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Marketing mastery: Customer service is still king in retail

June 10/17, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 26

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

“Flooring World,” the employee answering the phone said in a bored tone when I called for an appointment with the store owner. (Note: Company names in this article have been changed to avoid libel suits.) This fellow had no enthusiasm in his voice, and his tone suggested I had interrupted his day.

Compare that to how the phone was answered by the employee of a long-time coaching client of mine: “Thank you for calling Ridgway Flooring and Interiors, home of the iron-clad triple guarantee,” she said in a bright, cheerful voice. “How may I help you?” Imagine if you were in the market for flooring and you called both of these stores. With which would you choose to do business?

Customer service is a buzzword that gets thrown around a lot. Ask a dealer why a prospect should buy from him or her instead of a competitor and you’ll likely hear, “Because we provide really good customer service.” Ask the competitor the same question and you’ll likely get the same answer. Saying you have great customer service isn’t enough. You have to put actionable, concrete customer service strategies in place and train your team to follow them.

Let’s analyze some statistics from studies done by American Express to see how they apply to your business.

1. Consumers will pay 17% more to buy from companies with great customer service reputations. I’ve worked with flooring dealers whose margins were in the 25%-30% range and helped them quickly leap to 40%-50% margins by implementing strategies to wow their customers. This is one of the fastest, most cost-effective ways to increase your profits.

2. One-third of consumers say one instance of poor customer service would cause them to consider switching companies. Every time you pre- vent a customer loss to a competitor, it’s money in your pocket. Taking the time to root out poor or mediocre customer service habits in your employees will prevent those losses.

3. More than half of consumers say they have made an additional purchase after a company provided a positive experience. It’s common for a customer buy one or two rooms of flooring, only to return later and purchase floors for her entire house, business, rentals, etc. If you really impress your customers, you can increase the frequency of this happening.

4. Nine in 10 consumers factor in customer service when deciding whether to purchase from a company. Your customer’s first point of contact with a member of your team is when she calls or visits. These are your two most important opportunities to make a positive impression so she chooses to buy from you instead of the big box down the street.

5. Happy consumers tell 11 people about their experience with your company; angry consumers tell 15 people. Want more referrals? Start amazing your customers with phenomenal customer service. You’ll not only get more referrals, but you’ll also reduce the number of people complaining about your business to friends and relatives.

Customer service is everything. From the way your phones are answered and how customers are greeted in-store to how you arrive for the in-home measure, every touchpoint with each customer is an opportunity to wow them and dramatically increase your profits.

 

Jim is the founder and president of Flooring Success Systems, a company that provides floor dealers with digital and offline marketing services and coaching to equip dealers to make more money, work fewer hours and get their lives back. For information visit flooringsuccesssystems.com.

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Marketing mastery: How to dazzle walk-ins

May 13/20, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 25

By Jim Augustus Armstrong


(Second of two parts)

During a coaching call, I once asked a dealer from Connecticut, “If 10 people walk into your store, how many end up buying?”

“Around three,” he replied.

“That’s a 30% close rate, which means 70% of your walk- ins are not buying,” I said. “This means 70% the time, energy and money you spend getting people to walk in your door is wasted.”

Unfortunately, this dealer is not alone. In fact, studies show the average floor dealer only closes around 30-35% of walk-ins. Most dealers could transform their business if they simply converted more door swings into closed sales. So how can you do that? Actually, it’s not very hard if you’re willing to do what the majority of dealers don’t: “wow” your customers.

I’ve visited quite a few flooring showrooms and it’s common for them to be crammed with too many displays and/or so silent it’s depressing and/or smell like glue and dust. These conditions do not “wow” the customer. In fact, they do the opposite. In part one of this series I covered these problems and how to fix them. For example, curate your products so your showroom is more open and not cluttered with floor-to-ceiling display racks. Have background music playing so your store isn’t dead silent. Bake cookies/bread or get a popcorn machine so your store smells good.

