Servicing lawn irrigation systems can be a very profitable item to offer your customers. It’s easy to become overly focused on installations as a source of income, but servicing is a profit center that should not be overlooked.

Virtually all work done can be billed on a per-hour basis, instead of having to rely on estimating and bidding, and possibly losing money because a project was under-priced. Alternatively, an even better idea is to operate on a contract basis, charging customers a monthly or yearly fee to service their irrigation systems once a month. The profit margins on irrigation parts are excellent, and there is no reason a company can't make good money by offering this service. It will also be a different kind of money than what you may be used to with installations: it's a steady source of income year-round. Irrigation systems are always in need of work -- heads have to be aligned or replaced, controllers need to be adjusted, systems have to be prepared for both winter and spring. Even if the installation side of your business slows down, either because of the season or the economy, people will still need your help with the existing systems they already have.

If you're already servicing irrigation systems, or plan to start, there's one thing you need: customers. The winter season is a great time to examine your sales process, and implement plans for increasing your sales. Specifically, look at how you find prospective clients, and consider some new, more effective techniques. Expanding your customer base is a concrete way to increase your sales and generate more revenue.

An intriguing prospect3_8.jpg

Prospecting is the process of identifying new leads and opportunities. You can start prospecting by deciding what type of customers you want to attract. Do you want more residential customers? Or would you rather expand your commercial accounts, such as banks, office buildings, or even larger warehouse and manufacturing facilities? You may even want to expand both areas, depending on your abilities to service both types of accounts.

If you are interested in building your residential customer base, there are several ways to approach it. You have to ask yourself in what areas do you want to grow? Do you want more customers in the same subdivisions as your existing customers, cutting down on your transportation time, or are you interested in growing into an area where you don't have many customers, developing a new customer base?

It's a good idea to be as specific as possible in this regard. While the old school of thought on prospecting was to play a numbers game, making as many cold contacts as possible, now businesses are focusing on quality over quantity. For example, instead of sending flyers to half the city, many contractors successfully target high-end developments where homeowners have the money to pay for specialized services. You can also target new developments, since customers moving to a new home don?t have service providers yet, giving you the opportunity to step into the vacuum. In any case, you can avoid spending resources on prospects that aren't ever going to pan out by focusing your efforts on specific areas.

Once you target a certain area, there are many ways to proceed. An ad or coupon in a local newspaper may work. A direct-mail letter or postcard distributed in specific locales might be successful. You may want to contact the trustees of different subdivisions and inquire about placing an ad in their newsletter or other type of communication they send out to their homeowners.

Country clubs in the area probably publish a quarterly newsletter, or at least have an annual directory of club members, in which you may want to advertise. You can also approach local water departments and ask if you can obtain a copy of their lists of irrigation backflows in their municipality.

1_7.jpgSome areas will not release this information, while others may provide it free or for a fee. This is very good information, because it drastically narrows your list of homeowners to contact. Instead of sending out a mailing to several hundred houses, some of which don't have sprinkler systems, you now have a list of people that have a need for your service.

Asking your existing customers for referrals is a great way to expand your base. By letting them know that you are looking for new customers, you may be surprised at the end result. Our industry was built on word-of-mouth advertising, and it continues to provide a huge portion of our new leads. Let your existing customers know that you are looking for new business and many times they will shock you at how helpful they can be.

To encourage their help, you can offer some sort of an incentive, such as a free winterization or backflow certification, for each new customer referred.

When considering referrals, the obvious question you must ask yourself is, "Is my company providing the kind of customer service that will lead these people to recommend me?" If the answer is, "No," then you may want to address this issue before proceeding with any type of business expansion.

Although not as successful as the above-mentioned practices, you may also want to consider a telephone sales campaign. The downside to this is that it can be very time-consuming, considering the end results. As for advertising on radio or television, the target customer is such a small percentage of the people being contacted that the cost per new customer becomes prohibitive.

The approach to commercial accounts is a little different than in the residential market. Here, you do much less blanket-type marketing, and go after accounts that you feel your company can service, in the locations that you want. Going after banks, office buildings, strip malls, etc., can not only lead to new accounts, but each of these facilities may have other branches that need your service.

The hard part here is to locate the person who makes the decision on purchasing your services, whether it is a maintenance supervisor, property manager, or the owner, personally. Dealing with someone who is not capable of making the buying decision is a waste of your time. It may take a little effort and a few phone calls to get to the right person, but this is absolutely imperative to your success.

Property managers can be great avenues to new business. ,mowing,sprinkler,They may have many properties under their supervision that might need your services. Building solid relationships with these folks can lead to enormous amounts of business for you. They may also be able to refer you to their friends and business associates at other property management firms. Lunch, dinner, a round of golf, or even tickets to a sporting event may be a worthwhile investment here to cement these types of relationships.

Other green industry contacts you already have can also lead to recommendations. If your company does not do mowing, then contacting a mowing contractor and agreeing to cross-promote each other might lead to some new irrigation accounts. This type of give-and-take relationship with another company is another way to find new customers. For example, you provide a list of your existing customers that might need mowing services to the other company in exchange for a list of their customers that have sprinkler systems. Obviously, this will only work as long as the two companies are not competing against each other for any services.

One last thought on commercial accounts: remember, you probably have residential customers that own or manage a business. If you know this information, don't be shy about calling these clients and asking for the work at their business or office.

2_8.jpgThe next step

Once you have met with a prospect from a neighborhood or commercial account that you want to target, don't necessarily jump immediately to the hard sell. Consider the type of customer this prospect is going to be. Some customers are high-maintenance. This isn't to say that their irrigation systems are any more difficult to maintain, but rather that they're very hard to please. They may call repeatedly to address minor or imagined problems, using your time and resources, while generating little or no profit. Try to find customers that will be profitable additions to your client pool.

Naturally, this goes both ways. You should not only expect customers to appreciate your service, but also be the type of businessman who appreciates his customers. Be sincere about your desire to help the prospect -- making the sale should be a secondary objective.

None of us would be in this industry if we didn't love what we were doing, and you should let that attitude shine through in your interactions with prospects. This will go far towards establishing long-term relationships with them.

Try to keep in mind that the sales process is a process. It's not a single moment in time in which a prospect signs a contract and becomes a customer. The service must be delivered and implemented as promised. Perhaps even more importantly, it's the relationship you forge with clients and the care you show that will really establish value for your services.

It's easy to make evident this kind of care in the little things, such as showing up on time, or calling beforehand if you're going to be late. Cell phones being as widespread as they are, there's no excuse for not calling, and the act of calling will show customers that you respect their time, which they're sure to appreciate.

If you follow these guidelines, you can go a long way towards gaining new accounts. Remember, timing is everything! Planning ahead now can mean reaping the benefits later.