By Cheryl Higley
Your competitor’s snow service failure is a ripe opportunity…but if you plan on using that failure as a sales strategy, tread carefully.
Sixteen percent of respondents to this year’s Snow Business State of the Industry indicated they use it as an effective sales strategy. But it must be done correctly. Otherwise, you may come off looking worse than the prospect’s poorly serviced lot.
“You don’t want to make the manager or owner feel like they did not do their job well by hiring a snow contractor with poor service quality,” says Collin Corso, owner of Terra Lawn & Landscape in Massachusetts, who frequently uses this tactic to score new business. “You need them to feel like the poor service is not the fault of their poor hiring but is instead the fault of the contractor they hired.”
It is vital, says Case Snow Co. Account Executive Neal Glatt, CSP, that bad-mouthing the competition stays out of the conversation.
“You never want to talk bad about someone. It makes you sound petty and vindictive,” Glatt says. “Word travels fast in this industry — and the facility management world is very small. You don’t know who knows whom, so it is very important to not alienate people.”
Asking the right questions and getting the prospect to tell you there have been service failures is key. And it may be as simple as starting with the question: “How did last winter go?” or “If there is one thing you think your snow contractor could improve on, what would it be?” For customers who have focused more on price but have experienced the failures, they may see the light with this response: “I’d like to come down on my price but there are some people who will lower their price but they skimp on the service. That’s not how we work.”
Trolling competitors’ sites looking for failures isn’t necessarily the best use of your time, Glatt and Corso say, but it’s important that you—and especially the crews in the field—keep eyes and ears open.
Corso says while he is out performing quality inspections on his own sites, he will take notes and photos of his competitors’ failures—sometimes over the course of a few years before he ever approaches the prospect. He focuses on accounts that are near or next to other properties he services, where he can visually demonstrate the difference in service.
“This gives us the opportunity to demonstrate to the prospect how our service can be superior with them realizing we are doing so.”
Both say it’s rare to use the tactic mid-season, finding more success during the preseason sales cycle, but it can be effective after particularly heavy storms—when lesser-qualified competitors are more likely to experience a more noticeable failure.
“I like to meet the customer while they’re still angry about the poor service, just to plant the seed of doubt in their mind. If you wait a whole summer season, it is likely the severity of the service failure has been diluted with time,” Corso says. “If you demonstrate a genuine concern for a prospect’s needs, it shows that you’re not there to tell them they hired a bad contractor but that you’re there to learn what a snow contractor can do to fill their needs.”
In fact, Glatt says, what you may perceive as a service failure may not be in the eyes of the customer: “A customer can hire the worst snow contractor in the world, but if he thinks he’s getting a good value and doesn’t think anything is wrong, he won’t make a change. It’s not to say some aren’t terrible and the customer realizes it—then you have a good opportunity.”
Cheryl Higley is editorial director of Snow Business magazine.