Finding and Keeping Clients in a Crowded Marketplace

Building relationships, along with top-notch customer service, will win you clients and keep them coming back again and again.
Finding and Keeping Clients in a Crowded Marketplace
Bill Howe Plumbing in San Diego has over 100 employees, including a dedicated director of business development whose responsibility is cultivating new sales leads.

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Is the drain cleaning industry a dog-eat-dog world where companies are in a tug of war to find jobs and defeat competitors? Not usually. In fact, there’s often enough work to go around, even in regions saturated with competitors.

Still, it’s important for plumbing and drain cleaning companies to stay open to networking opportunities, which can lead to potential clients. While online bidding platforms like Dodge Reports can help contractors find upcoming projects to bid on, many business owners rely on good, old-fashioned networking and word-of-mouth to keep their workflow running.

Generating new sales leads takes time, effort

Bill Howe Plumbing in San Diego feels so strongly about generating new business that it has created a dedicated position.

“The owners of the company saw the direction the company was going,” says Jessica Kalloch, the company’s director of business development and the corporate liaison with large commercial accounts.

“It’s all about building relationships,” says Kalloch, who has no plumbing-specific experience but has worked in sales for many years. “[Clients] don’t buy from people they think are selling them. They buy from who they like.”

Bill Howe services the greater San Diego area — about a 50-mile radius — and the company has more than 100 employees.

A major part of Kalloch’s job is keeping Bill Howe front of mind with current and potential commercial businesses. Joining and attending events held by business associations, property management companies and facility managers is essential. And Kalloch gets further involved by sitting on committees for some of these organizations.

“It’s about volunteering my time and staying in front of these managers,” she says, adding that becoming a resource and a colleague shows how she can handle herself in business situations. “They remember me when I have those bid projects.”

Kalloch cautions that just connecting with these associations isn’t enough, however, and that new clients usually don’t come overnight. “If I’m soliciting somebody, it might not happen immediately,” she says. “You never know when that need will come up.”

As an example, she mentions calling a potential client and leaving frequent messages to no avail. But she says that when that company was unhappy with the work of its former contractor, they remembered her calls and Bill Howe Plumbing eventually succeeded in getting the contract. They are now repeat customers.

Landing the client is important, but converting them to repeat customers is essential to keep steady business lined up over the long haul. “A lot of my business is primarily new [clients], and making sure it continues to repeat,” Kalloch says.

Cost-effective advertising and treating people right

Ti Sutherland owns Sutherland Plumbing, a small business composed of just three employees in metropolitan Portland, Oregon. While he started his own business in 2013, Sutherland has more than 20 years in the industry, so he has learned not to burn bridges and to never overpromise for his customers, vendors or co-workers.

“Your competitors are not your enemies, they’re your friends,” Sutherland says. “We’re all out here doing the same thing. There is plenty of market share. You don’t have to do any shady business or undercut to try to win business. It’s not sustainable.”

Sutherland is very passionate about this issue, saying “anyone can throw money at a marketing campaign to get the phone to ring,” but estimates that about two-thirds of his jobs come from client referrals or repeat business.

That word-of-mouth referral business is important, but Sutherland also relies heavily on his company being listed online at Angie’s List, which features crowd-sourced referrals of businesses. Sutherland invests about $15,000 to have his company listed on the site, which thoroughly vets contractors.

“It’s proven to be an extremely successful return on investment,” he says, adding that about 40 percent of his total business comes from the site.

He believes the customers he reaps from that source are “inclined to be the demographic that prefers to purchase quality over quantity.” But no matter where the clients come from, Sutherland says it all comes down to one insanely simple formula for him.

“The entire business will be built upon the premise, ‘you have happy customers, you have happy employees,’ and everything else just takes care of itself,” he says.


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