Collaboration helps three companies design programs and services for pest management professionals — everything from invoicing and customer renewals to website SEO and employee training.
Business opportunities present themselves in obvious and not-so-obvious ways. Many entrepreneurs have spent countless hours searching for and refining the next big idea but sometimes opportunity arrives by chance.
Joe Kucik, founder and president of Real Green Systems, knows both sides of that tale and can testify there is truly more than one way to achieve success.
Real Green was founded more than two decades ago by Kucik — who draws on his years of experience owning and operating lawn care companies — to create business management software that helps companies manage the back-end of their business while they take care of customers’ pests and weeds.
Last year Kucik was introduced by mutual associates to Donnie Shelton, owner of Triangle Pest Control, Raleigh, N.C. Shelton, a computer programmer by trade, was implementing highly effective web-based marketing techniques and had attended a Real Green user event.
“We have been in pest control for more than 10 years and had been looking to expand and take advantage of the opportunities the market presents for our products,” says Kucik. “Donnie was looking for software and we were looking for someone who ate, slept and breathed pest control.”
Kucik and Shelton sat down at NPMA PestWorld 2013 to finalize a deal that would give Real Green a strong, marketing-savvy partner in the pest management industry and Shelton access to one of the leading business software platforms on the market.
The partnership also brought with it the training software program — BackOffice — that allows managers to track everything from time off requests to policies and procedures checklists. BackOffice also provides a 30,000-foot view of the performance of managers’ and employees’ reviews and keeps track of training courses, progress and completion dates.
“We had always used our lawn care companies as ‘test kitchens’ for our software and now we have Donnie’s operation in the pest control market to run software and online marketing ideas through,” says Kucik.
In the process Real Green acquired Coalmarch Productions, a Raleigh-based SEO management firm that worked with Shelton’s company on an aggressive inbound marketing plan — a service Real Green is banking heavily on going forward — that helped grow the pest control start-up’s revenue to $2 million in six years.
Overnight these three separate entities combined into one and now offer pest management and lawn care companies products and services to manage everything from invoicing and customer renewals to website SEO and employee training.
Sorting out Differences.
When developing business software for the lawn care industry Kucik could draw upon his personal experiences but tweaking the programs to meet the needs of the pest management industry required some work.
“The biggest difference between the two markets is the scheduling,” says Kucik. “In lawn care you have a window of opportunity to do a service every five weeks but if you come at four or six weeks you can still get the job done but that isn’t the case in pest control.”
Unlocking The SEO Mystery
With research showing companies spend 18 percent of their marketing budget on search engine optimization (SEO), trying to figure out how to do well in regards to SEO is similar to the first time someone dropped a Rubik’s cube in your lap. You can spend a lot of time and brain capital trying to figure it out but there is no guarantee you will.
For small businesses, cracking the mystery of SEO is just as tricky except that in addition to time and energy, a lot of financial resources can be spent in the process.
“It takes time to get your SEO up and running — it doesn’t happen overnight,” says Joe Kucik, president of Real Green Software. “You must set realistic expectations from the outset or you could be frustrated with the progress and spend more than is needed. Achieving real SEO takes time.”
Triangle Pest Control’s Donnie Shelton recommends pest professionals educate themselves on the basics of SEO before soliciting an outside vendor. Screen the companies carefully and do not buy into claims — no matter how professionally presented or attractive they sound.
“If an SEO company claims they can put your company into the top three on a search engine, run away as fast as you can,” says Shelton. “No company can legitimately make that claim.”
What is the No. 1 thing a pest control company can do to improve its SEO standing? According to Shelton, it is adding a blog to your company’s website.
“Starting a blog on your website provides fresh copy and in the process key words that search engines pick up on,” says Shelton. “Content is king and you shouldn’t miss the boat on it.”
He also cites the pest control industry’s wider acceptance and use of mobile devices in the field and the need for detailed contracts as hurdles Real Green has addressed in developing and marketing software that is flexible with its reporting capabilities.
How lawn care and pest control companies market to customers also differs with lawn care marketing being heavy on outbound efforts — telemarketing, direct mail and door-to-door efforts. Pest control on the other hand is increasingly inbound focused, making use of websites and social media to market its services to consumers.
Kucik says pest control is more of an immediate, need-based service — a homeowner has a mouse problem in their basement — versus lawn care where consumers aren’t pressed to make an immediate decision but know if they don’t apply fertilizer or a pre-emergent they will have weeds or crabgrass come spring and summer.
“We solicit our lawn care customers in December and January when there is snow on the ground with good success,” says Kucik, whose company secured more than 130 spring sales during the first two weeks of January — one of the coldest periods on record in Michigan where Real Green and Kucik’s lawn care company are located.
“Customers know they need the service in the spring and summer so they figure why not buy now and save. If you call customers to sell pest control services four months in advance you wouldn’t be as successful because there is no urgency unless they have a pest problem that day,” says Kucik.
Inbound Marketing Express.
Building a strong current for inbound marketing efforts started as a matter of necessity when Donnie Shelton launched his pest control business in 2006.
“Nothing drives innovation like necessity and when we started out we simply did not have the resources to buy print or radio advertising,” says Shelton. “My background in computers led me to the focus our efforts on the Internet and it has paid off nicely.”
Shelton’s cost-effective, web-based marketing has driven a solid pattern of revenue growth for Triangle Pest Control. It also surprised him with the sheer power the web represents for pest control marketers. “Web-based marketing is forcing the industry to change, for the better, on how it solicits customers,” says Shelton. “Customers can engage a website or social media and when they do companies can measure those interactions and find out exactly where their leads are coming from.”
The North Carolina PMP compared it to a GPS tracking system for customers where they can tie back a lead to a key word on the website, allowing pest management professionals to be “surgical” with their marketing efforts and dollars.
And while inbound marketing produces a lot of data to sift through, Shelton advises PMPs to focus on three key areas — lead generation, cost per lead and cost per sale. “Look at your own numbers and trust them,” says Shelton. “You know your customers and your markets, and internally identifying where your leads come from is an important step in the process.”
His partnership with Real Green Systems is another step toward providing pest management professionals with a solution that integrates marketing with customer information to effectively manage a sometimes tricky process.
“The advantage Real Green offers is providing a closed-loop system that ‘thinks’ for the company and organizes the numerous moving parts of the marketing and customer management process into focused, targeted marketing efforts,” says Shelton.
One of Real Green’s newest innovations is its Automated Marketing software program. The program sets up triggers that react to various situations — new customers, customer cancellations, poor service experience — and automatically generates an e-mail or letter with an offer tailored to the specific situation.
The trigger points are generated from data input by technicians in the field who notice conditions in an account that need attention or by customer service representatives dealing with customers on the phone or through e-mail.
“Timing is the key with the offer and the program allows for an almost immediate response to a situation,” says Kucik. “With cancellations, a letter with an incentive to return is mailed out the next day. Even if the customer does not end up returning it, the extension of the offer leaves a positive impression.”
Kucik says on average companies are seeing a 6 percent reversal of cancelled accounts when deploying the Automated Marketing program.
The author is a partner of B Communications, an integrated communications/marketing firm. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.