Here are other “wow” strategies to consider:

Make your customers feel welcome. Have a beverage bar and offer them a drink of their choice. You can even use a laminated beverage menu for an even greater “wow” factor.

Greet your walk-ins right away and use scripts. I’ve walked into so many showrooms where no one greeted me for several minutes, even when I was the only person there. When I was finally greeted it was with the standard, “How may I help you?” or “Can I help you find something?” These are the opening lines used by everybody, so there is no “wow” factor. They also give the customer control of the sales process and introduce premature price and product discussions. Train your salespeople how to immediately take control of the sales process, create differentiation and position themselves as trusted advisors. Use scripts and role play them during your sales trainings.

Use testimonials everywhere. What others say about you will wow your prospects far more effectively than anything you say about yourself. Online reviews are the place to start, especially on Google. Next, have testimonials on your website, including video testimonials. Display testimonials in your showroom where everyone can see them. Also, hand out printed testimonials to customers as they walk in.

In-home measures are often a gigantic missed opportunity to wow customers.Wear shoe covers. Dress professionally. Carry a laptop case or briefcase. Get permission to measure and inspect all of her flooring. Give her tips on getting the longest life out of her floors, even the areas you’re not replacing. Give her a free bottle of spotter with free lifetime refills.

After the sale send her a hand-written thank-you card. Do a post-installation follow-up visit and deliver a nice gift bag or invite her to your showroom to pick it up.

If you do these things, you can easily increase your closed sales from three out of 10 to four out of five without spending another dime in advertising. Imagine the impact that would have on your bottom line.

 

Jim Armstrong specializes in providing turnkey marketing strategies for flooring retailers. For a free copy of his latest book, “How Floor Dealers Can Beat the Boxes Online,” visit BeatTheBoxesOnline.com.

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Marketing mastery: How to ‘wow’ your walk-in customers

April 29/May 6, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 24

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

(First of two parts)

“The No. 1 reason customers don’t buy is lack of ‘wow.’ We’re not losing customers to competitors, we’re losing them to other industries.” That’s according to Terry Wheat, founder of RFMS, in a recent presentation on selling. I tend to agree with his assessment. When a customer walks out without buying and disappears into the ether, most dealers think they lost her to a competitor. While this is some- times true, oftentimes the customer decided to buy a TV instead. Why does this happen?

Since I founded Flooring Success Systems in 2007, I’ve been preaching to dealers that it’s essential to impress your customers. But when I walk into most showrooms, I often get the opposite effect. In fact, it’s oftentimes downright depressing. Following are some examples from showrooms I’ve visited in the last year.

One dealer had a massive showroom stacked floor to ceiling with racks holding thousands of samples, with narrow aisles in between. The windows were blocked, and you couldn’t see more than about 20 feet.

Another showroom was so cold I had to put my jacket on. It also was stacked nearly floor to ceiling with display racks. If I was actually shopping for flooring that day I, might have gone to Best Buy where the showroom is bright, exciting and fun, and blown my flooring budget on a flat screen TV just to cheer myself up.

Following are some of the main commonalities I found in many of the stores I’ve visited:

Way too many display racks. Sometimes stacked floor-to-ceiling, oftentimes blocking windows and generally creating a claustrophobic effect. Why does anyone think that this is a good idea? You don’t need 107 samples of light beige carpet. You need to curate and create open space.

They smelled like chemicals—or worse. At best, new flooring products have a chemical odor—and if they sat in a warehouse, you can add dust to the mix. This is not a smell that inspires people to open their wallets. Bake some cookies or bread and make your showroom smell like home instead of a dusty warehouse. Keep your store cleaned and vacuumed, including your carpet samples.

