31 ways to add more customers for your equipment rental business – Part One

By Malcolm Roach on Jun 26, 2017.

As a business owner, you may be puzzled about how to find new customers. How do you find them? They certainly don’t come out of a cereal box. This two-part document will give you 31 ideas on how to attract new customers to your equipment rental business, regardless of the industry niche in which you operate.

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We have organized this blog into different timeframes, as suggested guidelines for when these items could fit into your schedule. Please note that some of the more immediate items are there because they are critical and may be a foundation piece for later activity. You shouldn’t put them off just because others things are easier to do or they appear more attractive to you.

Things to do right now!

Getting a few things changed right now starts building the culture of change and success you need to tackle the harder items. After completing these items you will have made some concrete changes and should be feeling pretty good about yourself and where you are heading.

1. Identify your key customer: Figure out who “Bob” is

Without question, the single, most important thing you can do, is to take a few moments and define who your ideal buyer or customer is. This person, let’s refer to him as Bob, will become the standard used to evaluate many of your activities. If you don’t know who Bob is or what he represents, it becomes much more difficult for you to develop targeted initiatives and judge whether your efforts will be effective.

You can download a template to use when creating your ideal customer profile. No sign-up required. 

You can create more than one template for different buyer types but if you end up with too many, it is probably a sign that your business focus is not specific enough. Today’s customer wants experts, more on that later, and it is hard to be everything to everyone.

2. Don’t let the salespeople rule the roost

There is no reason why you can’t immediately implement a policy of following up on lost sales to find out the reason for the loss. Think of the valuable information you are missing by not doing this. Salespeople often don’t want to do this as they may have suffered a blow to their ego when they didn’t close the sale or there is no perceived value to them in doing the follow-up. The good ones will recognize it as critical information for helping close future deals and will do it, without prompting. Implement this policy and make it stick! Don’t let the salespeople rule the roost. It’s your business and your future. This step is worth the fight.

3. Following up is not hard to do

But it does take discipline. Salesforce, one of the leading CRM vendors, believes it takes 6 to 8 touches to properly qualify a lead. While that may be more of a marketing activity than classic sales, the point is, someone has to be doing the follow-up on prospects or even existing customer quotes. 

Get started on this right now, if you aren’t already doing it.

4. The only thing certain is change is coming

Start opening up your mind. Change is coming and it will always be coming. Don’t think you spend a year and accomplish everything in this document, you would be done. You are just getting started and will be dealing with business change until the day you retire. You are the one responsible for selling this mantra to your organization.

Things to do in the next three months

5. Figure out how to utilize SME’s in your sales process

No, we are not talking about Captain Hook’s sidekick. A “SME” is a Subject Matter Expert and is the person best qualified to help answer Bob’s questions and solve his problems. As many SMEs are busy in operations and may not have the best personality for sales, it is important to match them with inside salespeople, preferably, or classic salespeople. Bob is a typical new generation buyer who doesn’t appreciate dealing with the fluff offered up by legacy salespeople. He wants to feel he can trust whoever he is buying from and receive value. SMEs are the best option for establishing that trust and providing value. 

Figure out who your SMEs are and the ones who would work best in this new world. Then designate or hire the inside sales people needed to work with them. You will get the most out of this new model when your digital marketing efforts start to kick in and more informed buyers start walking in the door.

6. Time to dig into your customers’ heads

The only reason I didn’t put this in the first section is because you need to take some time to do this. You need to talk to your key employees and to customers. Find out what they really want, what they like about your organization, and what they don’t like so much. Don’t be shy! Take them out to lunch. They’ll appreciate it. And, no, you don’t need a shovel. Just an open mind and a pad of paper.

7. Don’t be a one trick pony

If you are only using one method of attracting customers, what happens if that one stops working! As an example, for most organizations, direct mail is no longer effective. What if that was your only method of getting new customers? Think about other alternatives and get several going. You can double down on the ones that work and drop the ones that don’t. This is a continuous evaluation. Keep adding and dropping.

