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Category: Sales

Modern Tools for Service Contractors, Part 3: Outbound Sales and Marketing

Unlike residential field service companies, commercial service contractors rely heavily on new sales for growth.  For the residential contractors reading this post, please skip to the section below about MailChimp as it contains insights that apply to contractors on both ends of the spectrum.  For commercial contractors, this post lays out a handful of sales tools that are not only easy to use, but also extremely powerful across the entire lifecycle of new sales from prospecting to closing.


Google – Discover Great Prospects

Let’s start at the beginning of the sales cycle: Prospecting.  Who are you trying to sell your services to?  Google makes it extremely easy to find the best prospects if you know how to take advantage of it’s powerful search features.  For example, if you are a commercial HVAC company trying to find the best restaurants and restaurant groups to sell to, here are a few different search techniques you could employ:


LinkedIn – Find Contact Information

Now that you’ve targeted the companies you would like to pursue, it’s time to find the correct contact and their information.  Start by using LinkedIn’s advanced search to search by title, company name, location, and any relevant keywords.  Much like advanced Google searches, you can use quotation marks for exact string matches. You can also use “AND,” “OR,” “()” operators.  For example, you could search “president OR CEO OR owner” in the title field or “(facility OR general) AND manager” in the title field to find the facility manager or GM.  Once you find the profile for the person you need to contact, use a Google Chrome extension such as Email Hunter or FindThatLead to unearth their email address.

Note: LinkedIn can also be used to find prospective companies by using relevant searches.  For example, searching for “Restaurant Group” in the keywords field, “CEO OR president OR owner” in the title field, and limiting to relevant locations returns very useful results.  For more information on using LinkedIn in the prospecting process, check out our blog post Lead Prospecting Guide for Tech-Savvy Contractors.

PipeDrive/Pipeline Deals – Manage Sales and Prospects

Customer relationship management (CRM) platforms help organize and manage your sales pipeline. An entry-level application such as PipeDrive or Pipeline Deals is perfect for companies new to CRM, while platforms like SalesForce and Infusionsoft will be a better fit for larger, enterprise sales organizations.  These platforms house all sales related contact information and tasks to ensure that nobody drops the ball in the sales process.  Email integrations makes it easy to log communications so that no one has to dig through emails to understand the last or next steps in a deal.  When properly managed, these applications help any sales rep handle more prospects, deals, and opportunities.

MailChimp – Build Value with Customers

MailChimp is a first-in-class entry-level email marketing platform.  Setting up your first email marketing campaign is a breeze with their simple interface that takes you from contact list to beautiful email in no time.  Because of it’s widespread use, MailChimp integrates with many other applications including WordPress to collect contact information on your website and the CRM’s (like those mentioned above) so that your company can easily broadcast marketing messages to prospects or customers.

Email marketing provides service contractors with an incredible opportunity to build tremendous value with both their prospects and customers.  Simple, targeted emails can endear you and build trust.  This is especially true when you:


Take a close look at your sales organization and ask yourself if you have the visibility and productivity you need to reach your personal and company goals.  If sales is an integral part of your growth plan, these tools will not only make your life easier, but also accelerate your business development.  Every single tool listed above is either free, or extremely cost effective.  Your only commitment is the time it takes to learn a new tool which I guarantee will be far outweighed by overall sales performance improvements.


Icons made by Freepik from is licensed by CC BY 3.0

Lead Prospecting Guide for Tech-Savvy Contractors

For commercial service contractors, connecting with prospects that are responsible for facility management has historically been a tremendous challenge for the following reasons:

  1. Finding the decision maker is challenging
  2. Discovering their contact information is difficult
  3. Bypassing the gatekeeper is impossible

LinkedIn is the centerpiece of a host of technology available to overcome these challenges. From prospect discovery to initial contact, the following is a quick guide to using this technology to land your next deal.

LinkedIn on phone

LinkedIn enables you and and your sales team to find prospects that fit your exact criteria. Whether you are looking for the facility manager of a company responsible for multiple locations or a small business owner who is solely responsible for facility and equipment maintenance. LinkedIn’s advanced search functionality can drill down to a great list of potential customers. For example, the following searches returned hundreds of local results:

Not all of the results are a perfect fit, but it is easy to spot the most promising profiles.

Once you have a list, it’s time to connect with every potential prospect. Even if they are out of your LinkedIn network, you can take advantage of tools such as Lippl that will find their public profile and enable you to connect. When you request a connection, they will immediately be aware of who you are, so be sure that your profile effectively promotes your service offerings. Take advantage of LinkedIn’s tagging feature to differentiate your prospects from other connections in order to stay organized.