No music on the PA system. This was one of the most depressing aspects of so many of the stores I visited. Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve got to start putting yourself into Cathy Consumer’s shoes. She’s spent hours online looking at flooring. She’s excited about finally getting new floors. Finally, she decides to visit some stores. On the way she stops at Starbucks where the interior is clean, open, cheerful and happy. She walks inside, smiling a little as she inhales the delicious aroma of fresh ground coffee. There’s a hum of pleasant sounds: drinks being made, customers chatting and pleasant background music. She gets her caramel latte to go, climbs into her SUV and heads to the first flooring store on her list. (Maybe yours?) She walks inside, smiling a little in anticipation of finding the floor of her dreams.

Subconsciously she’s expecting an experience on par with her visit to Starbucks. Instead, she experiences the polar opposite. Why not put her at ease by playing some cheerful background music?

Remember: You only get one chance to make a first impression. Make sure it’s a favorable one.

Jim Augustus Armstrong is the founder and president of Flooring Success Systems, a company that provides floor dealers with digital and offline marketing services, and coaching to equip dealers to make more money, work fewer hour, and get their lives back. For information visit FlooringSuccessSystems.com.

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Marketing mastery: Using technology to make life easier

March 4/11, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 20

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

When I first meet my clients, it’s not uncommon for them to tell me they’ve been putting in 50-70 hours per week. I’ve even encountered a few tortured souls whose average weekly hours on the job were north of 90.

As a flooring dealer you work very hard. You provide employment. You help people make their homes beautiful and inviting. You also shoulder the risk that goes with being an entrepreneur. You deserve to have an awesome life in flooring—to make a lot of money and have a business that’s rewarding.

However, if you want to have a great life in flooring, you must transition your business from being owner-dependent to system-dependent.

While I was at TISE earlier this year, I interviewed the leaders of two major flooring software companies—QFloors and RFMS—about technology’s role in helping dealers transition to being system-dependent.

“There’s a lot of confusion about the types of flooring-specific software,” said Chad Ogden, president, QFloors. “It’s important for dealers to understand there are four basic categories: estimation, room virtualization, CRM and ERP.”

Estimation software enables you to create job quotes quickly and efficiently, even right in the customer’s home (see page 24 in this issue). Room virtualization allows customers to see what different flooring types will look like in their home. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) tracks the customer as they move through your sales and marketing funnel. Some CRMs also provide email and other marketing capabilities.

ERP, another popular acronym, stands for Enterprise Resource Planning. “It’s the software that does the heavy lifting of helping to systemize the daily operations of your business, such as calendaring, inventory, accounting, etc.,” Ogden said.

Knowing your numbers is also important if you want to grow your business efficiently. After all, that which gets measured gets improved. “It’s vital that your software be able to give you key performance indicators any time you need them,” said Fred Kotynski, chief information officer for RFMS. “For example, if your goal for the current year is to have overall margins of 40% or more, you need to be able to check regularly that you’re hitting that benchmark, break it down by salesperson and do it with a single click. Quickbooks and other generic accounting software can’t do that efficiently.”

It’s critical you take the time to educate yourself on the different software systems available. “Dealers shouldn’t necessarily rush into a buying decision when looking at software,” said Miranda Golden, administrative director, RFMS. “My advice is to explore the software and take the time to really understand what you’re buying.”

Finally, realize that software by itself will not make your business system-dependent. Software is not the system; software makes the system you already have in place—or the one you want to put in place—run more efficiently. For example, every flooring company needs a calendaring system. As part of that system you need to have a written procedure for scheduling appointments, communicating appointments to your staff, etc. This is true whether your calendar is done on paper or as part of your flooring software. The only difference is the software makes your system run more efficiently.

 

Jim Armstrong is the founder and president of Flooring Success Systems, a company that provides digital and offline marketing services as well as coaching to help flooring dealers make more money, work fewer hours and get their lives back. Visit flooringsuccesssystems.com for more information.

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Marketing mastery: Promote the things that make you special

February 18/25, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 19

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

A dealer recently told me his close ratio is only 15%. “Our sales team is wasting time with people who wind up not buying,” he stated.

I told him it sounded like he was not answering the prospects’ unspoken question.

