Continue your search for customers.

What percentage of your marketing budget goes to the Yellow Pages? Probably a significant percentage. You have to be in the “book,” or else you will not get customers - that’s the common thread among business owners and managers in many service and repair businesses these days. And I don’t disagree with a Yellow Pages presence; it brings in business for most companies. However, it is not enough.

As businesses grow and leap ahead of the competition, there are a couple of concerns that surface when looking at the method and cost of generating new customers. Let’s not forget an important segment of our business, and that is repeat customers. When reviewing our costs of generating customers and goals to retain customers we have done work for in the past, we need to supplement our marketing efforts.

Despite the ability to attract new customers, the Yellow Pages has a few weaknesses, particularly when relied upon as the primary, or in some cases, sole marketing effort by a service business. First, cost effectiveness is an issue that is ignored by some businesses. Sure, the ads bring in customers, but do they generate more profits than they cost? So I suppose the first issue is to measure its effectiveness.

You need to know whether your ads are paying for themselves, and generating profits. If they are paying off, keep them; if not, dump them for other sources of business, or at least update them so they work better. You can’t afford to lose money on ads just to “maintain a presence” in a book.

Besides the risk of losing on ad costs, there is the issue of the cost per customer for the Yellow Pages (and for all marketing efforts). Even if the Yellow Pages generates sufficient business to produce profits, the cost for each job produced tends to be greater than some alternative marketing efforts. But there is another concern for a strong reliance on the Yellow Pages as a primary or sole marketing source: competition.

When your potentially loyal customer opens the book to find your company’s name and number again, guess what they see? Your ad may be in a different location; a new, compelling ad from the competition may catch their eye. Soon they forget the professional, reliable service they received and are overwhelmed with the desire to find some company to do the job immediately. Loyalty is quickly overshadowed by convenience.

These two concerns are real, and such events occur everyday. Customers call competitors when they reach for the phone book, plus you may be paying dearly for each call - if they remember your company’s name and find the phone number.

New Marketing Alternatives: If your goal is to make your business’ phone ring more for less cost per call, you’ll need a combination of techniques.

For example, while a technician is in a neighborhood, that is a good time to introduce the business to neighbors. A simple and effective technique is using door hangers. Technicians place paper door hanger notices that explain your company has a technician at a neighbor’s home (give the address). The door hanger invites the resident to call the office or come over and inquire about work he or she needs completed at his or her home. Four door hangers, or more, placed by technicians on each call will take only a few minutes, and they pay off in additional business.

Several advantages accompany this neighborly approach. Your company’s presence is here - now - and potential customers can see a real person doing real work. And the neighbors must have found your company to be the right one for their service work, so that’s a testimonial. Your technician has overcome many of the factors that cause customers to hesitate in calling. Can you blame them? They don’t know what kind of work they will get, and possibly don’t trust service companies because of an unpleasant experience in the past. When the technician is already there and working for neighbors, resistance to uncertain expectations drops.

Another marketing technique helps remind past customers to call your business when they need service work done again in the future. It’s direct mail, and it’s more effective than hoping the customer will open the phone book to your ad. When they receive the mail piece (must be professionally written and printed) they will, most likely, recognize your company name and many will save the mail piece so they have a quick reference for the name and phone number of your company when they need it.

To make the mailing more effective, offer a discount on services or a combination of services by a certain time. That extra inducement may prompt even more customers to call within the allotted time.

You can also offer rewards, prizes and discounts - at a nominal cost to your business - to customers who refer their family, friends and neighbors to your company. Maybe they will receive a dinner, or 10 percent off their next service job, for referring someone they know to your company. They win and you win. Low-cost marketing, but effective.

People like to win a prize, get a discount or receive a reward. So they will send you business and feel good about it at the same time. Take advantage of this simple marketing technique. It’s one more way to keep your past customers out of the phone book, remember your name and spread your company’s name around to people who trust them. You can’t purchase that quality of advertising at any price.

Business-Building Days: Not all days in the service business have technicians scurrying about serving customers. There are slow times. Why not put employees to work building business on those days?

Take your customer list and have employees contact people who have hired your company to: 1) inquire about additional work; 2) announce special offers and discounts; and 3) ask for referrals. Soon the slow days will no longer be slow. Business will be booming again, all the result of some phone calls to former customers.

Get On The Web-Now! Millions of people buy from the Internet, search Web sites and contact search engines to locate businesses in their areas. And more will be using the Web to find what they need in the future. It’s easy, fast and immediate.

If your company does not have an attractive, easy-to-use Web site, get moving. You are losing business. Your competitors have such sites, and are using them every day to get business - business you should be getting. Don’t be viewed by customers as a business of the last century. They may assume your service and technical capabilities are dated, too.

Having a Web site is modern, and shows customers your business is up-to-date. Here are some simple standards to use for your site:

  • Customers should be able to book a service call from the site.
  • The site must offer information about your company, so customers know who you are: your specialties, how long in business, etc.
  • Make an attractive site that attracts attention. It should invite the customer to use the site and return again and again.
  • Maneuvering around the site should be intuitive and rapid.
You can’t afford to be left out of this marketing arena. If you do not have a site, feel free to contact me atmauricemaio@aol.comand I will refer you to some specific examples. We have created numerous sites for service businesses that get the customer’s attention and produce business.

Comprehensive Marketing: Diversifying your marketing strategies will supplement your Yellow Pages advertising and help you generate more business, retain more customers and reduce your average cost of generating each service call. The examples I suggested in this column are pointed right at the customers - at their homes and where they work.