Plumbing company managing partner has seen triple-digit growth from community involvement.
Maybe you have heard the term “community relations” and shrugged it off as a buzzword. Or maybe you see community relations management (CRM) as something for big companies, with big budgets, who use words like “stakeholders.” You don’t often hear about small companies using this marketing approach, much less tradesmen or plumbing contractors. But before you discard CRM as a viable tool for your sewer and drain cleaning business, consider the importance of signals like trust and integrity for your customers.
Simply defined, community relations is boots-on-the-ground interaction in your community. The idea is to cultivate a socially positive image for your organization and integrate yourself into the social fabric of an area.
Traditional promotions and advertising are a grab for consumers’ attention. In the last two decades, that attention has gotten dramatically more expensive. The Harvard Business Review estimates that advertising and marketing attention costs have increased by as much as 900 percent in that time. Some of that cost hike is due to a decrease in advertising’s effectiveness, meaning you have to advertise more to get the same response. At the same time, everything from print to keyword costs have increased exponentially.
Think of CRM as a different way of getting that attention. It’s about being at the top-of-mind for a consumer because you have formed a relationship with them or made a difference in their lives or community. More than anything, it’s about creating loyalty.
The benefits are real. We’ve all heard that brand recognition is about repetition. There are a myriad of traditional ways that company’s can reinforce their logo and company name. Traditional media would say that billboards, radio ads, mailers and newspaper ads are the answer. My skin is already itching at the imagined costs of those campaigns – all with no guarantee of return on investment.
The community relations way of thinking would have you reach that same audience with activities such as sponsoring a Little League team, volunteering at local events, joining a civic club or attending networking mixers at your chamber of commerce. Sure, the time investment is high but the financial costs are typically lower and the return is exponential.
Good community relations is not about writing checks. Excellent CRM takes real time and commitment. At our company, attending events is part of the ownership team’s responsibilities and is taken just as seriously as employee or vendor relations. We also encourage our employees to aid in our volunteer efforts, embedding CRM as part of our culture. This allows the business and homeowners in our area to put a face with a name the next time they need service.
That face time is priceless. Simply putting a face to your company builds a huge amount of trust with potential customers. Things like expertise, integrity, friendliness and reliability are natural when you are dealing with a real person but impossible to relay in a Google Adwords campaign.
Remember though, attending these events and volunteering isn’t about socializing. Networking is an important opportunity to build awareness and set yourself apart. Get in the habit of wearing company-branded clothing when out in the community. Business cards, magnets and pens should always be on your person. This is a cost-effective way to distribute these expensive promotional items while making it easy for your new acquaintances, and future customers, to keep in touch.
Again, the goal of community relations is relationship building. You don’t have to worry about fighting over keywords if your customers never even have to Google the words “plumber near me.” It’s called social trust, and a handshake is the best way to create it. Any property owner or manager would rather trust their plumbing issue to someone they have personally vetted. Community relations gives your customers an opportunity to do that.
If you are thinking about getting started in CRM, here are a few handy tips:
- Don’t over-commit. Building trust and integrity means keeping your word. Start with smaller chambers or service clubs in nearby suburbs where home ownership is typically high.
- If you sponsor, show up. Don’t just count on your money doing the talking. If you sponsor an event, either attend or volunteer wearing your company-branded clothing. This reinforces community commitment.
- Be consistent. Before you decide to pursue the CRM path, make sure you can stick with it. Showing up once just to hand out business cards is rude and doesn’t build any relationships.
- Consider your budget. CRM costs more than just time. Lunch registrations, memberships, sponsorship costs and promotional materials all add up. Be prepared and track your costs.
Being a good community partner pays dividends in many ways. For our company, community relations constitutes 90 percent of our advertising budget and our growth is in the triple digits year-over-year. That isn’t an accident.
If that isn’t enough proof for you, consider a recent Nielsen survey: Not only do customers care about a company’s social consciousness, but 50 percent of customers are willing to pay more for services or products that come from a more socially conscious company. While CRM is just one of many factors considered here, it is easily the most visible one.
Committing to being a good community partner is just good business. You will be given the opportunity to demonstrate personal integrity and breed trust among neighbors. That is worth more than any advertising campaign money can buy.
About the author: A guest presenter at WWETT 2016, Anja Smith is a firm believer in the apprenticeship model and will explain why the “technician” title is harming the industry. Her session, Plumbers vs. Technicians: The Slow Decline of the Tradesman, runs from 11 a.m. to noon Friday, Feb. 19, in rooms 133-135. She will also cover tax benefits and government assistance available for companies with an apprenticeship program and how to incorporate those programs in marketing efforts.