When I bring up the unspoken question, most dealers have no idea what I’m talking about. You see, every prospect who goes online looking for flooring, or calls you, or walks into your store, has an unspoken question: Why should I buy from you instead of your competitor? If you don’t have a compelling answer you’ll continuously lose customers or wind up selling solely based on price.

When I’m coaching dealers on how to get more customers, I’ll often pull up their website along with the websites of several of their top competitors and we’ll look at them side-by-side. Almost without exception, every website has the business name at the top, links to what they sell and contact information. Some have a room designer, a “contact us” form or teaser prices, but overall each site’s message is identical: here’s our name, here’s what we sell and here’s how to find us, etc.

I’ll then say to the dealer: “Cathy Consumer wants new floors. She goes online to find the right dealer. She’s asking herself, ‘Why should I choose you instead of your competitors?’ Does your website answer this question?”

Your website isn’t the only place where you need to answer the unspoken question. In fact, every touchpoint with your prospect should be engineered to answer the question, over and over again in different ways.

Let’s look at some examples of how you can make this happen.

Website. Feature testimonials as social proof. Offer a free report or white paper on how to choose the right flooring. Host videos that demonstrate your expertise by educating her on flooring products, care and maintenance.

Showroom. Keep it spotless and free of clutter. Use a curated approach—you don’t need 87 samples of beige carpet. Have a beverage bar and snacks available. Post testimonials where walk-ins can see them.

Print ads. Feature testimonials. Use risk reversal by highlighting your replacement guarantee and your lifetime installation warranty.

Phones. Make sure the person answering your phones sounds welcoming. Instead of saying, “Boring Flooring, how may I help you?” say, “Thank you for calling Jimbo’s floors, home of the lifetime installation warranty. How may I help you?” Instead of playing music when people are on hold, play recordings of client testimonials.

Restrooms. Keep them spotless. Decorate them. Spend a few bucks to impress your clients.

Social media. Stop posting mundane photos of your display racks. Instead, post pictures of your clients standing on their new floors, along with a testimonial.

In-home measure. Wear medical booties while in your customer’s home. This will communicate that you’re different, you care and you’re a total professional. Keep dog biscuits handy as a treat for the family pet.

These strategies create total differentiation from competitors, position you as a trusted advisor and, most importantly, answer the unspoken question multiple times in many ways.

How many more can you think of? Send them to support@flooringsuccesssystems.com and I may feature them in a future column.

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Marketing mastery: Make 2019 your best year ever in flooring

January 7/14, 2019: Volume 34, Issue 16

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

(First of two parts.)

I’ve spoken with many dealers who are unsatisfied or frustrated with some aspect of their business. They say things like: “Jim, I love flooring, but my business isn’t growing the way I want it to; I’m not making enough money; I’m losing customers to the competition; I can’t find good salespeople or installers; I’m working 60 hours or more each week, and I’m stressed out all the time, etc.”

Any of this sound familiar? I know you work hard as a flooring dealer, you provide a valuable service to your customers, you provide employment and you’re an asset to your community. You deserve to have a growing, thriving business that’s rewarding and fun—a place you look forward to going each day where you work the number of hours you choose. You deserve a business that provides you and your family with a great lifestyle, including vacations and weekends off. In other words, you deserve to have an awesome life in flooring.

I’m here to tell you that, whatever your past experiences have been, it is possible to have a great life in flooring, just like the dealers who sent me the following comments:

“I’m working less than 35 hours per week, revenue is up 50%...business is fun again!” —Earl from Saskatchewan

“October was our busiest month in 20 years, November was our second busiest and this month we are crashing new records!”  —Mark, Ill.

“Costa Rica! Blended drinks on the beach with my bride of 25-plus years. We had a blast! Jim, thanks for the motivation to let our store work for us rather than us working for the store.”  —Dan, Mont.

