At a recent business management seminar I conducted in the Boston area, most attendees were reporting sales declines of 20-30% in the first half of this year compared to their 2006 figures. When asked about what actions were being taken to combat the slowdown, many reported that they were calling on allied professionals – architects, builders, interior designers or real estate salespeople.
Unfortunately, these kitchen and bath firm owners waited too long to develop these contacts. Had they (or their staffs) made these contacts when times were good, they would have been the first in line to get what work was available during the slowdown. Now it seemed everyone was beating the same bushes, and probably bumping into each other at an architect’s office on occasion. After all, building business in tough times is about looking unique in the eyes of the customer; if you are important to an allied professional during the busy times, don’t you think he or she would remain loyal during the slower times?
That’s why having a formal, disciplined “farming system” in place is so crucial to ensure a constant supply of leads. And it’s certainly one important strategy kitchen and bath professionals can use to sail through economic doldrums largely unscathed.
An effective farming system is made of a number of key components. These include:
- A Comprehensive Allied Professional Mailing List. You can compile this from phone books, or join the various trade associations and perhaps get these lists as an
associate member. Screen the names for those allied professionals whose projects match up with your firm’s focus.
- A Regular Newsletter. All successful allied professionals thrive on being knowledgeable. So, create an informative newsletter and mail it regularly. I like to do this every other month – six times per year. Now four-color, professionally printed newsletters can be expensive. But a well-done, black and white Kiplinger Washington type newsletter off your desktop printer – but chock full of useful information – can be just as effective. Start with a one-pager, written on two sides, with a distinctive masthead. Consider including a headshot photograph of the sales designer who is likely to call on a particular professional as a means of personalizing your firm. Focus on new product offerings or enhancements, recent styling trends, unique features designed into recent projects and news from the Kitchen/Bath Industry Show.
- A Zone Map. Assuming there will be more than one sales designer in the firm when mature revenue growth is achieved, set up a number of zones outside the “hub area” equal to the number of expected sales designers. By definition, the “hub” represents the nucleus of towns surrounding the showroom location that approximates your primary trading area (where you gain 70% of your business). For metro areas, a hub may be a ring within 15-20 minutes’ driving time of the showroom.
Unless a walk-in is a referral asking for a specific sales designer, a lead located in the hub area is fair game for anyone on the sales team. A zone is made up of a secondary cluster of towns, like a spoke to a wheel hub, that may be 20-45 minutes from the showroom. Any walk-in lead that comes from a particular zone will go to the sales designer assigned to that zone, so travel expenses can be minimized and a referral base intelligently developed.
- A Designated Farming Day. Each sales designer blocks out at least one day a month to call on allied professionals in his or her zone. By job description, it is strongly suggested that all sales designers be responsible for generating a certain percentage of their own leads. Farming days also provide an excellent opportunity to visit your competition, the benefits of which can sharpen your firm’s marketing thrust. Please see the May ’07 “Bettering Your Bottom Line” column for more details.
- A Resource Manual. This three-ring binder houses sections on (a) your scope of work (including photos of key projects); (b) staff photos and resumes; (c) specialized services that benefit allied professionals, and (d) product offerings and specifications. After an introductory interview, sales designers should determine whether a firm qualifies to have a Resource Manual and how frequently the firm would like to have him stop by. It will vary for each company, but six to eight times per year seems reasonable to keep the Resource Manual properly updated (an absolute must!), create enough frequency for developing a bond, and generate new business.
Be patient – it can take four to six months before the allied professional trusts you enough to have you bid on a project. It doesn’t take a lot of allied professionals under your wing – as few as four to six per sales designer – to develop a significant volume of repetitive business. Once placed, that Resource Manual assignment and number should be recorded at the showroom to keep track of the total number out there requiring regular updates.
Cold Call Approach
I always found the best way to approach an allied professional is to stop in unannounced with three things in hand: a copy of your newsletter mailed seven to 10 days in advance of the contact; a sample of something new (a cabinet door style, solid surface material, etc.), and a copy of the Resource Manual. Ask if you can have 10-15 minutes with the principal (or specifier) who specializes in your scope of work. Use the newsletter to help grab that person’s attention and make the connection to your firm as a useful source of information.
Then deepen the person’s interest by letting him or her feel the new product offering while briefly discussing its benefits.
Finally, indicate that your manual has proven to be a wonderful resource for other architects (interior designers, builders, etc.). Would he care to schedule a 45-minute meeting for you to present your products and services via a PowerPoint to his staff?
Offering to bring lunch can be a powerful incentive. At the end of the meeting, you can determine together whether the permanent placement of this Resource Manual in his or her office would be valuable.
Mining Past Clients
Many dealers overlook regular marketing to their past clients. These folks represent a veritable gold mine because they have already experienced the value of your services. One-page flyers or e-mail blasts sent six to eight times per year extolling the benefit of a new product or service can be extremely effective.
Focus on just one benefit per communication. For example, you can set up a year-long schedule where, every other month, you feature one of the following flyer headlines: (1) New Closet System Now On Display; (2) Client Project Featured In Signature Kitchens & Baths Magazine; (3) New Consumer Seminar – “How To Save Thousands On Your Next Kitchen Or Bath” – Now Being Presented Each Month; (4) Firm Joins Industry Buying Group To Offer Quality Products At A Savings; (5) Appliances Now Available From Your Kitchen Design Firm, and (6) Company Adds New Project Manager. Include photos where possible. Then watch the leads flood in. All it takes is consistently presenting something of value to your past clients.
Get their attention…and then get their repeat business!
Ken Peterson is president of the Chapel Hill, NC-based SEN Design Group and an instructor for the “Managing for Maximum Profit” seminar, co-sponsored by KBDN. Peterson can be reached at 1-800-991-1711 or email@example.com.
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