Note: If you are using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application to manage sales, be sure to look for tools that help you directly integrate LinkedIn into your CRM. For example, many integrations will automatically add a LinkedIn profile to you CRM as a new lead with the click of a button.

Direct electronic communication is the best way to reach your new prospects in order to get their attention and bypass any gatekeepers. There are three possible avenues to do so:


These technologies, a complete LinkedIn profile, and a brief introduction letter that focuses on your differentiators are proactive elements of the digital wrap that are far more reaching – and effective for creating relationships – than a truck wrap alone could ever be.

What is an Inspection Worth?  About 2X What You are Being Paid!

I recently went to Vegas, but I was not there to gamble away my kids’ college funds.  Instead, I was participating in the annual western region meeting of the National Association of Fire Equipment Dealers (NAFED).  During the meeting, an interesting narrative regarding the value of an inspection job versus the value of repair work for the customers’ fire protection systems emerged during several of the conversations I witnessed.  Opinions were varied due to lack of relevant experiences, but I am in the fortunate position to have the facts and the rationale to support the findings.


When I arrived at DunnWell (the company where ServiceTrade began) in 2010, I discovered that the company was reporting system deficiencies to customers based upon the findings of the inspection reports, but less than 23% of those impaired systems turned into repair orders for the company.  As a sales professional, I was blown away by this poor performance.  There is no better sales lead than the following:

“I was at your facility yesterday, and I discovered a malfunction with your equipment.  It is not operating correctly, but rest assured we are the experts and we can fix it.  In fact, I have already put together a quote and a suggested time for us to return and put everything in good working order for you.”

How in the world can you NOT make a sale with that type of pitch?  Here’s how – be unorganized or sloppy in the follow up and speak in “codespeak” instead of customer terms.  Customers do not care about “code”.  Nor are they concerned about a deficiency you discovered BUT waited 2-4 weeks to report to them.  DunnWell was taking 2 – 3 weeks to turn around quotes for the work, if it was quoted at all.  Plus, the quote was attached to an email with multiple references to code violations with some accounting codes referencing what the customer must pay.

We fixed all of that at DunnWell, and now those lessons benefit the ServiceTrade application.  If you deliver your deficiency quote within 2 days of discovering the problem, and it includes photos that “tell the story,” and it can be reviewed and approved online, the approval rate will 75% or higher.  We have the data.  How would you like to improve your repair revenue by 3X?  Here is another number for you – your ratio of repair work to inspection work should be about $1 of repair to $1 of inspection.  If it is not, you are being sloppy in the stewardship of your customers’ equipment.  And both you and your customer are incurring liability that should not be there.  Higher liability and less profit, simply because you cannot be bothered to do a good job following up on deficiency opportunities, is a recipe for failure.

Why do people respond so positively to online quotes with photos attached? The reason is obvious – it’s easy!  Easier than downloading and printing some PDF attachment to an email, signing it, faxing it back – what a drag.  Also, if it is delivered within a day or two of the inspection, it must be important.  Better review it and make a decision.  Finally, people respond more readily to images and stories.  Our brains are wired that way.  The best sales pitch is a story that people can relate to – not some cryptic code references and accounting bric-a-brac with a price they have to pay.  Lead with the images and the story, then watch your conversion rates go through the roof.  Here is the science behind story-telling as a sales tool if you are interested.

Well, I have some good news.  For ServiceTrade customers, all of the work to be great at service revenue from deficiencies is streamlined for the benefit of our customers and their customers.  Our deficiency quoting process is totally integrated with the photo and audio deficiency reporting of our mobile app.  It allows you to use templates for frequently quoted repairs, and lets the customer review the quote online.  We even tell you when the customer has looked at it online.  Higher revenue, higher profit, lower costs, and lower liability.  What are your inspections worth?

Selling Services? Consider Adding Fine Wine and Artisanal Cheese

As the Internet shrinks the world and arms consumers with information on how much things should cost, the service contractor’s service area will shrink as well. Customers will have information on which contractors are nearby, and they will make judgments on who can likely deliver the service for less due to lower expenses for travel time. Customers will also be armed with information regarding what service calls for common repairs and replacements should cost. They will simply Google:

“How much should it cost to repair [insert service item here]” ?

Google sends back advertisements, forums, customer reviews, articles, and a whole host of information to arm them in negotiating for better pricing on common “bread and butter” service calls. With a shrinking service area and pricing pressure on “bread and butter,” how can the service contractor maintain margins and growth?  One strategy is to offer the customer “Artisanal Cheese” to complement the “bread and butter.”