8. Get out of your comfort zone

Executives and salespeople, in particular, can sometimes be very smug about their skills for doing the hard things and for being the rainmakers for the organization. They are usually referring to their ability to convince someone to buy something. 

The problem is they often have become myopic, or near-sighted. They only see what is closest to them and only what they are comfortable in doing, missing many opportunities because they are just aren’t looking out far enough. You may have heard of the examples where a company will move sales territories to different salespeople. It may seem counterintuitive, if those salespeople seem to be productive, but the salespeople are forced to look at the new territories with an open mind. The result can be a significant increase in sales.

You need to do a reality check on yourself and your key employees to see if you have been settling into a comfortable routine. Come up with some ideas that are out there for you and start testing before rolling them out.

9. Turn on those networking skills and get some referrals

We probably don’t need to say much here except to remind you to actually get out and do some networking. Referrals generally end up being some of your most valuable new customers. You want more of those, honest!

10. Don’t stand out there all alone

There are situations where it makes sense to have joint marketing and sales activities with some other organization. The trick, of course, is finding the right partner. Perhaps you are the most active Stihl reseller and rental company in your region. STIHL would be an ideal candidate to approach about doing something together. Look for partners. If you attend trade shows you may be able to participate in an equipment vendor’s booth.

11. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery

Well, perhaps you don’t want to flatter your competitors but there generally is a lot to learn if you check them out. This is especially true for some of the largest ones with demonstrable success. What are they doing to get customers? If they attract customers because of their size, don’t despair! They are not just growing because they have a bigger bank account.

There are ways to look larger than what you are and not in a deceptive way.

12. Supercharge your website

If you have been in the rental business for 15 years, how many times do you think your website should have been re-done? A minimum of 5, is a good answer. And I am talking about a near-total re-write. It is not because the content of your website has suddenly become stinky. It is because the way people use websites has changed. And, change it has, especially in the last 3-5 years, depending on the industry you are in.

Most business people are technicians with a dash of sales thrown in. The temptation is to view a website as a place to publish everything you do, explain it in ad nauseam, and then tell everyone what you are doing, over and over and over again. Viewers generally don’t care much about you. They are looking for value, not detail.

So what does “supercharge” mean, if not adding more detail? A high performance website is one that performs well. That might seem obvious, but consider what the purpose of your website is. Are you looking for leads? Are you seeking to educate? Pick one. And make sure your website does that well and it matches the process by which today’s prospective customers look for solutions. They want value, not fluff, and they don’t want to spend a lot of time looking for the answer. We’ll look more at websites in future blogs.

13. The traditional Yellow Pages have passed on but the alternative is better

I am old enough to remember when the only way to find a tradesperson, besides talking to friends or driving down the street, was to grab the Yellow Pages. It has been many years since a paper copy of the Yellow Pages has been delivered to either my home or place of work.

The alternative today, though, is even better. The Yellow Pages has now morphed into an online directory indexed by search engines but is only one of many out there. Get yourself registered in as many places as possible. There are local business directories committed to servicing your community and many are highly specialized by industry. Google has an excellent online business directory for use by any company, but the key is you have to doing the adding.

Many times these listings show up in customer searches, all for free. The advantage of these versus the paper version is that they include useful additional information, such as maps, websites, reviews, etc. No longer just a name, address, and phone number.

Easy to do, check it out.

Things to do within six months

14. Sponsor someone, get your name out there

Technically, this should probably part of a branding exercise but branding is beyond the scope of this blog. You don’t want to spend a lot of money doing this but consider whether it makes sense and then get involved with the group being sponsored, whether a sports team or a charity. Getting involved is the real value, not having your name on the sweaters. You get to meet people who will have a positive impression of you and can help you build up contacts.

