Kitchen & Bath Design News

JAN 2018

Kitchen & Bath Design News is the industry's leading business, design and product resource for the kitchen and bath trade.

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THIS IS THE turnaround story of an inde- pendent small business in the home improve- ment industry. Nine years ago it was teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. Today it's one of the largest firms in the country in its category. Sales rose from about $4 million in 2007 to about $5.5 million in 2014, while annual advertis- ing and marketing costs dropped from $250,000 to $20,000. What saved it? Content marketing or, stated more simply, deploying the company's website and other digital marketing tools to teach consumers everything they need to know before making an average $50,000 purchase for their home. The firm now has the most visited website in the world in its sector. The company is River Pools and Spas in Warsaw, VA, owned in part by Marcus Sheridan, who now shares what he learned in his book They Ask. You Answer. He has since become a consultant at the Sales Lion (, where he has engineered similar successes at all types of firms including Boston's Yale Appliance, a regional retail store. At this point you may be thinking, "I'm not in the swimming pool business, I'm in the kitchen and bath design business. And that's different." But the author cautions, "Everyone thinks their business is different. My business and sales suc- cess were ultimately built on one thing, consumer trust. That's the business we're all in." Content marketing, which Sheridan defines as the act of teaching and problem solving to earn buyer trust, is essential now because consumer buying has changed radically. On average today, 70% of the buying de- cision is made b efore a prospect even talks to your company. Wow! That's as compared to an estimated 20 to 30% a decade ago. Sheridan warns, "Anything that you or I think must be sold face-to-face will eventually be sold online. In 2015, my swimming p ool com- pany sold multiple swimming pools that were more than $100,000 before we ever set foot in the customer's home. Had you told me this was possible five years ago I would have laughed." The benefits of content marketing go beyond attracting potential customers. It also: • Qualifies prospects • Helps salespeople understand buyers • Improves sales presentations • Shortens sales cycles • Increases closing ratios All of which boost sales. "In 2007, in order to sell 75 swimming pools I had to go on roughly 250 sales appointments, a 30% closing ratio," Sheridan recalls. "In 2013, we sold 95 swimming pools and…went on 120 sales calls for a closing rate of 79%." On average, those 95 customers had read an astounding 105 pages of content on the River Pools and Spa's website! And with the right measuring tools, such as HubSpot, for example, content marketing pro- vides a measurable ROI. Steve Sheinkopf, CEO of Yale Appliance in Boston, drank the content marketing Kool-Aid in 2011 with the help of Sheridan and now does no advertising at all. He says content marketing has been worth $10 million a year in sales to his firm. Bottom line: Profitability has improved 300%. A poster child for blockbuster content, its website features a Learning Center that offers 22 Buyer's Guides. More than 4.5 million people read the Yale Blog last year. Its top article has been read over 800,000 times. Website traffic averaged more than 600,000 monthly visitors in 2016. The "content" in content marketing includes articles, blog posts, e-books, buying guides and, increasingly important today, videos. The average internet user spends 88% more time on a site with video, Sheridan says. "Every company must integrate video into every element of their busi- ness. In the eyes of the consumer, if they can't see it, it doesn't exist." To create worthwhile content in any format you must be obsessed, Sheridan insists, with knowing, "What is my customer thinking? Feeling? Searching for? Asking about? Afraid of? Worried or concerned about?" Conduct a brainstorming session with ev- eryone in your organization to document every question you've ever b een asked by a prospect or customer. State them on paper exactly as the consumer would ask or search for them. Include questions you might feel should not b e addressed on your website. When the author did this exercise at his swimming pool company, he came up with more than 100 questions. Also brainstorm every reason why someone would not buy from your company. What are the fears that are holding them back? You should come up with 10 to 20 reasons. Answering those questions is the basis of your content. Remember, you are a teacher seeking to educate prospects. Content is not boasting about your business. Sheridan discovered the top five subjects potential buyers are interested in: 1. Pricing and costs 2. Problems 3. Versus and comparisons 4. Reviews 5. Best in class The paradox is that most businesses are afraid to address many of these on their websites. But doing so cements trust. PRICING AND COSTS Sheridan acknowledges that this is the "most painful" disconnect between what buyers want and companies are afraid to share. "The number one frustration for consumers is not being able to find information on pricing on websites. It violates trust. They feel like you're hiding something." You may be thinking, "I do kitchens and baths, so there's no way I can talk about pricing on my website. Every project is different." True, but you can offer good information about why every project is different. You might take one kitchen and/or bath and price it out three ways on your website and explain why the price differs, i.e., cabinet styles, finishes, interior accessories, countertop materi- als, appliance and fixture choices, etc. This builds trust and educates prospects. Explain to custom- ers what drives the price of the kitchen or bath. You may be thinking if you talk about pricing, you're revealing too much to your competitors. But they already have a very good idea of your pricing. "Until the day your competition is paying your mortgage, I urge you to consider focusing on the only group that matters, prospective custom- ers," Sheridan says. If you address pricing, won't you scare people away? Actually educating them will only scare away unqualified prospects, Sheridan believes. "If your products and services start at $50,000 and a prospect has a true budget of $20,000, do you think he is magically going to come up with the next $30,000? In most cases the answer is no," Sheridan points out. He took the plunge and posted an article: How Much Does a Fiberglass Pool Cost? None of his competitors had anything like that on their websites. Tracking leads from that article proved that it generated $3 million in additional sales. " Content marketing, the act of teaching and problem solving to earn buyer trust, is essential now because consumer buying has changed radically." Tips for Using Content Marketing LESLIE HART 26 Kitchen & Bath Design News • January 2018 CONSUMER INSIGHTS Continued

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