When Ravi Sachdeva’s father founded American Pest Management in 1979, the most important marketing tool was the yellow pages.
“There was another pest management company in the area with a name that started with ‘anti,’ so my father named his company American Pest Management, so our yellow page listing and ad would be the first in the section,” explains Sachdeva, now CEO of the Manhattan, Kansas-based company. “In those days, most new customers were generated by the phone book, and they called us.”
This naming strategy may have been the first, most basic form of search engine optimization (SEO), now a critical component of any marketer’s toolbox.
While many company owners immediately think about advertising when asked about their marketing plans to grow their business, Sachdeva points out that you must first make sure you have a product that customers want and service that will retain them. “One of the first things I did after graduating with a marketing degree and joining my father in business was to bundle our services and offer tiered pricing,” he explains. “After a free consultation that identifies their pest issues, technicians can recommend the best plan for their needs and provide a written agreement.” Clearly setting expectations and explaining the value of the service creates a more positive relationship and higher customer retention, he adds.
“We budget about seven percent of our revenue for advertising,” explains Sachdeva. The company has two offices and there are also two franchise locations. Online advertising that includes social media, a website that is designed to maximize SEO and online reviews provide the service and contact information for the company.
“We use direct mail in some locations, but not all,” says Sachdeva. “We are well-established in our hometown of Manhattan, so we don’t use direct mail, but in nearby small towns with homeowners who are potential clients, we’ll use targeted direct mail to reach them when we want to grow a specific area.” He points out that a single mailing is not enough—in addition to direct mail pieces, his staff will hang door tags in neighborhoods and call residents.
The most effective marketing plan for business growth is a “multi-platform” plan, says Jeff Fenner, partner at B Communications. However, be diligent about evaluating the effectiveness of your marketing efforts, he adds.
“Where do your customers find you?” asks Fenner. Know how many customers contacted the company after an online search; viewing social media, Angie’s List, Yelp or print advertising; or seeing the company participate or sponsor a community event.
Although there are online tools to measure search results, Sachdeva asks all new customers how they found the pest company. He looks at the results by age group because different aged customers respond to different media. “In our age group of 18- to 39-years-olds, 70 percent find us on Google, 20 percent are referred by a friend and one percent saw our vehicles,” he says. “In the age group of 40- to 60-years-olds, 50 percent were referred by a friend, 30 percent saw our vehicles and 20 percent used Google.”
As Sachdeva’s results demonstrate, don’t forget that company vehicles also promote the business. His distinctive vehicles clearly display the name and phone number of the company to make it easy for people to reach him.
While social media such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram seem to be a simple way to reach a lot of people, be sure that you understand their roles and their results. “You need to understand branding versus lead generation,” explains Fenner. Although social media is a good vehicle to expand and strengthen branding efforts, it may not be the best lead generator in a specific area or with some potential clients, he adds.
Websites are another critical online tool if designed well. An easy-to-maneuver site that offers multiple ways to request a proposal—phone, online form and email—as well as educational information in blogs that are kept current, can be an effective way to reach new customers. The caveat, however, is that the site must appear at, or near, the top of an online search for services offered by the company.
“Be sure to ask questions of any SEO firm that helps you with your website,” cautions Fenner. “Have them review the website to let you know if your content clearly describes your services and is too much, too little, valuable to consumers and easy to understand.” Ask the firm to provide realistic numbers that you can expect for search results and ask how you can improve the site to generate more results, he adds.
Target your messages to different audiences, recommends Fenner. “You can sell additional services to existing customers with newsletters, emails or materials provided by the technician,” he suggests. Existing customers can also be a source of referrals and reviews, which leads to new customers, he adds.
Although some pest management company owners may be hesitant to work with an outside marketing firm to develop websites and marketing materials, it can be beneficial in the long run, says Fenner. “We tell people to consult a professional to handle a yellow jacket nest, and marketing requires the same expertise.”
When choosing a firm, be sure the consultant understands or wants to learn about pest management. “Knowing that we don’t use the word ‘safer’ and that we discuss issues such as mosquito-related Zika virus with facts, not scare tactics, is helpful,” says Fenner. An added benefit of a third-party review is the ability to ensure that the brand is consistent across all platforms to maximize the effect of all marketing messages.
Although website content and social media posts can easily be updated by internal staff, consider having someone develop a content calendar that identifies the blog topics, Facebook contests or social media posts that should occur throughout the year. Staff can write the items during slow times of the year and have them ready to post at the appropriate time.
Having a roadmap ensures that content is continually updated and fresh, says Fenner. “Even if someone is responsible for updating content as part of the job, it is too easy to get off track during the busy season,” he explains.
Customer appreciation events, such as a college baseball game sponsored by American Pest Management, are a good way to thank customers for their business and their referrals, says Sachdeva. “We invite about 200 people—customers and employees—to join us for a barbecue tailgate party before the game,” he says. “We also have our Technician of the Year throw the first pitch of the game.”
Don’t forget that employees are an important marketing tool, says Sachdeva. “We hold competitions with awards for the technicians who get the first five reviews each month,” he says. “We also don’t mail invitations to the customer appreciation event. Instead, technicians have a supply of them to offer to customers as a way to strengthen the relationship.”
By Sheryl S. Jackson