Sometimes when home improvement industry consultant Tony Hoty mentions CRM, he says he gets “that deer-in-the-headlights look” from contractors he’s talking with. But when he goes on to mention the names of some companies in the home improvement industry that supply customer relationship management software, “it turns out that [the contractors are] using one of them. They just didn’t know what it was. They think of [the CRM system] as the company database,” Hoty says.
CRM software stores and manages customer information, such as leads and sales. But the term is not everyday contractor speak. “They may not know the letters, but they know what it is,” says Tim Musch, a one-time window replacement company owner from La Crosse, Wis., who, in the '90s, created MarketSharp, working on his 9-inch Macintosh desktop. In 2015, clients processed 1.7 million leads and $2.3 billion in revenue through MarketSharp software. Other industry-specific providers include Ohio-based Improveit360; LeadPerfection, headquartered on Long Island; and, primarily for roofing contractors, Acculynx. These systems enable thousands of contractors to not only track the conversion of inquiries to leads, leads to appointments, appointments to sales, and sales to more sales via repeat and referral but to estimate, order product, manage subcontractors, and much more.
Users Still a Minority
Twenty years ago, when MarketSharp was a novelty and users were early adopters, the desire for efficiency drove interest in the software. It still does. But back then you’d have needed lots of hand-holding and visits from an on-site technician to get a system installed on your company’s computers. Today, CRM services are web-based and incorporate any number of separate platforms. They’re easier to train for and to use. Fully deployed, they bring control and accountability to all facets of an operation. Companies, crediting CRM, have recorded startling leaps in sales. Chris Horney, owner of three Re-bath franchises in Ohio and western Pennsylvania, credits Improveit360 for an immediate 79 percent jump in his company’s sales in a three-month period.
That said, CRM users remain a minority in the contractor universe. According to founder Bob Rubertone, LeadPerfection has 200 customers—mostly companies large enough to have a phone room—paying $399 per month for its services. Most CRM software companies list their number of users. MarketSharp, for instance, currently has 4,337 users and Acculynx, according to its website, 7,000. Since companies have multiple users—MarketSharp averages 3.5 users per company—it’s a sure bet that there are fewer than 10,000 home improvement businesses nationwide with a CRM system.
Some home improvement companies have incorporated generic CRM systems such as Salesforce.com or Infusionsoft. And while these are powerful systems that come with a certain technical prowess, contractors who use them find they must spend time and money adapting such products to the specific needs of their company.
Hoty says that if clients ask about CRM, his suggestion is that they first do a brief needs analysis: "How big are they and how tech savvy are they? How many products do they carry? Do they plan to use it all the way through, from lead gen to project management, or are they only going to use it on the front end, for lead management, sales scheduling, and follow-up?”
Three years ago Ariel Istueta, director of marketing for Istueta Roofing, in Miami, brought Infusionsoft in as the company’s data tracker. This spring, in frustration, Istueta Roofing switched to Improveit360. “I learned most of what I know about software, automation, and CRM from Infusionsoft,” Istueta says. “But for what we needed, we had to modify it too much.” For instance, Infusionsoft offered a mobile app “but we couldn’t use it to result appointments.” Reps would still have to file call reports from their laptops. Cancelled appointments and unsold leads dropped through the cracks. The mobile app is a must-have, Istueta says, "because that’s where most of us do our work. The mobile device is the first screen you see in a day, and the last screen you see at night.”
Off the Shelf, but Not
Industry-specific CRM systems—MarketSharp, Improveit360, and LeadPerfection—were all developed by home improvement company owners and managers seeking total marketing and sales efficiency. “We designed this system for remodelers,” says Rubertone, who launched LeadPerfection as a web-based system in 2000, after working for Sears. “We looked at the [home improvement] business process and found that it was quite unique.”
It is. Home improvement is a leads-driven business, selling and installing a high-ticket product resistant to standardization. Industry-specific CRM systems aim to get far higher productivity from the leads that home improvement companies spend an average of $300-plus to get, develop greater levels of accountability in selling, standardize installation, and create a level of customer communication that ensures satisfaction … and more business.
Take leads. At a company with part-time employees shuffling piles of home-show inquiries, a lead where no one answers the phone may easily disappear. A CRM system will assign that lead a disposition and will recycle it for further calling or some other type of contact, such as text or email. Some companies that master CRM find they can convert that many more inquiries into leads and leads into appointments and reap the resulting sales. And when it comes to sales, one recent feature that users are particularly enamored of is the mobile app. “Salespeople can pull up that mobile app anywhere they’re at,” says MarketSharp user Steve Field, president of Home Solutions Midwest, in Albert Lea, Minn. “They can look at their calendar for the day, drill down into their appointments, pull up the house on a Google map, and then when they’re done they can result the appointment right there, before they leave.”
If for some reason a homeowner scheduled for an appointment suddenly proves to be unavailable, the mobile app will supply a pushpin map directing the rep to other prospects in the neighborhood; so salespeople are no longer burning up gasoline and drive time in their cars.
Path to Growth
Simply tracking unsold leads at an average company will result in an immediate boost in sales and in marketing productivity. If you spent the same amount of money to generate the same number of leads, you now have that many more appointments to show for the same marketing investment. It’s what Musch describes as going “from data to dollars.”
“We preach the importance of unsold leads,” he says. “Just because they didn’t buy, doesn’t mean they’re not going to buy.”
In fact, many companies find it takes customers longer to make up their minds these days, even in a short-cycle sales situation. CRM slots those demo/no sales back into marketing for nurturing campaigns via phone, text, and email. Fewer fish get away.
Why, then, doesn’t every home improvement company of some size have a CRM system?
One reason is that even in the age of the smartphone, technology continues to intimidate many contractors. Another, say CRM vendors, is resources. “Sometimes they say: I don’t have extra people to do this,” Musch says. Not realizing that once the system becomes second nature to a company, efficiencies emerge that allow for the same number of people to accomplish much more. And then there is the owner or manager who fails to sell employees on the need to implement. The system is installed but is underemployed.
“You don’t just give it to them and say, Go!” says Improveit360’s Tim Clark. For new CRM system users, it takes time to convert existing data and train employees in its use. Improveit360 suggests that companies new to its system appoint a “champion” who will take charge of implementation.
But a key consideration—apart from who will implement and manage it, and how company employees will be trained to use it—is whether or not that system will fit not just the company you have today but the one you will have tomorrow, which may have two or three times the sales.
“Having a system is great,” Clark says. “But you want to be sure that you can use it for a variety of things. That you can grow with the system. You want to be sure you don’t have a system that can’t do certain things when you reach a certain size. You don’t want to have to go over to another system and train all your people again.”