There is a saying on Wall Street regarding investment decisions – cut your losses, dump your losers, double down on a winner. The basic philosophy comes from the concept of discounted cash flow analysis. It does not matter how much money you invested (spent) historically, all that matters is what you will invest (spend) in the future and how much cash will flow to you from that investing (spending). If a stock has declined since you bought it, and you are pretty certain nothing fundamental has changed to improve its future outlook, you would be crazy to buy more.

Bull Statue on Wall Street

Yet this is exactly what many folks dealing with failed software implementations continue to do. If every experience has been negative, what has changed to make you believe future return on investment will be positive? Is the company behind the application a leader that simply has not yet broken out? Why is another dollar flushed down the drain going to improve the outcome? Think about how much money you would lose in the stock market with the following investment approach:

“I don’t care how much the stock price has declined. I am going to buy more because I have already bought so much.”

Buying more does not change the outlook – it simply accelerates losses. If you are convinced that your experience is an aberration, that the market is wrong, that the company behind the stock is really a high quality opportunity, that a rebound is inevitable, then there is nothing wrong with doubling down on a heretofore loser – you’re getting a bargain at the lower price. If you are not convinced of the foregoing, cut your losses and dump your losers. You are simply paying more money for more pain without the joy of future income associated with the investment.

Download a copy of the “The Practical Guide to Buying Software for Service Contractors” for further reading on making the right software purchase for your company.

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We are excited to announce that our first book has been released. It’s called Perpetual Service: Creating a Premium Service Contracting Brand in a Connected World. It is about changing the trade service approach to continuously engage prospects and customers online in order to create relationships that last forever. It’s available on Amazon for $6.99, but we’re happy to offer it to our blog readers for free, just click the book below.

Perpetual Service Book
The evolution of retail shows that companies without an Internet commerce model are hardly relevant these days. On the other side of the coin, Uber’s rich, streamlined, mobile customer experience is increasing adoption and allowing the company to grow at a staggering rate.

This shift to customer service by online collaboration is becoming true of service contracting companies as well. Communicating with the customer via the Internet throughout the service cycle creates a brand that is memorable and accessible and adds a “digital wrap” to the truck wrap that’s sitting in the driveway.

Service contracting companies stand to improve customer retention, get more value and efficiency from their technology, earn a premium price, and turn happy customers into free marketing. Those opportunities are becoming reality for ServiceTrade customers who are applying the elements of Perpetual Service to their day-to-day work.

Get a copy of the book, then let us know what you think in the comments below.

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We’ve been talking about the connections between customer service and its impact on the growth of service contracting businesses.

We’re not the only ones who see this critical connection. Read this excellent blog post titled “Customer Service is a Marketing Strategy” by Ben Landers, the President of Blue Corona. In the conclusion, Ben says:

“The goal of marketing is to position your company as the right solution for your target audience. Marketing is supposed to engage your target audience and pique their interest so that your sales team can convert those who are qualified into customers. Nothing can compete with remarkable service to achieve these goals, nothing.”  Read the blog post.

Nordstrom rocks at customer service

We’ve all had experiences like Ben’s when our expectations weren’t met, or we were frustrated by poor communication. Ben’s post uses Nordstrom as an example of a company that consistently gets it right and has a very happy customer base.

For a service contractor, each interaction is a marketing opportunity.  Whether it’s office staff taking a new service call or a tech speaking with a customer, each interaction strengthens – or weakens – the relationship your customers have with your brand. Perpetual Service results in perpetual marketing.

Today we will leave you with this question: Do your customers sing your praises as strongly as Nordstrom’s?

Even if you’re providing a maintenance or mandatory service that won’t get your customers as excited as a fantastic pair of shoes, (service contractors love great shoes, right?) there’s no reason for the customer experience you provide to be anything but excellent. Find tips for using technology to improve your customer service in the book The Digital Wrap: Get out of the truck and go online to own your customers.

 

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Let’s assume that you’re active in social media because you know that service contractors need to be visible beyond the times when you’re at a customer’s facility.

Let’s assume that you know how important it is for a service company to continually listen to what people are saying about you in social media — whether it’s positive or negative.  Especially if it’s negative.

Let’s also assume that we all can be more efficient in how we monitor and update our social media networks.

Manage Social Media

 

Save Time

A social media management platform is a single application for updating and monitoring all of your social networks such as LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram.  The platform becomes the helm for managing what you’re monitoring and broadcasting.  This saves a lot of time since you do not have to update each platform individually, but rather create a single post that automatically gets sent to your social media accounts.

Try these Tools

Several platforms exist for social media management. They range from free to low-cost options that have advanced features and multiple user accounts.

  • Hootsuite – One of the most widely-used platforms that integrates all of the social networks. Includes a reporting tab to track performance over time. Offers a free version.
  • Buffer – A popular free solution that integrates with Pinterest. Includes helpful shortcuts like automatic scheduling, shortening URLs and it has a browser button for quickly sharing web pages.
  • Sprout Social – Has all of the scheduling, listening and reporting features that will save your time and keep your finger on the pulse of your social networks.

