In this episode, we discuss sales and marketing in a niche industry with Dean Heasley, owner of Nashville Marketing Systems. Dean shares some great insights and has over a decade in sales and marketing experience in a very niche market. The elevator industry is a tight knit community of hard working contractors, vendors, and distributors. Dean has worked with clients and customers in all the areas of the elevator industry.
Nashville Marketing Systems focuses 50 percent in the elevator industry and 50 percent on local businesses in the Nashville market. . His first consulting client realized a $75,000 a year increase in sales the first year and has seen that number increase over the past decade. Dean has an MBA, a wife, 2 kids, and several unnamed fish.
Ken Tucker: Hello, this is Ken Tucker with Changescape Web. We’re pleased to have Dean Heasley with us today. Dean is the owner of Nashville Marketing Systems, has over a decade in sales and marketing experience in a very niche market. The elevator industry is a tight knit community of hardworking contractors, vendors and distributors. Dean has worked with clients and customers in all areas of the elevator industry. Nashville Marketing Systems focuses 50% on the elevator industry and 50% on local businesses in the Nashville market. His consulting client realized a $75,000 a year increase in sales in the first year and has seen that number increase over the past decade. Dean has an MBA, a wife, two kids, and several unnamed fish. You might have to tell me a little bit about the fish sometime Dean.
Dean Heasley: Sounds good Ken.
Ken Tucker: Yeah. Anyway Dean, welcome, really glad to be talking with you today. We’ve asked Dean to talk about sales and marketing in a niche industry. With that, I’d like for you to go ahead and say hello to Dean and we’ll go ahead and get started.
Dean Heasley: Sure, I’m glad to be here, thanks Ken.
Ken Tucker: All right, thank you. All right, the first question I have is how do you break into a specific industry?
Dean Heasley: Well, that’s a good question. Really, one of the main things to do is just to invest some time in the industry. Get to know all the different players, get to know the different aspects of the business. For me, in the elevator industry, there’s really three different groups of people to know. There’s the elevator contractors, those are the guys that are actually out there doing the work, fixing the elevators. There are the vendors, so these are the guys that are selling elevator parts to the elevator contractors. Then there’s elevator parts distributors, so these are the guys that basically they have the storefronts, although there’s not a lot of storefronts because the elevator industry is spread out. Then there’s another group of people as well and that is the people that are in charge of the associations.
No matter what industry you’re in, I’m sure that there’s at least one or two associations that are relevant to that industry. Taking the time to get to know those people is very, very important. Another way to break into an industry really is through referrals. My first contact in the elevator industry, I made real sure that I made a good impression on that person because they were my gateway into referrals for other people in the elevator industry. I’m glad to say I made a good impression, first person I went to meet was a guy named Tom and he and I are still good friends. Really take the time to know the people in different areas of the industry and then get some referrals from the ones you make a good impression on.
Ken Tucker: How did you decide to focus in on the elevator industry in the first place? Was it because that first contact that you had and then the referrals that started to follow afterward?
Dean Heasley: Well yes. I worked … My job for a long time was actually selling elevators, which kind of sounds like, “I’ll sell you a piece of the Brooklyn Bridge.” There are actually companies that manufacture elevators and I sold elevators for one of those companies, a big German company. I was hired into the elevator industry and I’m fortunate that I was able to parley that into what is now a career. To answer your question, I was hired into the industry but had I not been, I probably would have chosen to focus on the elevator industry because it is a very tight knit community of people. If you do the right thing and you take care of your customers, they’ll accept you.
Ken Tucker: Yeah, okay. When you mention the different folks that you work with within the industry, the contractors, the vendors, the distributors, and the associations, is there overlap in terms of decision making processes across that group? Or are they each really individual and distinct audiences that they all have their own buying authority so to speak?
Dean Heasley: Well yes and no. There is overlap in that everybody in the elevator industry knows everybody else. If you do the right thing you’ll be taken care of and if you take advantage of someone, everybody will know. There is some overlap in that regard but as far as marketing specifically, each different area has its own hot buttons and its own requirements. For example, elevator contractors are very focused on time saving because in the elevator industry, the largest cost driver is labor. Labor can be up to 350 or 400 dollars an hour for an elevator guy. Tremendously expensive. Whereas one of the major hot buttons for a distributor is going to be how much margin can he get on the resale and how long will it stay on the shelves before somebody buys it? Each one has its different hot buttons but as far as reputation is concerned, you have to take care of everybody the same.
Ken Tucker: Okay. Yeah, the reason I ask is because I used to sell a lot into the federal space as an IT contractor. When you mentioned understanding all of the different players and their roles and responsibilities, it made me think a little bit about … I was working for a minority owned business and there are multiple audiences that are involved in one single procurement really. That’s why I was wondering if there was overlap or if they were independent audiences and therefore actually individually could become customers. That’s different than my experience where I really did have that specialization selling into the federal marketplace.
Dean Heasley: Sure, sure. Yeah, and the elevator industry is interesting where it’s primarily mom and pop, most of the revenue comes from four, we call them the majors. The volume of people are smaller independent businesses usually with just one location. There’s very little overlap financially but reputationally there’s a tremendous amount of overlap.
