Several management consulting firms have come back to companies that paid many thousands of dollars to have consultations with major change recommendations, only to find their recommendations gathering dust on a shelf. Hardly a single change recommendation had been implemented in company after company. Apparently people resist change, even when faced with the possibly of dying.
Radical change may be easiest
One of the findings reported in the article was that "big changes are easier than small changes." The heart surgery patients who were given small incremental diet and exercise changes tended not to see immediate, significant results, and so let the changes slide. But an immediate, radical program of a crash, mostly vegetable diet with less than 10% of calories from fat, combined with daily aerobic exercise and relaxation techniques, brought about quick, dramatic results.
These positive results inspired patients to stick with the healthier lifestyles long-term. When a shop owner or manager decides to begin a marketing program to increase business, often the approach is similar to the "small incremental diet and exercise changes" attempted by heart attack patients. If there isn't an instant increase in cars in the shop, the small marketing actions are allowed to slide and eventually disappear. A radical, crash program that quickly produces noticeable results is more likely to be continued long-term.
Highly focused, daily marketing moves
Assuming that Saturdays are usually catch-up days, that leaves only five full business days a week and twenty days a month to really make an impact. The focus has to shift from "now and then" to a concentrated, daily routine to produce immediate, dramatic results. What can shop personnel do every day that will make a difference? You may be amazed when you consider all of the possibilities!
On days when new estimates and repair orders are written, special attention should be paid to the "Customer Information Form." Many estimators and customer service people fail to take the time to capture vital referral information. Without knowing the referral source, how can shop marketing personnel find ways to strengthen that relationship and prompt further referrals? If the job is an insurance referral, even if not sent by the agent, getting the agent's contact information allows the shop to send an acknowledgment to the agent to build his or her awareness of clients the shop is servicing.
On days when completed vehicles are delivered, a Customer Satisfaction statement should be obtained and a carefully designed "Thank You" note given. In a recent article I provided a Thank You card designed to prompt: discounted return visits, friends and family referrals, and employer or other fleet vehicle referrals. (Contact me for copies of articles if you've missed them.)
The most important times to market are those dead hours or days when there's not much else to do. Another recent article provided postcard copy for at least ten postcards a day to be sent to prior customers. At ten-a-day, five days a week, that's fifty a week times fifty-two weeks. You do the math. A ten percent return would bring you 260 jobs in the year. Even a five percent return would bring in 130 jobs -- not bad for an investment of less than $100 a month (not counting the idle labor that you would already be paying for).
More idle days
Your most important marketing tool is your referral prospect "Hit List." Creating database lists is time consuming but potentially very profitable. If you market to agents, obtaining agent contact info off of the internet is incredibly easy. For example, go to www.statefarm.com and click on "Locate an Agent." Put in a zip code and you get an excellent list. Select and copy each agent's info and paste it to a "word" file, back and forth, until you've covered all surrounding zip codes.
You can build your list of dealerships, businesses with commercial fleets, delivery vehicles, auctions and more, all the same way. These lists can be used for mailing or live calls.
Live call days
The first commandment of marketing says, "When business is so slow you have time on your hands, you must be out soliciting business for your shop!" Some people may tell you, "Don't bother calling on that dealership, they already have a deal with another shop to do autobody repairs." Nonsense! If you go back again and again, with a smile, some literature and a cheerful message, eventually they get to know you and begin to feel like they owe you at least a little business. I call this process "DRIPPING."
This same "DRIPPING" process will work on agents, fleet managers, local mechanics, and other institutional and commercial prospects. The key is to get out there and communicate face-to-face, frequently.
It's been said that business is like warfare. You have to know what your enemy is doing to win the battle. There are many profitable places to scout around. Of course you can't go directly to your competitor, but you can send a friend or acquaintance as a "mystery shopper" to find out how they handle their customer service. Someone could also call to check out your competitor's phone "on-hold" advertising message. You might spot a way to make your own message even better.
You can also profitably check out signs, banners, billboards, bus benches, flyers and circulars, coupons and other marketing tools used by businesses in your area. A local dog trainer in my area put up a sign that said: "We won't train your kids or your spouse, but we guarantee that we can train your dog." Come up with a creative alternative like: "We don't repair broken homes or broken relationships, but we can repair any damaged car you bring us."
Some shop marketers also scout college and university parking lots looking for damaged vehicles to leave a card with a ballpark estimate of repair.
You might not be able to get out on the street very often, but there's a lot of scouting you can do right in your office. Check the ads in your local papers and magazines. Check radio and TV commercials that could relate to your business. Check with the manufacturer of the paint you use to see if they may have added a referral source. In conjunction with PPG's Certified First program, the company has the Lynx referral network that PPG users can apply to be part of. One of the referral connections is American Express claims. Other paint companies may offer a comparable opportunity.
There's a lot more yet!
We've only just begun! I've identified at least 40 strategies to apply during those key 20 full working days of the month. We haven't even touched on holidays, seasonal changes, vacation specials and more. Some actions must be taken every day, others once or twice a week, and still others several times a month, but every day specific actions should be scheduled. No lackadaisical, "now and then" approach to marketing is going to bring a sudden rush of new business to your door. But if you treat every new day as an irreplaceable opportunity to get your share of those 240 golden business days a year, you may be surprised to see what a consistent marketing approach can accomplish!
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: firstname.lastname@example.org.