket; you'll impress the Joneses, and they might ask you to design them a system.
A useful website has become clearly important during the last decade. A well designed website is a 24-hour link to your business. First, as a new technology seller, you are expected to be ahead of the game in this technology-based channel. Second, for nearly everyone with an Internet connection, the search engine has become the starting point for finding service-providers. Anyone going this route to find a local custom installer will never know you exist if you have no website.
Center the site's design about the visitor's experience; the best sites don't just provide information, they offer an interactive experience that attracts repeat visits. If web surfers leave your site feeling satisfied with the experience, there's a better chance they'll assume your installations will do the same.
10) Local partnering
There are goods and service providers who can benefit from joining forces with your firm--and vice versa. Partnerships benefit your image because consumers know you've saved them shopping footwork. Say you and a nearby furniture store create a few packages that account for spatial balance and aesthetics of particular rooms in a house; usually shoppers have to imagine electronics and furniture fitting together before purchasing, but by putting merchandise in each other's store, that challenge is solved. The heightened interactivity also makes it more likely customers will go for the convenience of the whole package, which will bring them back--perhaps with friends.
Before the Job
11) Know Your Client
The most effective approach to selling is based on an effort to understand the essential interests of your target; what are the core attractors driving your potential customers to seek integrated home systems? Find out if an inquirer saw your flyer at the video store, or at the upscale gym with parking lot full of Benzes. Then let the appropriate lifestyle benefits inform your explanation of services.
12) Sales Approach
As the technology provider, you have to understand the technical specifications that make one component superior to another. Ultimately, however, you sell an experience, not components, so you ought to highlight for end users how their lives will change as a result of your service, rather than your products' inherent technology. So when you install three-way, in-wall speakers with off-center tweeters and seven-inch polypropylene cone woofers, all your clients need to know is their favorite music will sound like it's coming from a complete stereo, but with near-invisibility. When you learn to match products for customer desires, they'll understand you're the authority to trust, and when the subject comes up, they'll let friends and family know they can do the same.
13) Sales Materials
The trick to creating effective visual support material is in looking from a client's viewpoint: would they want to find out more if your current brochure was all they knew about your company?
Upon first glance, a good brochure immediately provokes further investigation and invites eyes to find out just what's underneath that striking cover page. We see so many cluttered and lifeless brochures that it takes striking originality to drive someone to explore on.
Be thorough in shopping for a graphic designer who understands your message. The investment will pay off in a long-lasting, piece with which you're truly happy. Your literature should be tactilely interesting too; don't toss off the decision about sturdy paper or a gloss coat. These two aspects convey quality and make clients more likely to give your piece another look.
14) Proposal Documentation--Defining Client Expectations
These statements of terms put services in writing and are the perfect place to create client expectations. The contained written message is benefited by an attractive visual presentation that's consistent with your one-of-a-kind brand. Proposals are part of the sale and their design shouldn't be neglected. Think of them in similar terms as stationery--design an attractive, easy-to-read template that makes client review easy, and saves you writing time. Include your logo and related graphical elements that appear in your brochure and website for continuity.
On the Job
15) Be Prepared
This one may appear obvious, but forgetting just one essential component or tool for job completion can freeze an installation's progress, which will undoubtedly leave a poor impression on clients. Thorough preparation before every job ensures one less gap in your performance, and promotes your image as the knowledgeable field authority. Never missing a beat, your unhindered performance reinforces the customer's confidence in your firm, and their satisfaction with having chosen it. And, naturally, a happy customer is more likely to refer you to friends who see your handiwork.
16) Crew Appearance
We're all influenced by appearance, and a respectable appearance is the first step in building a professional image. Although your installers may be the world's experts in distributing satellite signals to every room between basement and attic, it doesn't leave a favorable impression if to have unkempt crewmembers wearing casual, dissimilar attire. Company uniforms create a number of benefits; they make employees feel like a team, which customers pick up on. They also maintain brand consistency, which is especially effective when the other aspects of your company's presentation convey your brand--advertising, website, business cards, etc.
