Remember, Service Sells – in Numerous Ways

Issue: 
January-February 2010

THROUGHOUT MY CAREER, be it electronics or insurance, the most common compliment received from clients, and a top reason noted for doing business together, revolved around service. While many were pleased with the product and pricing, service was almost always stated as the primary factor in decision making.

Undoubtedly we all experience various quality levels in product, pricing and service in virtually everything we buy. Simply consider the need to pick up some milk. Various brands exist as the ‘product’ is broadly and readily available. The “pricing” is usually best at a supermarket. Yet, we will knowingly spend more for the convenience of stopping into the corner store.

Someone once told me that in every business model there are certain economic laws restricting viability in a way that suggests consumers can only get the best two of the three available options when choosing price, product or service. From what I have witnessed as both a buyer and seller, I tend to agree. As said earlier, it seems that most consumers will choose service foremost.

Of course, service comes in various forms – and I’m not talking about skills or workmanship capabilities. As an arborist, your work is your product. The service discussed here involves matters such as expertise, convenience and assuredness as the types of service that give the client a warm feeling inside by knowing that they made the right choice.

Most of the tree service business owners I know started first as a professional arborist, either municipal, utility or working for someone else’s commercial enterprise. Most are also very much hands-on, either in the field (trees) or with the day-to-day operations. Unless it is a large outfit, sales are usually handled by the business owner and perhaps one or two additional employees. As in most firms, handling new business is a main priority, yet also a challenge due to the volume of a day’s administration and management demands. Just recall the last windstorm and how long it may have taken you to return all the voice mails from prospective clients. Of course, by the time you can get back to most of them, they have left a dozen messages with other tree services including the local fly-by-nighter.

To build a solid business, not crossing fingers waiting for the next storm or cutting prices to the point of working just to be busy, a marketing strategy needs to focus on the dependable and profitable client. More specifically, the customer appreciative and valuing of your service – and thus willing to pay for it! As this is also the type of client every tree service would like to have, how can you differentiate yourself? I suggest by using good before and after sales techniques.

Proactive Marketing
There are dozens of ideas here and your choices will depend on the clientele you wish to seek and the options which are available. What is suggested is that you try out some new ideas well beyond putting an ad in the local paper or having door flyers delivered. The best marketing for my own services was always by getting out and sharing. Become known and seen in your community as the giving expert! You will likely find this to be rewarding both personally and financially.

Why just place an ad? Instead, write an editorial article for the local newspaper, community newsletters, etc. Your name in a by-line almost instantly makes you a credible professional. Contribute regularly and soon enough you will need a disguise to go out in your neighbourhood unrecognized. It’s also free!
Suggest and assist in organizing a school field trip. Sure, ten year olds won’t be hiring you anytime soon, however their teachers, parents and all the friends and family of the teachers and parents will quickly hear about the local company that volunteered time to teach kids about various tree species at the local conservation area.

Hand out your 8.5 x 11 “business card” consisting of a cartoon image of your truck with website/phone number in the foreground and workers up trees in the background to be coloured with crayons. I’ll bet this will spend a few weeks taped to the fridge and the story shared with Grandma (and we all know how she talks about the grandkids to every single acquaintance she has).

Speaking of Grandma, how about giving a tree tour and demonstration on the grounds of your local retirement home? Sure, Grandma’s not hiring but the nurses and other staff members have homes! The grounds maintenance supervisor will also know who to call next when outsourcing work.

Join trade associations and get involved by networking at their events. The landscape association and property management association shouldn’t even be a debate. Do it! If you can’t yet afford their fees, align yourself with one of their existing members and attend events as a guest. Every trade association has an associate member category and welcomes prospective members – be one!

These are just a few ideas. Will they take some time to plan and do? Absolutely! I’m also sure that giving and sharing of your time and expertise will be rewarded. By far these techniques have worked best for my endeavours. Advertising and waiting for the phone to ring is so ‘old school’ and is also what many of your competitors are doing.

Reactive Marketing (After Sales Service)
Prior to insurance work, I was in retail with extensive sales training. A most emphasized aspect of the training was always the fact that the next sale is the most important. As one sale won’t usually fund our livelihood, this is very true. Note that many will suggest the current sale as most important but therein is the paradox. If we focus on making the next sale, the current customer always receives the best service possible, during and after the sale.

Many presume that once the work is done, the clients needs have been served. However, let’s reflect again on what service means to most people. In the top five criteria will be assuredness and security. How often do you take the time to make the follow-up phone call just to ask if they were satisfied with work done and clean-up? Oh, and you just also happen to ask for a referral to any friends or neighbours that may have made comment about needing to get tree work done. For those of you reading this who were clients of mine, you received a phone call just to make sure the policy documents were timely received. Now let’s get down to business – was I really just checking up on your mailman?

Of course, after sales service (as I hope all aspects of service) must be done genuinely. We must truly care whether the client is pleased and be prepared to remedy concerns if there are any. For this very reason, I’ve known many salespeople in various professions who hesitate to make follow-up inquiries. They have the attitude that the sale is made and income earned thus why chance a problem. This always reminds me of my retail sales job in 1988. An elderly man and wife had bought a VCR. Over the next few years, when the power would go out from time to time, I would drop by their home to reset the clock. Coincidentally, their two sons and a daughter also became good customers. Was this really a coincidence?

A successful sales and marketing strategy contains three simple ingredients. Be creative, visible and caring!

— Scott McEachern can be reached at toscottm@hotmail.com

Our mission is to enhance and promote the care and benefit of trees for present and future generations in Ontario through education, research and awareness.