Add some “Artisanal Cheese” to Your Services

Why do grocers always place the bread, butter, eggs, milk, and other daily consumption items at the back corners of the store? So the customer has to walk past craft beer, tasty snacks, soda, candy, fine wine, and artisanal cheese to get to the commodity items. Everyone knows what bread and butter should cost, so grocers do not make any money on it. Artisanal cheese does not face the same pricing pressure because it is a niche item that does not suffer the same comparative price scrutiny. It is a “treat” that customers will “splurge” to enjoy. If you are a service contractor, offering the service equivalent of artisanal cheese is a great way to maintain growth and profit as the Internet inevitably shrinks the service area for bread and butter.  Artisanal cheese, however, needs to be packaged differently than bread and butter. It is typically merchandised in a fancy wrapping inside an attractive display that also contains complementary items which likewise command a premium margin. It is offered in the context of the consumption habits of the customer, often with expert reviews (wine spectator for example) that help the customer feel good about the purchase even at a high price.

So, the service item analog should be thoughtfully packaged for consideration by the customer as part of a standard call for delivering bread and butter. During the bread and butter call, the opportunities to sell artisanal cheese should be documented and presented back to the customer in a way that relates the thoughtfulness of the recommendation. These are upgrades, improvements, retrofits that all bring incremental value to the customer. How might they be received if they are laid out in bad handwriting on a coffee and tobacco stained accounting ticket? How much more receptive might the customer be if they are laid out online with photos and other rich supporting documentation that purports the superior quality of this premium service item (artisanal cheese)?

Fancy wrapper?           Check.

Attractive showcase?         Check.

Complementary items offered?      Check.

Premium margin?            Check.

A better customer service experience and better profits?   You Bet.

Jesse James’ Advice for Service Contractors

Jesse James, Train Robber

Jesse James, Train Robber

I have been to multiple events in the past several months where service contractors from many trades (food equipment repair, fire safety, specialty cleaning) lament the insertion of one or more parties between themselves and their customers.  It seems that when they do not directly influence the terms of service with the customer, including the amount of payment to be received, they do not make much, if any, profit.  It seems to me, then, that the best way to fix this situation is to have a direct relationship with the customer in order to set terms that are profitable.

Jesse James was reported to have said that he robbed banks because “that is where the money is.”  I don’t know if he really said this as the photo here indicates Jesse was also fond of trains, but I do know that in the service contractor world it is the customers that have all the money, and every other party in a transaction only gets what the customer gives.  If you rely on an equipment manufacturer or anyone else to sell the services that you provide, then you should expect that manufacturer to take most, if not all, of the profit associated with that work.  Ditto for any other third party (brokers, aggregators, whatever you want to call them).  If you are not at the table presenting your value when the deal gets struck (whether for new equipment installation and service, or maintenance, or repairs), expect to get the scraps that are left over.  So how do you get invited to the party where all the money is sloshing around and decisions are being made about who gets it?  The customer needs to perceive your company and your services as critical to any decision they make regarding new equipment sourcing and the subsequent maintenance and repair of that equipment.  You need to demonstrate to the customer that YOUR COMPANY IS THE EXPERT and no decision should be made without your involvement.

So, how do you become the expert and how do you demonstrate that expertise to the customer? Some of it is just good old fashioned sales execution – be familiar with the customer’s interests and be active in fulfilling them.  Increasingly, however, folks have less and less time to invest in your sales process.  They expect to interact with your product on their time and on their terms.  Your presentation of value has to be digital, relevant, and readily available when they want it.  The work that you do for them has to generate content that you constantly feed to them online so that you establish a reputation that encourages them to reach out to you when they need advice in your area of expertise.  When your interactions with them serve to both gain their trust and teach them how to make better decisions, you get their attention . . . and their money.

Here are some practical tips on how to get called to the table as the expert when decisions that influence how much money you will make are getting made:

  1. Be in their inbox all the time.  These days, everyone operates out of their email inbox.  Search has become so powerful and prevalent, that folks answer the question “who can help me with X, Y, or Z?” by searching their inbox.  If you are not sending them email “notices” regarding scheduling, delivery, quotes, service history, invoices electronically with interesting content attached, you will lose your relevance to someone who is.  Don’t send junk mail, but information about what you do for them is generally not junk.

  2. Show them “why.”  It is not enough to tell a customer what you did, show them why it was necessary and what to expect in the future.  Show them what happened with photos and audio and video.  Engage their curiosity and their motivation to be better.  Generally you cannot afford “show and tell” in person during the busy day when the technician needs to move along to the next call and the customer just wants you out of their way so they can also get back to work.  When it is electronic, they can access it when they want it – after the shift when everything slows down and they can reflect on it.