How to Use Them

Connecting your social networks through the platform is easy. Once set up, you’ll see that:

  • You now have a single website to post to and to monitor your social media channels
  • Your social media management time is more efficient since you can write and schedule several future updates across multiple networks at one time*
  • It’s easier to monitor discussions in the industry and join the right conversations by tracking hashtags and keywords
  • You can monitor the sentiment toward your brand and send more timely responses

Two weeks ago we talked about how texting with field technicians on a small smartphone screen isn’t the most efficient way to communicate. The same holds true for managing your social media.  Sending an update whenever you have a moment from your mobile device leaves a lot of your social media program to happenstance. Each of these platforms have a mobile application that will give you the same benefits, whether you’re in the office or in the field.

*Note of Caution: Keep an eye on breaking news on the days of your your scheduled posts.  Consider rescheduling your messages if there is breaking local, national or international news or somber events like natural disasters, tragic accidents, or the death of a significant public figure.

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Lots of companies get “stuck” (or gigged) with bad software because they do not know how to measure the quality of the vendor during the sales cycle. One of the best ways to measure a software company prior to buying the application (aside from the advice in the The Practical Guide to Buying Software for Service Contractors that talks about avoiding dead-end PC apps, non-SaaS products, etc.) is by measuring the software vendor’s GIG – Growth, Innovation, and Gross margin.

frog-gig

These are critical measures of a quality software company, and if your vendor does not meet certain criteria, you will be in a bad situation over the relationship. The reason that they are critical is because performing well on these measures provides a software company with access to capital. Capital is critical in order to drive research and development activities that lead to competitive innovations that help you drive your business forward. Without capital (either in the form of high gross profit or investments based upon high gross profit), the software vendor will inevitably “gig” you over and over again for services charges associated with getting it right for your situation – not a sustainable business model for the vendor or for you. So what should these metrics look like?

Growth – A software company that is not growing at least 20 – 30% a year is dying. They might not die quickly (depending upon the gross margin), but they are certainly not moving forward. Faster growing competitors will ruthlessly devour their customers and slow growth will become no growth and will eventually become death. Ask your prospective vendor how many customers they are adding per week/month/year and the average annual subscription value of those customers. Ask them for how much customer churn they are experiencing – i.e. how many customers quit the platform. Validate this information the best you can, although it might be difficult. Ask for the names of the new customers and the names of the customers that quit. Check them out and make your own assessment.

Innovation – A software company that is not delivering new features every month is dying. Modern SaaS companies deliver new capability monthly (unless they are very large, and then it is often quarterly – certainly not “every couple of years”). Ask the prospective vendor for a list of new features delivered in the last six months and validate that list with customer references. Ask the references how fast the vendor moves, and their level of satisfaction with the rate and quality of new innovations. New innovations drive growth, which, when coupled with gross margin, drives access to capital, which drives growth and so on.

Gross Margin – A software company that is not delivering gross margin of at least 60% is not a software company. It is a service company, and it is dying (unless of course their goal is to be a service company, but that means the application is dying). Service companies are very different than software companies. They don’t innovate. They charge you for services. And you pay a $1 for every $1 of improvement or change in the application. With a great software company, you pay less than a penny for every $100 in innovations delivered because your subscription payments get pooled with thousands of other customer subscription payments to drive research and development which drives innovation which drives growth. Subscription margin typically runs 80 – 98% gross margin. It is the fuel for a software company. Services are simply the smallest required investment on the part of the customer to get onto the application (training, setup, etc). The blended gross margin across subscription and services needs to be above 60%, otherwise the company is dying. And you are throwing your money away when you make them your vendor.

If you have ever been “gigged” by a software vendor, you know it is not pleasant. Avoid it in the future by measuring the Growth, Innovation, and Gross margin before you buy. A big GIG is the best way to avoid getting gigged.

 

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On several occasions, I’ve walked into a meeting with dispatchers, schedulers, and service managers who were glued to their phone texting with their technicians in the field.  Why should the office staff use a tiny keyboard on a phone to update and respond to the techs when they have a full size keyboard and monitor at their disposal?  Text messaging has been a huge advancement for connectivity between these folks and their field technicians since the turn of the millennium, and now applications are available to speed up and enhance this communication.  Here are a couple free solutions that will enable the office to use their computers as a hub for messaging the techs in the field and anyone else on the team.

OS X Mavericks: Messages Everywhere

Windows

Multiple applications are available that enable messaging between Windows PCs to smartphones in the field.  All of these applications will have to be installed on the technicians’ smartphones in addition to the PCs in the office.

  • Skype – Typically thought of for video chat, this application is great for general messaging use.
  • mysms – A newer application that includes integration with the standard sms text functionality on Android devices so techs can continue to use their favorite texting app as long as mysms is running in the background.
  • WhatsApp – A widely used messaging application (over 800 million) with rich mobile functionality, including location sharing, and a web-based chat client for office users.

