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Building a Sales and Marketing Plan for Landscapers

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Business Advice

Creating a Marketing Plan for your Landscape Company

The success of a landscape business depends on many factors, both internal and external, but perhaps the most important of these factors is the ability to attract and retain customers. Customers generate your company revenue, and it’s this factor that keeps your business moving forward. Creating and implementing a solid marketing plan is the most effective way to address this critical need. To make the process easier for you, consider applying a step-by-step approach in creating your marketing plan.

Step One: Narrow your focus

From a marketing and services standpoint, it’s simply impossible to be all things to all people. Therefore, you need to determine a target market. That may sound like common sense, but it is amazing how often this rule is ignored when handling new leads. The problem is made worse by the fact that most small business owners describe their target market as “anybody that will pay me”.

Consider the following scenario. You receive a call and somebody asks if you can perform a particular service.  Hating to turn away work, you say “Sure, no problem!”, thinking how hard can it be anyway? But in doing so you end up spreading yourself so thin that you lose sight of your original goals and business purpose and become the proverbial “jack of all trades, master of none”. This is not a reputation that will attract the clients you want. Landscape clients expect that a landscape contractor will satisfy their needs exactly and provide top quality service at a fair price.

To avoid this scenario you need to narrow your focus. For example, if your business specializes in designing and building amazing gardens but your lettering and signage simply reads “ABC Landscaping”, you are failing to communicate what sets you apart from everybody else and are not presenting yourself as the specialist that you really are. One simple solution is to add a tag line to your signage that will help to emphasize your specialty, e.g. “We’ll design and build your dream garden!” This will make it easy for people who see your logo to have a better idea of what you do.

Another important element of narrowing your focus is to know the characteristics of your ideal client. To achieve this you need to take a good hard look at your best existing clients and determine their common characteristics. For example, your best clients can be those who really trust what you do, who really value what you do, and who really look to your specific expertise to generate the results they expect. 

Next, you need to communicate these characteristics to your entire team. The best way to do this is to identify in writing and as clearly as possible what you are trying to achieve. Astonishingly very few businesses actually explain to their employees or other associates who their target customers really are!  As a result their salespeople end up wasting everyone’s time because they can’t tell the differences between a suitable customer and an unsuitable one.

Lastly, you must focus your marketing efforts on geographic areas that are consistent with your ideal customer.  By focusing your marketing efforts on these areas and advertising a more targeted set of services, you will find that it is much easier to brand your company and at a much lower cost. Whereas spreading your marketing efforts out over a large geographical area will only serve to make your company less visible, especially in such a diverse and competitive marketplace as the landscape industry, and will create logistical difficulties in servicing clients located very far away.   

Step Two: Find your unique selling position

There are many strategies you can apply to differentiate your business from the competition. It can be as simple as serving a very tight niche market. It can be the way in which you package your services. It can be in the way you price your services. It can be in an image that is related to your services. It could be through your reputation for an outstanding design or a high level of attention in grounds care. The biggest obstacle for most landscape contractors is that their prospects struggle to distinguish between them and other landscape businesses that could not meet their needs.

The reality is that the majority of customers base their comparisons and final decision on price. However, if you can find a way—something that really makes you the obvious choice in your industry or in your market, and clearly communicate it—you will very quickly rise to the top of your market because price will no longer play such a significant role in the client’s decision making process.

Here’s what you need to do. A lot of times contractors say they provide quality work at a fair price. However, these aren’t differences; they’re actually expectations. Your prospects assume that if you’re in business and you’ve got a business card or a sign out in front of your shop, you meet those basic expectations. You need to do better than that. What I have found in many cases is that your existing customers can actually be better at explaining what you do that is different or unique than you are. You simply have to ask them to provide this feedback! This task can be outsourced to an outside firm if you can afford it, but I think you can complete it very effectively yourself. You need to determine exactly why your customers specifically buy from you, how they found you, what makes them stay with you, and why they refer business to you. Without listening to your customers you’ll just be doing your work how you think it should be done, and not necessarily the way your customers expect it to be done, taking advantage of your unique capabilities. In conducting this research you will find that there are little touches you provide that really make a big difference to your market or your specific clients. Those are the things you want to tap into to communicate how you’re different. 

