According to the 2014 State of the Industry survey, 2013-14 was an incredible year for snow sales, with more than 80% of snow contractors reporting increased sales over the previous season. Continuing the momentum of a snow-filled season, nearly four out of five respondents are seeking to increase sales for the upcoming winter. While most companies stated they are looking to grow by adding new clients, a few businesses are aiming to work smarter by expanding relationships with existing clientele. These contractors will enjoy shorter sales cycles, higher close ratios, and could even see higher profit margins compared to those who elect to spend time “pounding the pavement.”
Every snow contractor has relationships with clients who value the services they provide and plan to renew with them. Some of these clients can be a sales gold mine of additional services, new properties and referrals. Adding new clients is obviously how most new business is gained and it is certainly a necessity for healthy business growth. However, to sign one new client requires a number of proposals that don’t pan out, and each bid requires a number of meetings to create, and each meeting takes a number of phone calls to set. When considering the conversion ratios at each point of the process, it’s not uncommon to find that one new client acquisition can take days or weeks. Smart sales professionals never undertake the process until they’ve earned as much of the “low-hanging fruit” sales as they can from existing relationships.
Customer needs analysis
Clients who feel that their snow contractor has provided a good service and value will be open to discussing current and future opportunities with their account manager. A savvy salesperson will guide the client through a discussion of their needs by asking plenty of questions about how snow services impact their total business. The goal is to truly learn what the client appreciates, what frustrates him, and how his day-to-day looks when snow is involved. If asked the right questions, a client will explain his needs and how well they are being met, allowing the contractor to propose ideas on how to better assist the client. Each new opportunity to meet a client’s needs should correlate to increased sales. The best part is that the discussion takes only one phone call to set and one meeting to schedule. The time commitment is minimal, but the potential rewards are significant.
Sales made through these conversations not only take far less time, but also are generally more profitable. Since there is a level of trust and the client fully appreciates the value proposition, it’s less likely that there will be a competitive, sealed bid process or difficulty explaining the value of the costs presented. Further, overhead should be lower as the systems, administrative time and setup responsibilities are already completed or underway for the client. By expanding the scope of a client relationship, the client often also enjoys better service, strengthening the value proposition. It is truly a win-win.
Expanded client relationships don’t always take the form of additional properties. While more than half of snow contractors offer additional services such as anti-icing, ice watch and hauling, a small minority offers snow removal from rooftops, consulting or parking deck services. Offering a new service will certainly involve some degree of start-up costs, but with minimized competition and existing client relationships the return should be quick. Having an open conversation with clients about where their needs go beyond the current service offering and how they can be provided can help greatly increase sales.
In order to be successful, however, contractors must be honest about the learning curve involved in providing new services, how the inevitable problems will be identified and remedied, and what the client expectation should be. Promising great results for a client and then failing to deliver could jeopardize the entire relationship and work against sales goals.
Simply consolidating services can help increase performance on a job site. For instance, when plowing and shoveling are managed by separate contractors, there is extra required communication, duplication of overhead, and more administrative work for the client. If combined, a contractor can manage the entire site with no additional on-site management, streamline operations by eliminating callbacks for cleanup from the other contractor’s operations, and simplify the client’s life. By increasing the performance on-site, profitability as well as client satisfaction should increase.
Putting it into practice
The best way to take advantage of these existing opportunities is to pick up the phone and honestly explain your objective to the clients. Tell them you’re looking to grow your business, that their account is highly appreciated, and that a conversation to explore their needs and see if the relationship could be expanded would be mutually beneficial. Chances are clients will appreciate the opportunity and be happy to schedule some time. Besides, it can’t be worse than cold calling.
Neal Glatt, CSP, is an account executive with Case Snow Management in North Attleboro, MA.