7 New Rules for Surviving Thriving in a Low Bid Landscaping Market Place
By Tony Bass ©2010

Eighty-five landscape contractors poured into a seminar room on a Tuesday at 8:00 AM.  They all had one thing in common-they wanted to learn how to improve their companies.  Landscape contractors are facing incredible downward-pricing pressure.  The construction boom has ended and the order-taking is over.

To make matters worse, customers know the rules have changed.  They heard the economy is in a mess, business is down, and now is great time to ask you to lower your prices.  Today, if you are making sales calls, estimating or writing bids, your job is difficult.  In fact, today, selling may be the hardest job in the world!

Does any of this sound familiar?  Are your customers asking you for lower prices?  If so, don’t be surprised, don’t be offended, and don’t get frustrated.  The great news is that they still want to give you their business, since they are asking YOU for a lower price, not your competitor.  Just realize that you need a few tools to deal with these new requests and to separate yourself from the crowded, competitive marketplace.  You need to follow the 7 New Rules for Surviving Thriving in a Low-Bid Market.

These new rules have recently been revealed in a limited number of landscape industry seminars, online podcasts and an e-book, 7 New Rules for Surviving Thriving in a Low-Bid Market, written by Tony Bass.  This article gives you a glimpse into these rules and what the future holds for contractors seeking sales success.

Rule #1 – Keep your phone ringing!  Unfortunately, making your phone ring is harder than ever!  Microsoft founder Bill Gates estimates that almost no one under the age of 50 will be using the Yellow Pages in 2012! Newspapers used to have nearly 30% of all advertising dollars.  Today, they are going bankrupt nationwide as advertisers and subscribers change their spending habits.  In 1970, the average city-dwelling American saw 500 ads per day.  Fast-forward to 2004 and that number went up to 5,000 ads per day!  The marketplace is crowded!  Since your customers aren’t using the Yellow Pages or reading newspapers the way they used to, where are they in this crowded marketplace?  They’re on the Internet.

Between 2000 and 2009, Internet usage grew 242%.  Almost 50% of all people in North America, Central America, and South America currently have Internet access.  Approximately 2 billion people (30% of the human population) are online!  Think of yourself, your friends and your family.  Are you using the Internet to buy smarter?  I bet you answered YES!

My advice to you – increase your Internet Marketing IQ.  (Click on the link to take the exam now.)  Get busy using the Internet to market your business effectively or prepare to get crushed by the companies who learn these new skills.

Rule #2 -Get online or die!  The Internet has changed the way people shop.  A recent study reveals that 81% of significant purchases begin with an Internet search.  Is your business online?  Yes, but are you really online?  Publishing a website is only one small step within the process of harnessing the power of the Internet to grow your business.

Standing out on the Internet is the key to staying competitive and growing sales.  Moving forward, internet marketing is a skill that every small business owner must master.  Tony’s 20-question Internet Marketing IQ Test (get tested here) will help you find out what you are doing right, what you are doing wrong and what you are not doing at all.  After completing the simple true/false exam, you can set priorities for what you need to do to make your phone ring and your e-mail inbox fill up with prospects who find you online.

Since introducing the Internet Marketing IQ Exam, over 300 landscape companies have completed the survey.  Here is what we have learned.  The average company is failing miserably with online marketing!  The average score is a puny 48% (on a 100 scale).  Can you remember the letter grade earned in school with a 48?  That’s right.  F = Fail.

Rule number two says you must learn everything you can about internet marketing and you better start right away!

Rule #3 – You are what you publish.  Write, write, write!  Effective use of the Internet includes writing articles, increasing your frequency of communication, participating in online discussions and regularly writing press releases designed for your target customers.  Think education.  Always educate your customers.

What are the top 10 questions you answer when you go out on sales calls?  Make a list of these questions.  After all, you will be answering these questions for years to come. Publish these frequently-asked-questions (FAQs) on your website. Use these FAQs as your prospect education outreach.

Guess what?  When you make a commitment to write out YOUR answers in YOUR words, YOUR article becomes a public relations (PR) tool for your company and a training tool for your staff.  So be consistent, correct and clear in your answers, because those answers will be working 24/7, whenever your prospects are shopping!  If you don’t publish, you simply don’t exist!

Rule #4 – Discover new ways to stand out in a crowded, competitive marketplace.  However, you must invest in yourself, buy a few new tools and learn a few new skills. For instance, did you know that between April 2006 and April 2010, the use of video online has more than TRIPLED?!  Have you watched a video online in the past month?  I bet you have.   But the better question is:  have you published your own company video online in the last month?   Failure to learn to communicate quickly, concisely and professionally with low-cost online videos is a failure to obey the new rules. Click here for a short video example.

