By Barry Murray
In winter months we would love to hear the phone ring with a large termite job, but that rarely happens. Our services are necessary year round, but our growth, in most areas of the country, occurs in a four- to five-month period in spring and summer. We all know how important leads are, so this article is a short tip sheet to help you choose the right venue and manage those leads to a successful disposition.
Lead generation is an ever-evolving process. At one time, Yellow Pages were the No. 1 source of pest control leads and where most PCOs spent their advertising budgets. How times have changed. Technology advancements in lead management and attainment have dramatically changed the approach to both capturing and managing leads. PCOs work hard to determine where to best spend their advertising dollars. As with most things in business, you have to know where you have been to know where you are going. Ask yourself the following:
- Do I know what ad sources are driving my current leads?
- Do I know how much I am paying for those leads?
- Do I know how many of those leads I am closing?
- Do I know how much I am paying for leads from various sources?
- What is my cost per customer acquisition? What about my existing return on ad spend?
If you are just buying ads and you have no mechanisms in place to determine your success with those sources, you are probably wasting precious advertising dollars on venues that may not be delivering a good return on your advertising investment. Every advertising opportunity that you select to promote your business should be tracked in real time. You should know what that venue delivers for you daily, both in terms of quantity and quality. This can be done with CTNs (Call Tracking Numbers) dedicated to that specific venue and/or URL that reflect the underlying campaign so that quotes and calls coming from a specific source are easy to reconcile with the ad spend to determine your cost per lead (CPL). Call tracking is not only for online programs; any time you use a phone number in advertising it can be tracked. This can be managed in an online lead source tracking system so that you can see how your ads are performing and listen to the calls and quote requests you receive. This can be delivered in real time, enabling you to score both the value of the lead and the ability of the sales professional answering the call.
Remember, getting a great deal on an ad is only good if that ad delivers. And the only way to know that is tracking, tracking, tracking. So now you have a lead tracking system in place, but it’s your first year. You have no previous data or baseline to determine what works and what does not. How should I choose the ad sources to spend my money on? Follow the Lee Iacocca rule of business. Iacocca said he looks at what other businesses do well and he does that. He also looks at what other companies do not do well and he doesn’t do that. It’s pretty simple actually. Remember, you are a pest control expert. Advertising is an entirely different world. When in doubt follow the rules and use an expert. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Where is the bulk of my competition advertising, especially the big guys? That’s probably where the leads are.
2. Do I know my target demographic and stick to it? Most of the time it’s the mom in the family (if it’s a pest control decision). Termite and lawn services have a tendency to be more evenly divided but still skew towards the female homemaker demographic. Choose advertising opportunities that will be attractive to this demographic. Once you've found a venue that does fit your demographic, then ask yourself if people engaged in that venue are looking for pest service. For example, a hairstyle magazine may be attractive to your demographic but how likely will those readers be in a mode to purchase pest control from it? I submit, not likely. Pest control is a needs-fulfillment business and you need to position your business where people with pest control needs are looking. You can’t compete on quality or price if you’re not even in their consideration set when that immediate need arises.
3. Am I choosing venues that are direct lead drivers? Radio and TV are great branding tools, but they fair far lower on the direct lead generation level. TV and radio work best to support a direct source lead-generating mechanism like searches on Google, Bing, Yahoo! or Yellow Pages, both print and online. Yes, I said Yellow Pages. Even though this is a dying medium there are still good opportunities to get good lead costs, albeit a lower volume of leads. Many of these publications are also deeply involved in online lead delivery and can be bundled together for even more value.
4. Am I advertising emotionally? You are at a football game and you would love to see your company name lit up on the scoreboard just like Budweiser. Do you really believe for one minute that you can sell pest control at a football game? Probably not. In fact, data backs that up substantially. It certainly is a natural ego desire to want to see your company’s name in lights, but one needs to avoid buying these venues. In my days as a corporate VP my favorite advertising request was to sponsor a NASCAR driver. This venue costs literally hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising funds. If your goal is to look cool, you certainly will. You may even get a faithful following for your involvement, but if you expect a return on your investment, that is highly unlikely. If your goal is to drive leads, you just blew a box full of money. Imagine, the average Yellow Pages lead cost for pest control is around $40 to $75, and an average online lead, placed correctly, can range $35 to $65 each. Do you know how many leads you can get for $100,000? Let’s just say a lot. Remember, buy advertising opportunities with your head — not your heart — because even if you make the best selection of venues, there is no guarantee of success.
Lead management skills training is one of the fastest growing areas of my business (and other businesses). Many companies work very hard to put together an advertising budget and then negotiate the best deals possible. After making these purchases everything then goes on auto pilot, so to speak. The phones are ringing, so it must be working. Well, actually some may be working very well and some not so well. If you do not have a system to track the source of the lead, you will never know. Let’s be honest, manual tracking tools are never as accurate as we like, nor are they handled with the diligence needed. Your system needs to be automated and it needs to count and catalogue your leads in real time. Make your sales and operations staff accountable.
Good lead management results in lower customer acquisition costs. I see companies that have great lead tracking tools in place and the best of them are closing around 50% of the volume they take in. Believe me, most are not closing 50%, even if they think they are. Your in-house reports may indicate you are closing 50%, but that may be due to what an employee subjectively defines as a lead in their reports. These are sometimes better referred to as presold in-bound calls. Logging leads manually will result in someone making a decision as to whether that last call was a lead or not. Here’s the one I hear the most: A caller wanted a price over the phone and we do not provide that, so I didn’t count that as a lead because the caller did not volunteer her name and number. This most certainly was a lead. The problem here is a lack of skill in getting the required info from the prospect, as well as being able to sell the appointment or inspection. Inquiries like this will amount to as much as 35% of your call volume. We can’t just dismiss these — we need to convert them. Teaching and constant coaching of those skills to administrative phone handlers is sometimes the quickest way to move the sales needle without changing your marketing plan.
Imagine, as much as 35% of your entire call volume are simple requests for more info. If your company performs inspections, you could be losing more than you know. Have you trained your phone handlers to convert inquiries into leads? This is a must do if your company is to maintain an acceptable cost per customer acquisition. I often find that the simple structure of those calls is not scripted at all in some companies. We think people know how to sell on the phone and that they just need to know what services we provide. Not true. Speaking to prospective customers on the phone is a science and needs to be trained into those employees who are customer facing. Those phone handlers are the front line of your business. Train and monitor them closely.
In the pest control industry we know how to monitor an unserviced list to ensure that every single customer gets addressed every month. As purchasers of advertising, we need to apply that same strict monitoring standard to the efficacy of our ad buys. Buy your ads with your head, not your heart; your growth will be rewarded for it. Leads are the lifeblood of any pest control organic growth strategy.