Another great place to look when trying to differentiate your business is at your competitors. What do they claim to do that is unique? What don’t they claim? Where in your area of the industry is your specialty not being served? These can always be great places for you to go out and recognize when nobody is doing something, promising something, putting themselves out as an expert in a particular area. Perhaps that’s a place that you can grab on to and have that as your point of difference.

Once you determine what sets you apart from the competition, you need to communicate it. To help communicate this information you can create a powerful short phrase or core message. I always suggest to business owners to answer the question “What do you do for a living?” with their marketing phrase. For example, if I’m at a social event and somebody asks me about what I do for a living, instead of simply replying “I’m a landscaper”—which is essentially just a title—I say something like “I design and build backyard getaways for people who want their own private paradise.” Your powerful short phrase will help you tap into the needs of your target market by focusing on something that you can provide that’s different. It almost forces the person that hears it to ask “How?” Create a phrase that really gets to the heart of what your market desires or at their dreams. As a landscape contractor you must not see yourself as simply providing basic landscape services; rather, you are selling the white picket fence that people have always wanted.

In order for your core message to work it needs to explain something you do that is exceptional in just eight or ten words. This simple and powerful phrase will not only help differentiate your business, it must become the seed of all of your marketing messages. Everything will grow from this statement. This phrase must be directly based on what you know your ideal target market wants and what you know you can deliver.

When you go back to your staff and associates, make sure to teach them how to answer the question of what you do for a living. Make sure everyone in your organization is familiar with some variation of your marketing phrase and then expand upon it in all of your marketing messages. At The Beach Gardener our core message is “Private paradise… take a journey into your own backyard.” We always strive to live up to this message by selling people gardens that improve their homes and provide a cottage or vacation resort experience right in their own backyard.

Step Three: Branding

Again, this step is essentially a continuation of Steps One and Two. Everyone has heard the phrase “image is everything”, and to a great extent that’s what branding is all about. In many ways, people can relate and attach themselves more to something that embodies your core message. By that I mean it can be a photo; it can be the color of your trucks; or it can be the way you package your services. These are all great ways to differentiate your business. 

I also want you to think of branding in terms of the name of your service or all of your services. How about creating products from your services? For example, I provide marketing consulting services to the landscape industry online, and I package this service through the brand “Landscape Management Network” along with many other services we offer. Let’s say you sell a product to a homeowner—have you considered adding a service feature to enhance it? What about adding service features in ways to enhance those products and naming them in a more marketable format? For example, if you offer an urn service, why not call it the “Outdoor Decorating Package” and add optional services like Christmas Urns + Lighting to increase your revenue within your existing clients? 

The goal of branding is to create a perception of your business that goes way beyond the typical perception of the mow and blow maintenance service or the landscape contractor that needs to compete based on price. For example, what if you provided “platinum-level garden care packages”? You could then have other customized levels of services you offer. You could even call your routine weekly service visit something more interesting like “the weekly tune up”. Some of it is just packaging and branding, but consider how often you have purchased a product because you felt it was somehow bigger than just the product itself. It’s likely that you perceived it this way because of the way it was named or because of the people who were endorsing it, and you need to ensure this powerful branding factor is working to your advantage as well.

Step Four: Marketing Kits

Many landscape contractors mistakenly believe that their best marketing tool is their brochure. The problem is that every business has a brochure, and it has become such a commonly used tool that it will hardly differentiate you from the competition.  A more effective marketing tool is something I call a marketing kit. It’s comprised of a series of documents that contain all of the key information your client needs, it can be personalized easily, and you don’t need to go down to the print shop and print 10,000 unless you have 10,000 people you want to send it to that day. The kit’s flexibility allows you to personalize it for the good leads or a prospect that you are really interested in. 

At the Beach Gardener we include a twenty five page book of colour photos and descriptions of past projects in our kit that we leave with potential clients. Each book costs us about one hundred dollars to create, but we only leave them with serious prospects. However, it is well worth the expense when you consider they will leave it out on the kitchen table during the decision making process, and its quality and contents will be unmatched when compared to the marketing material left by other contractors. This type of bold approach will help you win the types of projects you are interested in. 