I’ve discovered that almost without exception, dealers who have achieved a great life in flooring have put into place a two-part success formula. The first half of the formula is making plenty of money. Let’s face it, if you don’t have enough money, it’s hard to grow and hire good people, it’s hard to give back and help others, and you can’t afford a great lifestyle for you and your family.

The second half of the formula is having freedom. This means you control your business, not the other way around. If your business has too much control, and has you running around in 20 different directions each day, then you don’t have the freedom to focus on growing, taking vacations or spending all the time you want with your family. You’ll always be stuck on that hamster wheel, running and running, but never moving ahead the way you want to.

There are several steps that go into implementing the success formula, and the first is having the correct mindset. I have found I can give dealers proven, step-by-step strategies for making more money and having more freedom, but those strategies are useless if the dealer believes it’s impossible to work fewer than 60 hours per week, or that wanting to make a lot of money is selfish.

You’ll notice that I began this installment by listing some of the reasons you deserve to have a great life in flooring and then showing you examples of dealers who have achieved it. I did this because I want to help you have the right mindset. Deep down in your gut I want you to really know and feel two things: No. 1 that you deserve a great life in flooring, and No. 2 that it’s possible for you to achieve. Both statements are not only true but necessary in order to get the success you really want.

In the next installment I’ll outline proven steps to help you get there.

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Marketing mastery: Customer appreciation goes a long way

December 10/17, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 14

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

To understand the importance of customer recognition, let’s take a minute and put ourselves in our customer’s shoes. Cathy Consumer is a 35-year-old mother of three, all under the age of 10. She and her husband work full time. Cathy loves her kids and is a devoted mother, but they’re a little weak in the recognition and appreciation department. Maybe they show some appreciation on Mother’s Day and her birthday but the rest of the time her kids rarely appreciate her efforts on their behalf.

Cathy works as an insurance adjuster. Other than her bi-weekly paycheck, her boss doesn’t give her any recognition. The public, whom she deals with during insurance claims, doesn’t give her recognition. Neither do her co-workers.

Her husband, while devoted, is overworked and stressed out. He’s tired all the time and mostly just watches TV in the evenings, so he doesn’t give her as much validation for her efforts as she would like.

Cathy is craving recognition and appreciation, but she’s not getting much of it in her day-to-day life. It’s the same story with many of your customers. Even those who receive sufficient recognition on a day-to-day basis wouldn’t turn down a little more.

If you were the one to give Cathy Consumer and all of your other customers the recognition and appreciation they crave, it would give them great, positive feelings about you and your business. More importantly, it would strengthen their loyalty, so next time they might not be so quick to be seduced by a “free installation” offer by some box store. It would make them more likely to refer you. It would help you create deep connections with your list of past customers.

Let’s look at some customer recognition and appreciation strategies you can put in place immediately.

Beverage menu. After welcoming a walk-in and thanking her for visiting, hand her a beverage menu and ask her what she would like to drink. This will make her feel instantly appreciated, not to mention create total differentiation from competitors.

Handwritten thank-you cards. Send personalized cards to customers after every completed installation. This is something you virtually never see from any business in today’s retail environment.

Customer of the month. In your newsletter and e-newsletters, feature a customer of the month and honor her by sending her out to dinner. People love to see their names in print. Also, people will open your mail to see your next customer of the month.

Acknowledge customers publicly. Thank customers for their business in your newsletter, email and social media. Post photos of their installed floors, along with their comments. Make them into mini celebrities just by buying from you.

Acknowledge referrals. Have a section in your newsletter thanking the people who sent you referrals. Remind everyone of your referral incentive program.

Welcome whiteboard. Put a whiteboard on an easel near your front door. When you know a customer is coming in for an appointment write, “Jimbo’s Floors Welcomes Cathy Consumer” on the board so she sees it when she walks in.

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Marketing mastery: Proceed with caution when purchasing leads

November 26/December 3, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 12

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

The importance of lead generation can’t be overstated in today’s age of online marketing. But beware—not all lead-generation systems are created equal.