15. Invite someone to the dance

While people are leery about giving up information if you ask right away, they are more receptive if you have already provided value to them. You don’t have to ask for their personal life history, but you need to add a call to action at the right time.

16. Online advertising isn’t the only game in town but it works

The question, though, is it worth the cost? One way or the other, you need an online presence and a website by itself isn’t enough. You have to choose at least one of the Big Three – online advertising, content marketing, and social media – and preferably two. The choice depends on your marketing budget and your access to marketing resources.

Frankly, using online marketing using PPC’s (Pay Per Click), those nasty little ads at the top, side, and bottom of search results, is the easiest way to go. Yes, you have to spend some time figuring out the search terms to bid for but you don’t have to deliver piles of ongoing content, as you would with content marketing. And you can jump into the deep end and revise as you go along.

Online advertising will likely cost more upfront to develop the initial search terms, create one or more landing pages, and develop downloads to offer to readers to encourage them to convert.

You should find an outside expert to help with this process who can also help on an ongoing basis to refine your search terms and landing pages as you find out what works.

17. SEO and Content marketing

Content marketing relies on the sheer volume of content to build trust with prospects as you deliver value to them and to show up higher in search engine rankings. Deliver volumes of high-quality content and you’ll be golden. Simple, right? Not so much. It’s hard to do and you need good, passionate writers with technical expertise to deliver the volume. Figuring out how to make these articles perform well in search engine rankings is the art of SEO (Search Engine Optimization).

I read a very intimidating statistic a few weeks ago. It said companies who publish 16 documents a month get 3.5 times the web traffic of a company who publishes between 0 and 4.

So all you have to do is come up with 16 documents a month, no problem! Not! These documents, primarily blogs, have to be carefully researched and creatively crafted. They have to actually contain value or people won’t read them, and they certainly won’t want to read the next thing you write, or the next, or the next. You get the idea. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on your view, it is longer blogs that get the most attention from Google and others. I saw another statistic that said the average length of the most effective blog from Google’s perspective is 2,450 words. That is a lot of work. Based on personal experience, and depending on the topic to be researched, a 2,450 word blog will likely take between 10-15 hours to complete. You can’t just hand that off to someone overseas or somewhere else to write for $10 per hour.

I don’t mean to discourage you. Adding content to your website is critically important in today’s online world. If 0 to 4 articles are not enough, then you should aim for at least 8 per month and try to work up from there. Watch for future blogs on how to plan out and execute an effective blog strategy.

Content marketing doesn’t cost much upfront but does take significant ongoing commitment and effort. Often it is easy to get started but it is much like a new Amway representative who quickly runs out of contacts to approach. What happens when you run out of obvious topics to write about? Again, watch for a future blog on this. It’s on my list of things to write about.

Content marketing is possibly the single most important thing you can do over the next few years. Start thinking about it and get moving. Don’t start until you have defined the ideal reader, which we noted back in the first section.

18. Social media

Social media is the hardest of the Big Three as it relies on consistency and effort. If you don’t have an active social media profile, you might want to consider not having any as having a bad one is probably the worst option. The practical answer is probably to figure out which one or two mediums make the most sense for your business. As a businessperson, it is generally assumed that LinkedIn is the best place for your business profile but it can be a laid-back choice. LinkedIn is not a place for people who are looking for multitudes of customer reviews and other information about your company.

Depending on your business, you need to consider others such as Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter. There are many others and that is a problem. The list keeps changing and it seems impractical to suddenly drop one, unless it is a complete dud, to pick up one of the newcomers.

That’s all for Part One of the blog.

Stay Tuned for Part Two where we finish off the six month task list, move on to the annual list, and then throw in a few things you should always have in the back of your mind. See you soon!

Topics: operations, marketing, business tips

Malcolm Roach is the CEO and President of Open Door Technology, providers of Open Door Rental Software for the equipment rental industry. Malcolm is a CPA with 25+ years of ERP experience and unique insights into the unique needs of equipment rental companies and how technology can address them.