There are many ways to create a marketing kit. I like to use a pocket folder or file folder. I get the folder custom printed with our logo and I fill it with many documents, pictures, certifications and vendor brochures that relate to the specific sales meeting. It can contain anything that relates to that lead whether it’s a snow lead or a landscape maintenance lead.

I also add a series of information sheets, including a one page document I call “The Difference.” This document should clearly describe the three absolute biggest benefits of doing business with your firm or three ways in which you know you are different than anybody else. Using this simple approach will be so different than what most other contractors are producing at the first sales meeting that you will already have taken great strides to differentiate yourself from the competition. In addition you need to include a document that clearly describes your products or services. Make sure to avoid overwhelming your clients with unnecessary details—just focus on the basics.

Brief case studies are also a great way to illustrate past projects. In the case study include a description of the problem or existing conditions, show some before and after pictures, and describe exactly how your solution solved their landscape dilemma. A case study is more than just a story of a positive result; it’s proof that your customers get the result you’re telling them they’ll get. 

Step Five: Lead Conversion

It’s very important that you have a professional lead management and sales system in place that provides your team with a repeatable way of managing new leads and following up with clients. This system will ensure that every qualified lead is converted into a contract. Your entire marketing plan depends on the effectiveness of your lead conversion capability, and so does the success of your business, as losing qualified leads due to a dysfunctional lead management process will jeopardize your sales goals.

Step Six: Leverage the Best Technology

Some of the benefits of using technology as part of your marketing plan are that it allows you to market to prospects and current clients over a sustained period of time and gives you the opportunity to build an impressive virtual interactive environment for your customers to explore. By having a website people can visit you and evaluate your work without ever needing to contact you directly. This is essential as most people don’t use the phone and phonebook anymore when exploring their options, and most people are too busy to meet with multiple contractors to look at pictures that can be seen on the web. Therefore, it’s almost certain that your prospects will try to visit your website before contacting you, so make sure you have one that represents you favorably and differentiates you from the competition. If you don’t have the time or expertise to build a stunning website yourself, Landscape Management Network can build one for you from as little as $3,500.00. 

You should also consider releasing a monthly e-newsletter that people can conveniently subscribe to and receive via e-mail. This resource will serve to keep your clients aware of your services and current promotions, and provide them educational articles so they can better understand your services. Recall how in Step Three we discussed how branding and packaging your services can significantly influence your customers’ perception of their value, and an effective newsletter can achieve the same effect.    

But before you consider creating a newsletter you need to ensure you have an effective website. Among other features your website must have the capability of capturing email address of the people who visit it. Without this information you will be severely limited in your ability to market to its visitors over time. You should also consider using “google ads” on your website. This program provides text, image, and video advertisements on your website that generate revenue on either a per-click or per-impression basis. It can really be a great source of local traffic.

There are many tremendous technological tools out there that can really work for you 24 hours per day, 7 days a week, and can help transform what may be a small business and a small marketing effort into something much larger and more successful.

Step Seven: Make the time

This last step is really in some ways more of a housekeeping one, but it’s very important. You didn’t start your business because you wanted to be a marketing expert; you likely started your businesses because you wanted to do the work your business performs in this vast landscape industry. However, what you probably weren’t expecting and found out very quickly is that your day to day operations can easily consume most of your time. As a result, the marketing of your business—a factor that is closely tied to its survival—is not provided the attention it deserves. This may be a symptom of your business not utilizing proper systems and tools that could streamline your operations and free up more time, but regardless of the reason you must not fall into the trap of focusing all your efforts on your company’s present operations while ignoring its future needs.

Although your business card may state “President”, “Owner”, or “Principal”, the most important function that you have in your business is probably not listed on your business card at all: Chief Marketing Officer. Unless you have successfully delegated this responsibility to someone else, you need to carve out a portion of every day to address this key function if that’s what it takes. Just take it one step at a time and start with a simple-to-follow marketing plan. The future success of your business deserves no less!

Authored by Janna Bradley of The Beach Gardener, a premier landscape design-build firm.

Close more, bigger leads by implementing a strong sales process. It will save you time and increase your business. To use a sales process that has worked for The Beach Gardener and other top firms in the industry, check out The Landscape Management Network’s customizable sales systems and online training.

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