Case in point is HomeAdvisor, which is being sued by a group of eight home-improvement companies. The city of San Francisco is also taking HomeAdvisor to court for making false or misleading claims regarding background checks on contractors. Here are just two of the several allegations:

  • The leads sold to the companies are “overwhelmingly bogus” and “illusory” because they are often “over-distributed” or contain, among other things, disconnected phone numbers, people who are not homeowners or contacts for nonexistent residences.
  • When companies cancel their HomeAdvisor membership, HomeAdvisor leaves their company profile page on its website and then sells the information entered by individuals who attempt to contact the company to other HomeAdvisor members.

You might be thinking Angie’s List is a safer bet—think again. Angie’s List, which was acquired by HomeAdvisor in October 2017, faces its own legal challenges. In fact, Angie’s List recently settled a class-action lawsuit for $1.4 million for manipulating search results and reviews.

Over the last 10 years, I’ve spoken with flooring dealers who have bought leads from various “lead-generation” companies and the results are rarely good. For example, one dealer I spoke with was spending $6,000 per month buying leads; 12 months and $72,000 later he wound up with mostly price shoppers. He didn’t even break even.

Unfortunately, I’ve heard many versions of his story from different dealers. I’ve said for years that instead of buying leads from HomeAdvisor and other lead-gen companies, you’d be better off heaping your money into a pile, setting it on fire and roasting marshmallows over it. That way, you’d at least get some use out of your hard-earned dollars.

The conduct of HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List angers me. Retailers are working hard, trying to build their businesses and compete against billion-dollar, multinational corporations who want to put them out of business. Then these lead-gen sales vampires come along and promise dealers lots of leads, then suck them dry with their monthly fees with zero accountability while delivering nothing in return.

When it comes to purchasing leads, let the buyer beware. Here are some points to keep in mind when contemplating purchasing lead-generation services:

  1. You have no control over the quality of leads or “how” they are generated.
  2. Buying leads does not foster long-term relationships with prospects.
  3. Leads sold to you are also sold to your competitors. You will have to call the leads back quickly or you’ll lose them. However, you pay for them regardless.

Another problem is some marketing companies will generate leads using cheap-price come-ons. Any leads generated by this method are predisposed to shop for the cheapest price. So, even if you make a mad-dash to call every lead immediately, many of them will wait to get prices from your competitors.

We all need solid leads to grow. Just be smart about it and remember: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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Marketing mastery: Best ways to generate unlimited, quality leads

November 12/19, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 11 

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

(Last of three parts)

In my last two columns I discussed the pitfalls of buying leads from popular online referral services. I also discussed several proven alternatives to generating high-quality leads. Today I’m going to discuss how to get other businesses to send you an ongoing stream of leads for free.

Every flooring dealer knows how easy it is to work with customers who were referred to your business by someone they trust vs. someone who walked in because they saw your sign or heard a radio ad. Referred leads come in with borrowed trust. Many times they have already made up their minds that they are going to buy from you, so there’s really not much “selling” needed. You’re simply there to guide them through the selection process. They tend to be less price-sensitive and less suspicious. And best of all, they’re free.

If you are like most dealers, you probably have several referral partners already: realtors, designers, remodeling contractors, etc. Think back to one of your superstar referral partners.  How much business do they send to you over 12 months? I know dealers who have earned more than $100,000 in one year from a single referral partner. Not all your partners will be that productive, but let’s run some very conservative numbers: If you had 25 referral partners, and they each sent you a paltry four referral leads per year who bought from you, that’s 100 additional sales. If your average ticket is $3,000, you’re looking at $300,000 in revenue with virtually no marketing costs. If you do $1 million per year in revenue, you could double the size of your business simply by acquiring referral partners.

Getting referral partners
One method I teach dealers is a three-step process that I used to develop over a dozen partnerships in 90 days.

