Growing Your Customer Base

Finding customers these days requires many of  the same skills as pest management: looking in cracks and crevices for every new opportunity. It also may mean closing up some old pathways that no longer work.

New customers not only help a company grow, but they also replace customers who quit or move. “If you aren’t growing, you are dying,” said Eric Scherzinger, vice president of procurement and marketing for Scherzinger Termite & Pest Control in Cincinnati, Ohio. Scherzinger notes the “natural attrition” that comes from existing customers moving away or from the “few people that decide to cancel until they have a problem again.”

The bigger the business, the more successful the recruitment techniques must be to help a company grow.

“You have to overcome cancellations to grow the business,” said Donnie Shelton, owner of Triangle Pest Control, which has offices in North and South Carolina and Colorado. “The bigger you get, the more difficult it becomes to acquire enough customers to continue growing. A lot of the larger companies will do acquisitions because they can’t outsell the cancel rate.”

But it is not a “set it and forget it” approach. Ensuring that yesterday’s customer acquisition strategies continue to work is paramount.

What’s Working

It’s probably no surprise that digital options have more success—especially at a lower cost—than other types of customer acquisition.

For Scherzinger, it means using search engine optimization tools and demographic targeting. “My favorite thing is studying customer’s similarities and narrowing down target markets to find what our perfect customer looks like,” he said. “It is different for every company, to some extent. The customers we are targeting aren’t going to be the same as our competition necessarily. I love data analytics and being able to crunch numbers to be able to figure out what is working and what isn’t. Numbers don’t lie.”

Shelton has moved almost all his customer acquisition budget into digital marketing. “That really is the cornerstone of our strategy, using pay-per-click, social media, you name it. That’s ultimately where our customers are at.”

Shelton said the key is a “strong referral program” that works with today’s digital world. “People do not go to the mailbox and hang out with the neighbors anymore. They do share online. Create pieces on the social side that people can share. We reward both here, referrer and referee. The basics of it have not changed; just how you implement it is different.”

That has proven more successful than other methods such as leave-behinds, he said. “A lot of referrals happen organically, if you’re giving good service. Someone will go on a neighborhood site, like Nextdoor, and ask, ‘Who do you use?’ That is when you find out when you are really delivering on the promise.”

Scherzinger said it can be difficult to get technicians to ask for referrals, but “when they get it down, it is a very easy organic way of growing and obtaining new customers.”

Other methods like door-knocking can be hit or miss, Scherzinger said. “More companies that do this are popping up and it isn’t just in the pest control industry,” Scherzinger said. “It is clear that it does work, but is not the approach for everyone, especially if you are looking for long-term customers.”

What No Longer Works

Marketing and customer acquisition techniques don’t always work forever. Newspapers and TV aren’t as effective as they were 50 years ago. But even some of the newer programs are not as effective.

“These deal sites like Groupon are kind of dead,” Shelton said. “They were in vogue for a while. Even if you took a loss leader on that, the marketing and branding that you would get was great. Now, those platforms don’t have anywhere near the volume, and the quality of customer isn’t there.”

Scherzinger said lead generation sites aren’t always worth the effort, either. “We already spend a good amount on marketing that makes sense for us and who we want to market to,” he said. “I fell into the trap of trying Home Advisor, thinking I was missing leads. However, they charge you to just be listed and left out the part about also being charged at least $17-$30 per lead that they send you. They also send that same lead to other companies that have subscribed to their service and everyone has a shot at calling them, so it comes down to who can contact the lead first—and they’re not very good leads.”

It is important, Scherzinger said, to stay on top of current trends. While broadcast and cable TV aren’t the marketing stars they once were, newer methods—like SlingTV, Hulu, YouTube and Apple—might be worth considering. “This will change the dynamic of how people watch TV even more than DVR did,” Scherzinger said. “It also offers additional opportunities to be able to target people through their cyber metrics. It is an emerging marketing option, so there is a lot of uncertainty about what works best right now.”

Ultimately, many of today’s techniques for gaining new customers offer a keen ability to specifically target certain demographics and generate a ton of data. Monitoring what’s working—and what’s not—is crucial to ensuring that the investment is paying off. And don’t be afraid to try multiple approaches at once.

“I don’t think there is a limit. I would love to have a huge budget to be able to do everything I want to do, but it isn’t realistic,” Scherzinger said. “You have to look at what works and keep your message consistent.”

Understanding what works is key, Shelton said. “Marketing is a big black hole. You can spend a lot of money and waste a lot of money. Create the systems and procedures to capture how many leads you’re getting, where they’re coming from and how good you are at converting those to sales. There are a lot of sites and services that give you a ton of leads, but they don’t convert, Groupon being one of them. Get a clear picture of what’s happening.”

And that includes determining not only how new customers are acquired, but also how much it costs. “I would say all marketing works to some degree, the question is, how much are you paying per customer?” Shelton said. “In a lot of the markets where we operate, we just don’t get the return on investment.”

Scherzinger said much of his marketing is targeted toward “what our perfect customer looks like. When we pick up others as well, that is great, but there is a segment of the population who wants the peace of mind of year-round protection, and there is a segment that just wants a one-time problem fixer.”

The same could be said of customer acquisition methods. That one-time fix likely won’t pay off as well as constant care and attention.

“Well, you don’t know unless you have tried,” Scherzinger said. “Tracking the results is the important thing, and then making decisions based off the results. You can’t expect immediate results, though. You can’t run one TV commercial on the cheapest station reaching the fewest amount of people and say, ‘Well, the results didn’t outweigh the cost.’ If you are going to do something, do it right and not halfway. That isn’t saying to spend way too much to produce or run campaigns. Run worthwhile ones and you will figure out what is working and what is worth the investment.”

By Sandy Smith