Building a Business & Revenue on Relationships
Get to the Point
- Be Genuine - Listen and engage with the customers. You’ve been invited into their home, be respectful and act like a guest.
- Take Notes - The best way to build relationships is to remember something personal about the customer. The best way to remember things is to write them down. You’ll also want to take notes on additional job opportunities.
- Follow Up - During your follow-up for routine maintenance, or that other job opportunity you noted, make sure to ask about their dog, or their job. Whatever you talked about and wrote down, just bring it up later.
- BONUS TIP - Your relationships can extend beyond customers, if you form relationships with your local home inspector, or insurance agent they could send referrals your way.
Word of mouth = $$
Owners often exclaim that word-of-mouth from their customers is the most rewarding marketing. They're not just craving a pat on the back. Personal recommendations drive 13% of all consumer sales, and 5 times the sales of a paid media impression (WOMMA). That community of long-term advocates begin with one-at-a-time relationships.
When I think about relationships, I picture you and the homeowner learning about each other in a sincere way, so you can help later. One of my favorite lessons came from a contractor I met this year who always notes at least one memorable thing about every homeowner he visits. He might pick up on pets hanging out while he works, kids who ask questions, football or hockey team gear, and so on and he jots it down. When he drops them Thank You notes on Fridays, he never fails to mention them. His homeowners know he cares, so they do too.
Like my co-worker Steve said in his earlier blog post on HVAC.com, you don't have to hard-sell to win. Presenting options doesn't have to end when you're done with the first job. You can anticipate the homeowner's needs, and strengthen your relationship over time.
"It's been six months since we installed your furnace. Are you happy with it? Also, I remember seeing some stains from standing water. I know someone who could help. What do you think?"
Every opportunity begins with a trigger to your memory. Here's the simplest workflow I can offer for turning these into revenue. We'll get into examples after.
- Take notes. What do you need to know about a customer to guess at upcoming needs? Start by tracking that from each of your customers.
- Call on lists. Each month, make a list of customers by the needs they may have by now. This becomes a call list to fill downtime. At first, these lists will be like experiments.
- Script the call. Write down a sample conversation and try it out. How quickly can you get to the point? Introduce yourself, state why you thought to call, and ask if that's something they'd like to talk about.
- Get results. Don't worry about the customers who say "no." They'll remember that you cared enough to ask, and more than not will reach out to you when they're ready. Some will say "yes" and you can respectfully schedule a time to help more.
- Evaluate. Which reasons to call worked better? Keep track of your efforts and prune the experiments that aren't worth your effort.
Who else do you have relationships with?
Now think bigger. There are other professionals in your community that can't do your job, but work with homeowners in need. Can they talk about you? Empower them, and they'll become lead sources for you.
Who else does a homeowner talk to when they have a problem, or even just a symptom? Here's a starting list:
- Insurance agents (claims!)
- Attorneys (estates, real estate, development)
- Homeowner associations
- Home inspectors
- Municipal building inspectors
- Your church members
- Hardware retailers
- Appliance retailers
- Your town's chamber of commerce
- Volunteering in a charity with a public presence (Big! Show you care about your town.)
What do they need to hear to recruit them? Less than you may think. I believe it's all about getting a potential partner curious. When they start asking you questions, they're engaged. How often do they run into homeowners in need? What are their top 3 biggest problems? Share your insight. How does their business benefit by having those problems taken care of better? Would they mind making a warm introduction to homeowners that fit? You'll do the same, right?
What's the worst that could happen? They may say "no", but they've already shown that they have a need and would benefit. More likely, they may say they have a go-to guy. Would you mind giving out my name too? No one asked for exclusivity, and making it the homeowner's choice often works out best.
Don't ask the partner to sell for you, just to make warm introductions. In a warm intro, the partner gives the homeowner your direct contact info, and asks the homeowner to mention that the partner sent them. There's a purpose, and the suggestion that it might be worth a conversation for both of you. Make it an easy lift.
Be the go to guy!
Who do you call when you don't know who can help? Be that person in your town. Give recommendations to people you've vetted beforehand. How do you become that person? Start by collecting a short list of the contractors you work well with and respect. Call them and give them the warm referral partner pitch.
