Wednesday, 30 June 2004 17:00

Start marketing early and follow through

Written by Tom Franklin
From time to time, a client calls me to say business is way down. He needs to do some powerful marketing and sales right away! This is already a silly request because, in general, marketing efforts take time to develop and to realize a result. The best time to market is when you don't really need the business. By the time you're desperate for more business, it's usually too late.
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 Franklin
Nevertheless, there are some things that can be done to increase business quickly on a temporary basis. Before using these tactics, I attempt to convince my client to start a long-term campaign and, out of desperation, he agrees. Soon business is back on track and the next thing I know, many if not most of the marketing initiatives have been forgotten. Follow-through is lost in the blur of daily business demands.
 
Plan for the long haul

Most marketing activities take place in slow motion. Perhaps you're seeking a direct repair relationship with an insurance company or national fleet management company. After many inquiry calls, you finally find the key contact person. You make contact and perhaps they send you an application form. You fill in the form and send it back with a carefully prepared presentation portfolio. Weeks go by and you don't hear from anyone. You call and often find out there are currently no openings for additional shops in your area. What do you do now?

I've often said that referred business relationships are like marriages. Nine out of ten eventually end in divorce. Your best hope is to be the next suitor in line when the break-up with the current darling shop ends. Hopefully you'll be selected to be the next favored facility. But this will only be possible if you've continued to knock on the door and announce your availability over and over. This is the right kind of follow- through.

Networking

Naturally the most effective solicitation for business is person to person. I recently attended a Farmers Insurance Expo. Every year there are claims conferences, CI.C meetings and more. These are all opportunities to make live contacts, but after it's all over, don't just walk away with a pocket full of business cards. Make the most of your new contacts and follow up!

Take the time to make a few notes on the back of each business card and you will be well ahead of the game. We are all trying to advance our goals in life and business, but it's easy to get so focused on what you want, that you forget to ask what the needs of the other guy.

Your notes should tell you the contact's interests and objectives. Is he or she looking for competent adjustors in your area? Is there someone you might refer? Are your insurance contacts interested in which agents your customers prefer? Is there some feedback you can provide that will be of value to your contact?

Send a brief follow-up note within a day or two of making a new influential contact. Mention how much you enjoyed meeting the person, reminding the person who you are and how you met. Comment on something specific you talked about and offer any assistance on their needs.

If it's possible to get together again, try to meet in the person's office where he or she can take immediate action if it's called for. If you plan to meet for a meal, try to make it a breakfast to minimize the time taken out of the person's day. If no physical meeting is possible, continue to send information that you know will be useful.

Local marketing moves

When someone wants an immediate marketing result, I don't suggest insurance companies, dealerships or national fleet management companies. These all require complex, long-term marketing projects. For quick action, I suggest focusing on local businesses. Exchange referral deals with mechanics and other local automotive specialists are obvious first choices. Next should be businesses with service vehicles, like pest control, security control and various delivery businesses.

I've found that many of these businesspeople have never been called on by autobody shop owners. After all, this is an out and out sales call. Not many shop owners make this kind of sales call. You want to emphasize the importance of keeping their vehicles looking great out on the street to show the quality of their business through the quality of the appearance of their vehicles. You can also find out what company carries their vehicle insurance. Perhaps you already have a relationship with that agent, insurance company, or some adjustors. At this point you can offer claims handling help along with a special multi-vehicle repair deal.

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Don't expect too much from your first visit. You have probably surprised this person by calling on him or her at all. Your follow-up is the key to getting the business. Because you're close by, you can offer a tour, a lunch, a small free service, or even a small gift like free theater tickets for bringing a vehicle in to test the quality of your work and service.

You may be surprised at how effective paying a bit of attention to local commercial vehicle owners may be. You may be the first body shop owner to vie for their business and their attention. They may like it and respond well.

Follow-through means persistence

Ray Kroc, the man who put McDonald's on the map, said: "Press on. Nothing can take the place of persistence." Securing long-term referral relationships is very much like a courtship. Very often the relentless suitor may not be the brightest, the strongest, the richest or the best looking. But if he's always there, with the same persistent, positive message, there's a good chance he'll be the one to win the fair maiden.

Tom Franklin has been a sales and marketing representative and consultant for forty years and is the author of the books, "Business Battlefield Marketing for Body Shops," "Tom Franklin's Top 40 Marketing Tactics for Body Shops," and "Strategies for Greater Body Shop Growth." His marketing company now provides marketing solutions and services for body shops and other businesses. He can be reached for questions or comments at (323) 871-6862, by fax at (323) 465-2228, or by E-Mail: tbfranklin@aol.com.

 

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