MacBook

Any of the applications listed above will work for Apple users, however Apple computers have a messaging solution built in that does not require technicians to install a new mobile app on their devices.  An application named Messages enables office staff to send and receive text and other messages right from their Apple computer.


 

Paired with their personal devices, office staff can use the above applications to send messages from any device and receive messages on all devices.  Much like call forwarding, this is handy when stepping away from your desk for meetings or lunch.

Don’t let anyone in your office waste more time pecking away on a tiny smartphone keyboard.  Not only will these applications save your office time, but also increase the amount and improve the quality of communication with the field.

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For commercial service contractors, connecting with prospects that are responsible for facility management has historically been a tremendous challenge for the following reasons:

  1. Finding the decision maker is challenging
  2. Discovering their contact information is difficult
  3. Bypassing the gatekeeper is impossible

LinkedIn is the centerpiece of a host of technology available to overcome these challenges. From prospect discovery to initial contact, the following is a quick guide to using this technology to land your next deal.

LinkedIn on phone

Discover
LinkedIn enables you and and your sales team to find prospects that fit your exact criteria. Whether you are looking for the facility manager of a company responsible for multiple locations or a small business owner who is solely responsible for facility and equipment maintenance. LinkedIn’s advanced search functionality can drill down to a great list of potential customers. For example, the following searches returned hundreds of local results:

  • Keywords = “facility manager”, Postal Code = “27603”, Within = “50 mi”
  • Title = “Owner”, Company = “Restaurant”, Postal Code = “27603”, Within = “50 mi”

Not all of the results are a perfect fit, but it is easy to spot the most promising profiles.

Connect
Once you have a list, it’s time to connect with every potential prospect. Even if they are out of your LinkedIn network, you can take advantage of tools such as Lippl that will find their public profile and enable you to connect. When you request a connection, they will immediately be aware of who you are, so be sure that your profile effectively promotes your service offerings. Take advantage of LinkedIn’s tagging feature to differentiate your prospects from other connections in order to stay organized.

Note: If you are using a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application to manage sales, be sure to look for tools that help you directly integrate LinkedIn into your CRM. For example, many integrations will automatically add a LinkedIn profile to you CRM as a new lead with the click of a button.

Contact
Direct electronic communication is the best way to reach your new prospects in order to get their attention and bypass any gatekeepers. There are three possible avenues to do so:

  • Send a message directly through LinkedIn
  • Use Thrust.io to determine their email address based on their name and domain.  This tool will find most email addresses, but not all.
  • Use the LinkedIn contact export to discover their email address. Note that this is often their personal email address and you may only want to use this as a last resort!

 

These technologies, a complete LinkedIn profile, and a brief introduction letter that focuses on your differentiators are proactive elements of the digital wrap that are far more reaching – and effective for creating relationships – than a truck wrap alone could ever be.

Cloud applications are like banks: Your money is much safer under lock and key at the bank than it is under your mattress because anyone can “hack your house.”   Bank security is as good as it gets, but like a bank, your data is only as secure as the keys to the vault; your password(s).  You will have security problems if you use one password for everything or you keep your passwords on sticky notes, notepads, or spreadsheets.

Old school password security

For maximum security, you should have a unique password for every application and you should update them on a regular bases.

Keeping up with numerous usernames and passwords can be a very frustrating task considering the number of online tools you use.  Like me, you may have a list of 20-30 username/password combinations that you use regularly.   Fortunately, there are products that solve this problem for your PC, Mac, and mobile devices:

LastPass
1Password

Both of these products operate in much the same way.  They create a secure, encrypted “vault” that secures all your credentials behind a single password.  Whenever you are prompted to login at a website, simply enter your “master” password and these applications will enter your credentials automatically.  Whenever you create credentials or change passwords for a website, these products automatically store the data in your “vault.”

You only need to remember one password, that’s it.  Your data is secure in the cloud, and your credentials are safe in your vault.

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In today’s connected world, new online services are popping up each day to improve the connections between you and your customers. One connection that is critical is the payment connection, and we found a cool app called InvoiceSherpa to help you.

This fantastic product helps service contractors better manage their invoices and boosts cash flow by helping speed collections.  Cash is the lifeblood of all small companies, and InvoiceSherpa can truly deliver more cash.    Instead of monitoring your invoices and sending reminders, InvoiceSherpa does the heavy lifting of reminding clients about due dates, forgotten invoices, and upcoming payment schedules.

invoicesherpa-custom-reminders

InvoiceSherpa reminder interface

From the InvoiceSherpa website —

Automated Invoice Reminders

The key to staying on top of your invoices and accounts receivable is letting customers know the current status of their invoices. Using InvoiceSherpa you can easily automate the entire process including reminders when:

  • An Invoice is created.
  • A due date is coming up.
  • The invoice is past due.
  • A thank you when payment has been received.

All of these items can be scheduled at different intervals with a unique template that you customize to fit your custom branding. Our goal is to be a seamless extension of your business.

InvoiceSherpa is one more example of the rapid fire innovation that is available with online services these days. If you still believe you should be running your service contracting business with a single “all in one” application running on a PC server in your closet, you are missing out on a world of great capability.