When you see a problem at a home, let the owner know. Tell them you don't do that work. Have they a got contractor to give them a professional opinion? Would they like a few options? Give them specific people at each firm. You could have a list on paper that you give away for referrals, and it gives you a chance to note the right contractors or the right contacts at each. This is only worth your time if it turns into a conversation. You'd want the same from referrals to you.
What about homeowners who aren't ready yet?
Build a community around your social media. Giving homeowners the option to increase their engagement. When they have a problem, again they'll think of you. I once saw a talk about a really great way to frame your followers. Imagine there are levels:
- Validate: Your audience tells you they like things.
- Share: Your audience tells other people about things you post.
- Ask and Answer: Your audience asks you questions about things you post, and some even answer others' questions for you.
- Explore: You and your audience ask open-ended questions.
What do homeowners need to hear from you at each stage in their lifecycle with you?
- Before they know of a need: what symptoms will they see that their equipment is going to fail?
- Recognized need: What to look for in a good contractor?
- Evaluating alternatives: What brings lasting value in a contractor?
- Decision: Add a little urgency with weather changing?
- Purchase: What do you get with a purchase?
- Install: What to expect when we come?
- Maintenance: Have you scheduled your next visit?
- Service: Common breaks, and we've got ways to make fixes easy.
- At-risk: We want to hear about your problems. Call us!
There's more to paths to work than just being a customer:
- Weather: more than just seasons, what about extreme events?
- Law, Code, and Tax changes, especially enforcement
- Homes for sale (may be easier to partner with the realtors, see below)
- Health news (e.g. radon, air quality, environment reports, allergens, water quality)
How could I not mention routine maintenance agreements? They're just campaigns too. Of course they work! You're just anticipating needs and putting them into a package everyone agrees on first.
This is really about experimenting to see what works and what doesn't. I don't have a crystal ball make guarantees. What works well for you may not work for someone else. Experiments are about asking questions like "Would we get more business if homeowners recognized they have a problem earlier?" Then you can build a message, try it out on a small group of homeowners, measure the results, and learn from them. You can build on successes and drop stuff that fails before spending a ton. Just don't stop trying.
Be funny. Be sincere. Be off-topic, but on-brand. Not everything has to be about furnaces, drains, and "winter is coming." Share photos from the Little League team you sponsor. Your potential customers get the idea you're invested in their town, too. When that happens, they'll think of you first and give you room to earn trust up front.
How to Take Notes: What to capture?
None of this happens without you taking note of things that lead to work in your customers' homes. Here are some ideas about what to record on the contacts and jobs in the field service software component of your work order management software:
- Equipment (brand, model, serial, age, condition): This can drive your recall and replacement work as well as routine maintenance. Mark down which ones you installed and which ones you saw but could replace next time.
- Address: This sounds so basic, you're probably already doing it. Do you keep addresses someplace you can make a list? What if the power is out in that part of town and you could offer the homeowner a generator in a few weeks? You'll need a quick way to make a list of affected homeowners later.
- Email: How can you reach them with promotions and tips?
- Tags: Note problems quickly, like damp/musty basements, evidence of leaks, etc. that could be opportunities for you or your referral partners.
- Open Proposals: Close 'em, won or lost. Ask why the homeowner made that call.
- Lost Proposals: Even if you didn't win the job, you could call in a few months to ask if they have any lingering issues. Your team might do better.
- Type of Job: Install, service, maintenance each lead to different kinds of work down the road. How often should you call and for what?
- Last Visit Date: Down the road after the job, do a wellness check. Homeowners will be impressed that you care. Most of the time, I never hear from my contractors again until I have a problem, and then I might think of someone else.
As you can see, each of these helps you find a list of homeowners with potential problems, worth contacting. When you're really good, you and your referral partners can trade lists and let homeowners know why the partner thought they might benefit from a chat.
Relationships are made by recognizing opportunities, jotting them down, and acting on the reminders. There are lots of ways to do this, from asking homeowners directly and encouraging other professionals to watch out, to serving as your town's go-to-person, educating homeowners ahead of time, and taking time on your visits to make notes that prime your pump later. Your web of relationships makes your book of business worth more than anyone else's.