Ken Tucker: Yeah, interesting. In order to really focus in on a niche area like that you really do need to have considerable expertise and an understanding of how the market works. That’s a really interesting thing. How did you work on getting yourself to be identified as an expert in that industry?
Dean Heasley: Really, I focused on being an asset to the associations. In any industry there’s going to be at least one of two associations that probably publish a monthly newsletter and the person who is responsible for writing content for that newsletter is nervous every month because they have to create content for that newsletter and it’s a pain. I frequently, at a couple of the different jobs I had in the elevator industry, I offered to write articles for the newsletters for these associations and I offered to do speaking engagements for these associations when they had their big conferences. I also did some speaking for some of the state-wide associations as a vendor. Typically, one of the rules is you have to bring actual value to the audience. You can’t just go up there and be in front of somebody for an hour and do a sales pitch for your product because that’s not bringing actual technical value.
I’d spent a lot of time learning the codes related to the products that I was selling in the elevator industry and then I would go do an hour presentation or write a long article specifically about the codes and how they were being interpreted and how they were being implemented out in the field. I made a conscious effort to bring really good value, but value that was related to the product that I was selling.
Ken Tucker: Okay, yeah that’s excellent actually. That is kind of a segue into my next question, which you’ve covered a little bit but I did want to explore a little bit more. That is what role do the industry associations play in helping you get into a market?
Dean Heasley: Sure. Their role really is as gatekeeper of experts because they’re the ones that book the speakers for the conferences and they’re the ones that approve or disapprove the editorial for the articles that you’re trying to write. The role of the association really is as the gatekeeper and then my role was to make really sure that I was being valuable and up front and honest with them. Whenever I did a speaking engagement I would make sure that they knew I was going to talk for 58 minutes about code and two minutes at the end typically as a sales pitch for the product. They were always okay with that because they knew I had to buy a plane ticket to fly out and hotel room and all that stuff. The role of the association really is an important one for sure.
Ken Tucker: Okay. Yeah, that’s excellent. I’ve never really capitalized on that for my business and that’s something that I definitely need to start looking into. I have a tendency to like to get really interested in the solutions across a wide variety of industries and see how I can apply those from one industry to the next. Which I think has some [inaudible 00:11:56] as well. I guess one last question I have in regard to focusing in on a niche is if you’re doing for one company in that niche, why would another company trust you to work with them when you may be delivering in effect a very similar solution set for them.
Dean Heasley: Sure. Well the way that I overcome that in the elevator industry is I will only work for one company, and if it’s elevator contractors I’ll only work for one contractor in a market. I make sure that I’m not, especially in digital marketing, which is what I focus on, it’s impossible to have two people ranked number one for that search term in Google. You can’t occupy the same physical space right? I make sure that my customers have exclusivity within their geographic market or if I’m working with either a vendor or a manufacturer, I’m only going to work for one vendor or manufacturer of a particular product. Right now I have a client that makes LED lights for elevator buttons. That’s what he does and he does a great job at it. There’s a couple people that do that, there’s a couple companies that do that, I’m only going to work for one at a time.
Ken Tucker: Okay, all right. Sounds good. I want to kind of switch gears a little bit and talk about the other half of your business, which is really how you’ve been focusing in on local businesses in the national market. I know you spend a lot of time talking about and working with businesses in regard to their reputation. Can you talk to me a little bit more about what you do there?
Dean Heasley: Sure. As far as reputation, one of the things that I focus on is getting ratings and reviews for my clients. I have a few clients that are in very competitive spaces and unless you have a budget of 10 or 15 thousand dollars a month, you may not rank high in that space on Google. If you’re not ranking high, one of the ways you can set yourself apart is by having a tremendous amount of very high ratings on Google and Facebook and Yelp. For example, I have a client who is in the health insurance space, which is very competitive, it’s virtually impossible to rank high for national health insurance because the first ten spots on the first page are Blue Cross blue Shield, and Aetna, and United.
What we’ve done is we’ve really focused on getting him in the map pack in Nashville and getting him a lot of reviews. He has actually had three or four new clients within this past month based solely on the fact that he has a high number of five star reviews on Google. Reputation is super important, especially in the digital space because that’s where most people are getting their information now.
Ken Tucker: Yeah, that’s absolutely right. When people are doing searches in a particular geography, if they’re using their smart phone, the phone is going to know their location. Or if they type in the location as a part of the search phrase, so for example, health insurance provider Nashville, one of the very best ways in my experience is definitely to focus on those reviews. Do you do anything with industry specific review sites or do you really just focus on Google, Yelp, and Facebook?
Dean Heasley: I really focus on Google primarily because the way to set yourself apart is to have enough Google reviews that your orange stars show up. When your orange stars show up on either the gray letters or the blue letters, it really draws the eye towards that contrast. I focus on Google, but I also focus on Facebook and Yelp because those also send signals to Google that yes, this is a legitimate company and yes, they’re doing a good job. Google’s comfortable serving that information to their customers. It’s funny, people tend to not think of Google’s customer, they tend to think of it just as this entity that you need to kind of trick into showing your information. When you think about it from Google’s perspective, they’re looking to serve their clients the best possible information. I try to show my customers, “Look, we’ve got to be doing the right thing so that Google’s comfortable serving you as the information.