Rule #5 –  Word of mouth mouse is here to stay.  And you better have a plan to establish positive online reviews of your work!  Think video testimonials!  Think dozens, think scores, think hundreds of positive videos, letters, audio recordings, and positive reviews.  You are what you publish!

You better get busy now.  Proactive, consistent, and meaningful publication of positive comments is the ultimate defense for negative reviews, foul comments, and techno-mad-men.  That’s right.  As quickly as online media can transform your company to superstar status, it could crush your standing in the community.

For example: One unlucky landscape contractor had their reputation destroyed when their truck was involved in an accident that killed a person.  The driver of the truck was identified as an illegal alien.  The news story is now permanently published on YouTube!  Are you prepared to deal with online negativity?

In another case, landscape contractor A is mad because he lost a bid to landscape contractor B.  Rather than simply step aside and try to find new work, he contacts the local TV investigative news team and accuses the winning contractor of employing illegal aliens.  The news team shows up, conducts an investigation, and lets the community know exactly what the shake-up is on the local school grounds maintenance contract.  Scary stuff!

Don’t let fear prevent you from using the new rules. Get aggressive now!  Build, document, publish, and promote your company online in a positive manner.  Build a community of people who like you. Set a goal to have 50 to 100 positive reviews to prevent one bad review from ruining your priceless reputation.  Your future marketing strategy must include positive word of mouse.
Rule #6 – The postman is still your friend. Direct mail is still a low-cost way to target specific neighborhoods, demographic profiles, and interest groups. Companies who understand that effective marketing requires a combination of several promotional and sales strategies working in concert will grow.  Using multiple delivery methods of the same, or similar, targeted message WILL break through the crowded marketplace of today!

Landscape contracting is a very visual business.  If a picture is worth a thousand words, then what is the value of your company’s postcard printed with a colorful, inviting garden scene?  In modern terms, a thousand words equal 4 pages of printed text!  That’s what you’ve gained by using an enticing visual!

Now, direct-mail that postcard to a qualified homeowner, include your company’s website address and an invitation to watch on online video containing helpful gardening tips. But instead of you introducing your favorite rose bush, you introduce Mrs. Rose, your proud customer who wants to show off her new landscape!  At the end of the video, offer a free onsite consultation (normally valued at $100) and voilá!  You’ve just implemented new rules 1 through 6!

You’ve gotten yourself noticed (#1), increased your Internet presence (#2), published written material educating your customer (#3), used video to stand out in a crowded marketplace (#4), enhanced your reputation with online reviews (#5), and used your friend, the postman, to target contacts (#6)!  You’ve also helped your customer save money with an online coupon.  Are you keeping up with the new rules?

Rule #7 – Learn to sell and learn to thrive!  Selling is a skill that you can learn.  Given the correct tools, a 21-year old landscape rookie can become as effective at selling as a gardening veteran with 30 years of experience!  I have witnessed horticultural hotshots ruin their chance for installing garden after garden by not having specialized sales training.  Do you know the term close ratio?  It is the number of times you close a sale out of 100 tries.  What is your company’s close ratio?  How can you improve it?

Getting your phone to ring is just one step in building a successful business. What you say as you answer the phone, what you don’t say, and the order in which you say it matter immensely.  The words you use are as important as checking the oil in your $40,000 skid loader.  How you convert an internet lead to a prospective caller to a confirmed site-visit or proposal quote is a science just as predictable as proper soil preparation.  Organized correctly, words are powerful tools!

Here is a goal for you: learn how to sell $50 of your services over the phone.  I have helped owner-operators and multi-million dollar organizations learn the steps to phone sales success.  Then, the company close ratio soars!  Their business grows and they earn more money. Better yet, the business creates a new job in your community, you serve more clients, and the world is a little cleaner and greener.  What have you done lately to improve this critical financial benchmark?  Invest in sales training for you and your staff!

So remember, get yourself noticed by increasing your Internet presence, since the Internet has changed shoppers’ habits.  You have to stand out on the Internet by writing, writing, writing and publishing informative, eye-pleasing videos that educate and promote your customer base. And don’t forget direct mail. It’s still a cost-effective means of reaching your target demographic. Follow these 7 New Rules for Surviving Thriving in a Low Bid Market straight to success!

Tony Bass is a featured speaker and business consultant. He is the founder, inventor and President of Super Lawn Technologies, Fort Valley, GA.  You can reach Tony at 478-822-9706 or tony@superlawntrucks.com