Step 1: Make a list of 25-50 potential referral partners in your area. Send each of them a letter introducing yourself and your business. In the letter tell them about your business, what sets you apart from your competition and that you have an idea that will benefit both of you (a referral relationship). Tell them you will call within one week to schedule a time to meet. I recommend getting creative and attaching a dollar bill or lotto scratcher to the top of the letter to use as an attention grabber. This will generate curiosity so that they’ll read your letter all the way through. Be sure to tie in the grabber with the message in your letter. I recommend sending out no more than 10 letters at a time.

Step 2: Make follow-up calls to all the prospects you sent letters to the previous week. These are not cold calls because you’ve broken the ice by sending them a letter with an attention-grabber, and they’ll be expecting your call. Your only goal with the call is to schedule a meeting.

Step 3: Meet with the prospects for coffee, lunch or at their place of business. Your goal is to develop a rapport with them and find out about how they do business. You also want to educate them on your business, explain why you are different from your competitors and how they will benefit by referring customers to you. Ask them if they are interested in being your referral partner. Get a solid commitment, either yes or no.

By rounding up a herd of referral partners, you can generate an ongoing stream of high-quality leads for your business.

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Marketing mastery: How to generate high-quality leads online

October 29/November 5, 2018: Volume 34, Issue 10

By Jim Augustus Armstrong

 

(Second of three parts)

In my previous column I detailed the many problems dealers face when buying leads from certain lead generation companies as well as why you are better off generating your own leads. I also discussed how any time you generate leads you should begin with the ones you already have: your past customers. Assuming you’re already marketing to your customer list, let’s look at some online lead generation strategies.

Build a strong online reputation. Billy Berber owns Big Billy’s Berber Boutique in Billings, Mont., and has been in business for 20 years. He’s noticed that lately he’s been losing a lot of business to his competitors, Lance’s Luxury Laminates and Wendy’s Wood World. This is puzzling to him because Big Billy’s has a good reputation built on honesty, integrity, great service and quality products. What he doesn’t realize is that it’s possible to have a great offline reputation and simultaneously have a weak online reputation.

When Cathy Consumer Googles flooring in Billings, Mont., and looks at the reviews, Big Billy’s has only a handful, and an average rating of 2.7 stars. On the other hand, Lance and Wendy have dozens of reviews with 4.5 and 4.9 average star ratings, respectively. Billy is losing a steady stream of leads to Lance and Wendy because his online reputation stinks. It doesn’t matter how great of an online lead-generation strategy he puts in place, this problem will hurt results. By having dozens of positive online reviews you’ll not only directly generate leads to your store, but you’ll get better results from all your other lead-generation efforts.

Lead capture on your website. Have you ever visited a cooking website and got a nice-looking pop-up ad that says, “Sign up for free weekly mouth-watering recipes”? Of course, we’ve all seen these kinds of ads. You then enter your name and email to get the free recipes. This offer gets website visitors to raise their hand and say, “Yes, I’m interested in cooking.” The company is building a list of hot leads whom they can market to indefinitely with cooking-related products. This kind of lead generation is used everywhere and in virtually every industry. Why?  Because, regardless of what you and I think about these ads, they work.

My company has implemented this strategy for many floor dealers we work with, and you should implement it for your business. You could have an offer on your website that says, “Free guide reveals the five important things to consider when buying new floors.” Cathy Consumer enters her name and email and gets the guide. We test different ads to see which generate the most opt-ins and you should do the same.

Lead follow up. It’s important to follow up with the leads who opt in for your offer. Research has shown the path-to-purchase for big ticket items averages 79 days. So, after Cathy Consumer opts in, subscribe her to an email follow up campaign so you can stay in front of her throughout that time frame. Every few days send her an email with information that educates her on how to choose a flooring store. Don’t spam her every day with 10%-off coupons, because she’ll opt out of your emails. Send information that helps her in her quest for new floors. This will position you as a trusted advisor.

In the next installment I’ll cover a strategy to get other businesses to send you an ongoing stream of leads for free.