Ken Tucker: Yeah, and it’s not just enough to go out there and get a bunch of great reviews and then just reach that plateau and not keep doing it because Google also cares about relevancy and new and up to date information. It really does put a premium on developing a strategy not just to get some great reviews out there but to continue facilitating that process really in perpetuity.
Dean Heasley: Yes. It’s funny, one of the terms that I use with my clients because it’s what Google uses, is what’s the review velocity? Velocity implies as you get more reviews, you have to continue to get more reviews and you have to get them at a much more rapid pace. You have to really accelerate that review process, not get a bunch and then stop because then Google sees the stoppage and says, “Well maybe this business is not reputable anymore.”
Ken Tucker: Yeah, great point. When you’re trying to get business going in a small market, referrals I would imagine are going to be pretty critical. I’d like to hear your ideas and your process for getting referrals in a small market.
Dean Heasley: Sure. Well in the elevator industry I would always make sure that when I went to a new market I would ask whoever I was meeting with, “Who else do I need to see here?” A lot of times, if I was meeting with an elevator contractor, they would not tell me the names of the other contractors because they wanted to have a competitive edge. Who they would tell me would be the names of either some of the distributors in that area or some of the other elevator component manufacturers in that area. Then I would make sure that I went to meet with them because they would then tell me all of the other contractors that I needed to meet with because there was no conflict for them. I would always make sure that I’d ask, “Who else do I need to see while I’m here?”
Ken Tucker: Okay. Well and also, getting back to the idea of reputation and reviews, those online reviews are serving as referrals in place of where somebody may not know a friend, family member, or colleague to go ask. Those reviews very much play the role of the referral in that scenario.
Dean Heasley: Exactly, exactly. People tend to trust the online reviews and ratings just as much as they would trust a referral from a friend.
Ken Tucker: Yeah, that’s right. It’s really pretty amazing. We live in an age where it’s so easy to just hop online wherever you’re at and do a quick scan of search results or even apps that you might pull up and use, like Yelp is the perfect example, to go find a place of business that you want to go do business with based on those reviews. You don’t know any of those people but when you look at the volume of reviews and the reviews across the board, and as you said, the review velocity, if there are some recent reviews and they continue to be strong, that’s a huge impact.
Dean Heasley: Yes. It really is. It’s funny, I always tell my clients, it’s good to have a five star rating, but I would rather do business with somebody that has 150 reviews and their reviews number is 4.8, than somebody that has six reviews and they’re all five star reviews. I’m going to trust the business that has a higher number of reviews as long as their reviews are generally positive. You can’t please everybody all the time, at some point somebody’s going to try to nuke you with a one star review for whatever reason. I’d rather go with the one that has a large amount of reviews.
Ken Tucker: Yeah, I think it comes across as a lot more authentic that way. We’re wrapping up here on time, I wanted to ask you just one last question and that’s what’s the most important marketing tool that you have?
Dean Heasley: The most important marketing tool that I have is offering good customer service. I can tell you, my family, we go to a karate school here in Nashville and it is one of the largest karate schools in the country. They have about 800 students. I asked the owner one day who’s owned the business for 40 years, and he doesn’t do a whole lot of marketing. I said, “Mr. [Taylor 00:22:23], what are you doing? How do you grow your business?” He said, “Dean, my most important marketing tool is customer service.” He said, “I treat everybody when they come into my school just like they’re part of my family.” He really does, all of the employees have great customer service, it’s like one big family. I found that to be true in my business as well.
I communicate regularly with my customers, I try to call everybody back the same day that they’ve called me. Really, it can’t be understated the importance of having good customer service as one of your main marketing tools. Obviously you have to get in front of people, but that great customer service really causes an environment where people are going to refer you, and people are going to give you good ratings and good reviews online. That is by far the most important marketing tool.
Ken Tucker: Interesting. That’s a great point and I think it’s something that a lot of times gets overlooked by people as not really an element of marketing. I agree with you, I think it’s absolutely critical to set up especially those referrals and repeat business and focus on customer retention. It’s so much easier to hang on to a customer from a cost per customer perspective than it is to acquire a new customer.
Dean Heasley: Absolutely.
Ken Tucker: Really interesting, I’m glad that you said that because that’s not really what I was expecting to hear. I didn’t know what to hear, but that’s not one that I usually hear coming from people as the most important marketing tool they have.
Dean Heasley: Sure.
Ken Tucker: Well thanks Dean so much, this was great. I really enjoyed talking with you and we’re both colleagues in the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network and we have an opportunity to share a lot of ideas back and forth. I really have always appreciated your input and your participation and really appreciate you taking time out today to join my podcast.
Dean Heasley: Well thank you Ken, I appreciate your thought leadership and I appreciate you inviting me to be a part of this.
Ken Tucker: Okay great, well thanks so much and we will be talking with you soon.
Dean Heasley: All right. Thanks Ken.
Ken Tucker: Thank you.
Dean Heasley: Bye.
Ken Tucker: Goodbye.