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By now, you probably know this year’s conference will focus on “The Customer Connection.” We’ve already begun introducing it here on our blog, with articles about customer satisfaction. Of course, this isn’t really a new focus for us—100% client retention has always been part of our Brand DNA. We’ve simply identified customer satisfaction as the best way to achieve it. Why? Because 100% Customer Satisfaction leads to 100% Customer Retention. And also, customer satisfaction generates revenue for your business in the form of referrals, renewed contracts, and strengthening your brand in the community.

But wait. Does this mean you don’t have to worry about sales? Will providing 100% customer satisfaction generate enough referrals to organically grow your business? Realistically, the answer is no. Customer satisfaction is just one sales tool. It keeps your clients returning every season, builds your referral base, and (most importantly) differentiates you in the marketplace. Instead of just another landscaper, you become a trusted person in the community who sells service.

Direct sales remain an important part of The Customer Connection. If you think about it, every potential lead may one day become a client. So if our goal is indeed 100% Customer Satisfaction, it’s important to start nurturing those leads early on as though they were customers. This means:

• Get the right people into the pipeline. Some leads never become prospects or opportunities, because they’re simply not the right fit. To state an obvious example, let’s imagine that a residential consumer calls you for a bid. Obviously, that’s not the right customer, so they will cease to be a viable lead. Usually, leads fail to convert for more subtle reasons, but the principle is the same: make sure you’re talking to and attracting the folks who will actually buy your services.

• Strategically build relationships at all times. We’re not talking about a hard-core sales mentality like Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross, who yells at his people to “Always Be Closing.” For many of us, selling does not feel like a natural activity. But if we think of it as building relationships in the community, it becomes much easier—and more sincere. However, like anything else in business, you must have a plan. Knowing how to develop and nurture your relationships is the key to successful sales.

• Send the right message. In the information age, it’s easy for prospects to learn about you just as you’re learning about them. Very few companies hire vendors without researching them first. That’s why it’s important to keep a presence online, and make sure it’s genuine and authentic. We make this blog public (except for proprietary information) precisely so that your potential clients will see it. And it goes farther than the internet—it’s about your entire public image. That’s why last year’s rebrand brought our trucks, our brochures, our uniforms, our business cards—everything that touches the customer—in line with our identity and values.

You still may not be someone who’s comfortable with sales. But the good news is, you don’t have to figure it out alone. As part of the U.S. Lawns network, you have access to collateral materials, sales training and strategies to help you succeed. So, what is the Home Office doing to help you nurture leads and create a profitable Customer Connection from the very beginning? Quite a lot—in fact, we will be sharing new ideas and processes with you at this year’s annual conference. But for now, let’s go back to those guidelines for nurturing leads, and see how U.S. Lawns is ramping up our efforts to make 2014 your best sales year yet.

• First, we’ve invested in some exciting new technology on the national level to help with lead generation, qualifying leads, and getting the right people into the pipeline. We’re excited to share this out at the conference, so come to Nashville and learn more.

• The Home Office team has also been working with marketing experts to create a new marketing campaign to support sales. For some of you, this will simply make it easier to carry out the strategies you already have in place. Others who feel less comfortable with sales will finally have a “playbook” to help answer questions like: should I send a brochure or a postcard? When do I follow up with that contact I just made? Should I pitch an unsolicited bid? Again, we’ll be unveiling more details at the conference.

• Finally, we’ve already introduced new sales materials, which will help you send the right message about U.S. Lawns and what we offer. These include everything from updated landscape and snow brochures to some enhancements to the website. Each piece that reaches our target is designed to represent strength, professionalism, loyalty, integrity and quality. Plus, we’ve invested in new technology to help you access your sales collateral more quickly and easily than ever.

We hope you’ll join us in Nashville as we discuss the relationship between sales and “The Customer Connection.” The more you learn about business development, the more you’ll realize that they’re really the same thing.

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