I have the benefit of traveling all over North America, from the East coast to West coast, including Canada. So I have the 30,000-foot view of dealers and critical components of success. I see a few major traits that are common to successful dealers; by successful I mean they are growing their customer base and have double digit profits. While these traits do not guarantee success, they are all found in the companies succeeding today. I have found that successful contractors in this industry belong to local “Networking Groups”.
There are numerous groups that may come to your mind. Some may consider the local Chamber of Commerce, Rotary, and Lions Club quality networking groups for instance. While each of those could be a good source of leads, the harsh reality is that they are not the type of groups that will help propel your business to success and increase your profits. In these groups, there may be several companies from your industry in those groups. With perhaps several plumbing contractors in each group, this makes it far less likely that you will receive all or any business leads to grow your business. I was involved with a networking group called The Optimist Club back in the day. However, it turned out there were no other heating/ac companies like mine in that group. I just got lucky on that one.
I am thinking of, however, groups like BNI, Business Network International. This and similar groups are the ones that can offer support for one another to help each individual grow their business and offer leads to one another. To get a better understanding, visit bni.com. There you can search for a chapter and find one that is close to your target market or office. It may be best to pick one that meets in the morning, perhaps somewhere around 7:30-9:00 am. There are groups that meet at noon, but they are usually lawyers, accountants, and similar types of businesses. The trades usually meet early in the day; since that is usually the only time we have control of our day. Each meeting starts with an introduction by each member stating the type of leads they are looking for, then a lead exchange occurs, then a 15 minute presentation by one member on the details of their business. So you may be on deck a couple of times per year.
In addition, look for a group that has 15-25 members and search what types of members they are. There can only be one member of plumbing, HVAC, electrician etc, so keep looking till you find a group that needs your type of company. If the group has less than 15 members, it will be hard to get the business that a larger group can provide. You may have to visit a couple of groups to get the right one that fits. They usually let you attend a couple of meetings before declaring so it’s something you can take advantage of. One of the primary elements is attendance. If you miss a few meetings in a row, you may be asked to leave the group. In some cases they allow you to have a manager (someone with decision making ability) to sub for you but this varies by group.
A second key element is participation. The system only works if you are trying to help the other members grow their business. If you show up and think “Here I am, ready for those leads”, it will be a long time before they help your business. Instead go in with the attitude that you want to help the electrician, HVAC guy, insurance agent, etc. to improve their business. They will reciprocate and help you.
For example, at Donley Service Center in Phoenix AZ, everyone in management had to be in a networking group of some kind. One salesmen had been in Rotary for over 30 years with perfect attendance. He even planned his vacations around Rotary meetings. When a chance came up for him to be involved with another member, it happened. Donley Service Center carries that same concept to this day; in fact, Mike Donley was just elected to the BBB board. I’m not saying the board is necessarily a networking group, but it is another chance to give back and connect with players in our industry and others as well.
In addition to your time, networking groups come with a financial cost. For example, the BNI group costs about $500 per year. A couple of service calls can easily put that money back in your pocket. I realize it is a time commitment; but every week can be an opportunity. Especially when it comes to growing your business, and this is the way business is done today, by reciprocity and referrals.
In addition to networking, other successful contracting businesses sell maintenance agreements and have a sales package that allows you and your employees to sell on the spot, rather than go back to the office and run some calculations. But we’ll talk about those in a future article in more detail. This is perhaps a little teaser!
Thanks for listening,