  3. Predict the future and offer a better outcome.  Never leave a service call without doing a “sweep” of the area for troublesome signs.  Document them with photos and audio, and then play it back for the customer along with a plan for a fix.  If they don’t respond, and it breaks, you nonetheless warned them and they will see you as someone that can predict the future.  If they do respond, you can fix it during a slow period and they will pay less.

  4. Summarize their relationship with you with data, and offer ways to lower their costs before you are asked.  If you can get efficient in customer service administration, you will have more time for customer service recommendations.  Feed your customer rich reports that show them ways to lessen what they pay you (and others) by changing work practices or equipment vendors.  When you have the data and the means for them to profit from it, they will ask you for it, and you will be at the table when important decisions are made.

If all of this sounds difficult and out of reach, then you better figure out how to be the low cost and most efficient provider of contract labor to third parties.  Commanding a profitable premium means that you have a direct relationship with the customer that pays for your expertise instead of simply being the labor that is dispatched to serve another company’s customers.  What are you going to do to be at the table when each important customer decision is made?

It Pays to Know: How Service Contractors Get Paid For Expertise, Not Just Labor

The best service contracting business model is based upon customers paying a premium for expertise instead of simply paying a markup on parts and labor.  When true expertise is offered, the customer perceives that in the long term they will have better outcomes for less money – no callbacks, fewer breakdowns, less energy consumption, higher equipment output.  With expertise in play, the customer trusts the advice of the provider, the provider takes care of the equipment, and both parties are happy with the long term value from the relationship.

Knowing is Half The BattleWithout expertise, the payment is simply a markup on parts and labor plus the lingering suspicion that perhaps something was not done right.  Without expertise, it is always a forced march to the lowest rate on labor or the first truck in the driveway.  The customer becomes like the general contractor – a supposed expert, often with dubious management practices, and a sharp focus on the fees.  Without expertise, you are simply getting paid to show up and execute the tasks according to the will of the task master.

But how can a service contractor transition from the labor markup model to the premium pricing model?  What is required to get paid for what you know instead of payment for where you go? There are 2 steps in this transition – 1) know what you know, and 2) show what you know.

Know What You Know

You cannot get paid a premium for expertise until you know what you know.  Most service contractors do a lousy job sharing expertise throughout their organization.  Part of the problem is due to antiquated systems – PC based applications with short text fields, no photo reporting, no audio memos, and with access restricted to those sitting in the office.  Most of the knowledge is with the techs in the field and is based upon the unique situation that exists at the customer premises.  However, the only means techs have to report what they know is a paper form upon which they scribble notes for the office to decode and enter into a system that no one in the field can access.  If it sounds ridiculous it is because it is ridiculous.

Knowing what you know means that it must be easy to collect what you know and also to distribute what you know.  Humans learn visually (pictures and video) and from stories.  Whenever I want to learn a new song on the guitar or if I want to fix or upgrade something on my boat or my F250, I turn to YouTube.  First, no one would bother to write most of that stuff down because it is too tedious.  Second, it is hard to learn without the visual cues of video and the context that is often delivered with story vignettes by the “teachers.”

Turn the techs into teachers – for the office and for the customer and for other techs – by turning them loose with photo and audio (and video once the data plans support it).  You will be amazed at how much more effective everyone becomes at matching the customers needs with the right resources when you have better tools for knowing what you know.  ServiceTrade builds photos and audio into the mobile applications so that the techs become the teachers.  We enable them to share with others in a manner that is easy to use so that everyone benefits.

Show What You Know

The next step in getting paid for what you know is to be able to show what you know.  How do you share your knowledge with the customer?  Is it limited to when you show up on a service call?  When they are stressed out because their equipment is broken?  Or do they have a 24×7 digital love affair with your work?  Oftentimes the techs on-site visit schedule is a darned inconvenient time for the customer.  They have work to do also, and sitting around jawboning with the tech about how this breakdown could have been prevented or about the unique approach he took to fix it is not high on their list at the moment.  However, after dinner or over the weekend when they are paying bills, they might indeed take the time to review in detail the situation that led to an equipment breakdown.

If those details are scribbled on a triplicate form with coffee and tobacco juice stains on it, chances are they are not going to dwell on the matter.  Nor will they have a high opinion of the service contractor no matter how capable the technician might have been.  However, give them a webpage to browse with useful links to insightful details of their situation, and you might discover an interested customer that appreciates learning.  The best gift we can give another human being is to teach them something that they want to learn.  How effective is your customer service approach at teaching customers about their equipment and how you take care of it?

With the low cost of smartphones, tablets, data plans, and software as a service applications like ServiceTrade, there is no excuse for not moving toward a better service contracting business model.  “Getting paid for what you know instead of where you go” will be more profitable and more enjoyable for everyone.