17) Vehicle Graphics
Part of "brand maintenance," van graphics also serve to advertise. Company vehicles are business cards on wheels and make a statement about your service quality. Imagine a client's neighbor notices your van parked in the driveway next door; it's plain white, with scuff marks along the side, and worn-down tires. Now imagine a shiny new van with your logo printed large on its sides, with a logo-complementary color painted all over. Most neighbors would be impressed by the second van, and more likely to call the number on the back doors to find out what it is you do. While you can't buy "shiny new vans" all the time, every improvement immediately boosts your image.
18) Respect the Job Site
The best way for a crew to treat a home is with more respect than the owner. Many clients are apprehensive about having a crew working on their house because they imagine holes in the walls, boot tracks on the carpet, and dirty fingerprints--well, everywhere. Cleanliness is as important as installing a quality system. Crews should work one wall at a time, patching, repainting, and cleaning as they go, instead of leaving messy piles to be cleaned later. Also, stock your vans with boot covers to protect flooring. Families have enough mess to clean up on their own; leaving things nicer than when you started is a major value-add.
19) Support Other Subcontractors
If your van is stocked with some extra tools, don't hesitate to lend them to other subcontractors who happen to be working with you on a job site. Sure, the homeowner may happen to see the gesture of goodwill, but more importantly, it goes toward developing a leader's image within professional circles. If the crew who benefits from your generosity is in the position to make a recommendation on a future job, they have one more reason to suggest you to their client. On the flip side, extra gear means that you'll never be the one borrowing tools.
20) Job Ambassador
From proposal to system programming, consider yourself the source for every aspect of a job. Maintain the position that, no matter what the question or issue, you are the best source for the solution. As the expert, customers will more likely come to you in the future for further technology advice, as well as recommending friends do the same.
21) Logo Placement
Components like keypads, touchscreen dashboards, and remotes are perfect places to attach an abbreviated logo, also called a "bug." An example of a bug is Radio Shack's "R" in the circle. Another useful place is on an equipment rack along with your service or office phone number in case they need help troubleshooting. Placing your mark in subtle positions asserts your presence after the job is completed. Visitors seeing your mark will be provoked to ask what it means, which brings your client to do some impromptu promoting.
After the Job
22) Tech Support
When an installation is done, the job isn't complete. With time, a client will undoubtedly encounter challenges using their new system. They'll expect your help, especially with more complex systems, and it's a good idea to have some employees trained to field such calls. Leave a contact book with the necessary names and numbers so they'll know right where to go. Also, a regularly updated "Frequently Asked Questions" database is especially useful on your website since it never closes.
23) Follow-Up Contact
This is where most firms drop the ball, but while the initial sale may be done, the opportunity to create the invaluable long-term customer, and build your business has only just been opened. Follow-up is effective for encouraging referrals and suggesting upgrades. Following through with clients after you've completed an installation solidifies the entire transaction, and lets them know you're concerned with how well their installation satisfies expectations. They'll appreciate the gesture especially if things already work well, and checking in keeps you ahead of challenges that can sprout up later. Gathering feedback from current customers also helps develop your sense for new clients' needs, continually sharpening your approach.
24) Conscious Upgrade Selling
Selling upgrades often requires a delicate approach; knowing what a client needs can be as important as when they need it. Some recently gained customers won't appreciate a recommendation for newer equipment because it invalidates their just-made purchase, so listen for clues as to whether they're ready to extend the distributed audio network to the patio, or add an intercom in the nursery.
25) Exceed Expectations
Everyone likes when service unexpectedly goes a step further. Drop off a gym shirt or embroidered hat on your last visit to your newest installation. Offer discounts or additional components if clients go for an extensive system package. After a security system, ceiling-mounted projector and high-speed network, they'll appreciate a couple complimentary wireless speakers for the kitchen. A tiered reward program can work to encourage repeat business and referrals.
In the end, exceeding expectations is what marketing is all about. Each item above aims to put your business on the next level, positioning you as the clear source for outstanding service. Consistently practicing even a few will immediately distinguish you from competitors, making seriously interested clients out of merely curious ones.
Coleen Sterns is president of Marketing Matters, a full spectrum, integrated marketing firm based in Hollywood, Florida. Contact her and learn more at www.marketingmatters.net.