by David Kirkpatrick
, Senior Reporter
ServiceMaster Solutions is a commercial cleaning and janitorial services franchise located in Portland, Ore., and one of the top five largest commercial facility cleaning franchises in the nation. As a local B2B commodity company, ServiceMaster’s sales force had reached its limit in terms of building relationships, said Mike Ulwelling, CEO, ServiceMaster Solutions. He realized the company needed to build an entirely new channel to reach new customers.
"We knew that our current activities just weren’t reaching broadly enough," explained Ulwelling.
Ulwelling came from a tech company background, including director of marketing for a business unit at HP, so digital marketing was a natural avenue to find new ServiceMaster customers.
This marketing challenge resulted in the creation of an Internet-based direct response "marketing machine," as Ulwelling described the effort.
This case study examines the entire creation of this marketing machine from the ground up. This marketing machine led to 3.37% conversion across all Internet traffic sources and a 9.01% conversion rate when organic search is taken out of the mix.
Ulwelling took a market opportunity perspective to this initiative. Even though ServiceMaster was an on-site service, the digital channel was still an effective place to find new customers.
He stated, "Whether you’re cleaning toilets or selling high-tech gear, everybody is using the Internet (to find you)."
The problem at ServiceMaster was that it had essentially no Internet marketing in place. The company had a rudimentary Web presence and no digital marketing strategy. The solution was to quickly create an entire Internet initiative, understand mistakes would be made, and continually learn from those failures and adapt.
Step #1. Be willing to fail
Ulwelling believed an important part of the new Internet marketing effort was to "get out there and fail quickly."
The idea was to "fail forward," continue to learn from anything that didn’t work, and constantly make adjustments to find things that do work:
- Move as quickly as possible
- Fail quickly
- Refine the approach
- Try again
"We didn’t really know what we were doing, and so we knew we were going to fail," Ulwelling said.
He added, "We know we’re going to make mistakes. We are going to learn, and we’re going to keep the things that work and change the things that don’t work."
Step #2. Launch the program and begin learning
Ulwelling pulled a young marketing specialist at ServiceMaster, who was as he described "wet behind the ears," and explained to her the basics of the Internet initiative. He told her that she had a "wide open scope of what she can do."
He also instructed the new effort leader to not constrain the search for vendors to local options. He told her to look globally for Web technology, SEO and PPC management solutions companies.
After a trial-and-error process of vendor selection that followed the ServiceMaster process of "failing quickly," the company ended up with what Ulwelling described as "pretty good Web assets."
"We marched off into the great unknown with a mixture of local vendors and overseas vendors," he said.
Begin with the website
Because the entire effort was about creating an Internet "marketing machine," the website was going to be the centerpiece. The problem was the existing site was weak.
"It had been built by the previous owner’s wife, or something. It was incredibly bad," Ulwelling explained.
The challenge was finding the right vendor to design the new website. The team turned over the new site three times before it was satisfied with the result.
The first design was clean, but not interesting according to Ulwelling, and an overseas vendor produced it. In this case, cost was the main criterion, and Ulwelling said they got what they paid for.
The second design, created by a local vendor, had an improved look and feel to the site, but performance didn’t really change. For this iteration, the actual design was the main criterion.
For the third, and winning, website
, ServiceMaster combined vendors to create a site that was visually compelling, but was also built to convert sales.
Evaluate the website
At one point in the process, ServiceMaster brought in a usability consultant to evaluate the site. The consultant wanted to conduct expensive laboratory testing by bringing in people off the street to test the site.
Ulwelling came up with an alternate plan. He asked the consultant to put his best people in a room and have them offer their "top of the mind" thoughts on improving the website.
"Just get your smartest people together in a room for an hour. Bill me for that," said Ulwelling.
This resulted in four pages of ideas of low-hanging fruit. Ulwelling said the consultant told him, "Holy cow, this is the secret sauce for our whole business."
Step #3. Add SEO and PPC to the Internet marketing mix
With the new website in place, the team began using search engine optimization (SEO) and pay-per-click (PPC) advertising to drive traffic to the site.
Ulwelling said he sees the two tactics as very intertwined.
"The big thing is understanding that those two things really can’t be ripped apart very well," he stated. "That really became apparent to us when we started partnering on our PPC management. The further along the journey we got, the more we realized that you couldn’t do one without the other."
He added, "If you were going to maximize your business results, you needed both."
Ulwelling said the challenge for SEO is the conversion to sale rate is low compared to PPC, but that it required a mix of the two tactics to not "leave business on the table."
Ulwelling also found out that SEO was not an easy process.
"You can’t actually read ‘SEO for Dummies’ and expect it to be effective. There is a technical level of expertise required," he said.
ServiceMaster solved this issue by finding external experts who could assist in improving the website’s SEO.
Step #4. Conduct testing
Even though ServiceMaster decided not to conduct testing on the initial website design, the team did begin testing elements of its Internet marketing program.
Testing focused mainly on the PPC campaigns. Because the cleaning business has seasonal elements, the testing's main focus centered around general PPC ads and landing pages versus highly targeted ads and pages that addressed the seasonal elements.
As a franchise of the ServiceMaster brand, ServiceMaster Solutions could test its entire Internet marketing program by allowing another franchise in an entirely different market replicate the process Ulwelling’s team created.
Once the program was showing success, Ulwelling reached out to ServiceMaster Advantage in Houston to serve as a "beta partner" for his team’s Internet marketing program and to provide a benchmark on how the process performed in a different market.
Step #5. Track internal responses to incoming leads
The successful Internet marketing program provided new incoming leads to ServiceMaster, and Ulwelling has an overriding business philosophy -- everyone in the company is in sales.
He said, "It doesn’t matter whether you’re cleaning toilets, answering the phone or selling accounts. Everybody sells."
New leads are new opportunities, but at the same time, they must be handled correctly or that opportunity could be lost.
The Internet marketing efforts drove traffic, and potential customers, to landing pages where they could fill out a form or just pick up the phone to call ServiceMaster directly. Given the nature of the business -- janitorial and commercial cleaning services -- many people who visited the landing page simply called the company rather than fill out a form and wait for a response.
Tracking leads digitally can be conducted relatively easily, but tracking leads coming in through the calls required recording each of the lead calls.
The results were somewhat startling to the team. Even ServiceMaster employees who were thought to be well trained didn’t always handle incoming lead calls correctly.
Some issues included employees telling callers that ServiceMaster didn’t offer the specific cleaning service offered on the landing page, and even that the company didn’t have a website.
"I’m assuming the person who answers the phone knows exactly what we do, what they should say and who to send the call to," explained Ulwelling. "Then you watch what (actually) happens in your business and you think, ‘Oh my goodness! That was horrible.’"
Conducting this tracking of incoming phone leads has allowed ServiceMaster to improve its employee training process.
Because the Internet marketing initiative was new to ServiceMaster Solutions, there are no before-and-after metric comparisons.
The program has been in place for several years, and over the last six months, the results include:
- 3.37% average conversion to sale across all Internet traffic sources
- When organic search traffic is removed, the average conversion increases to 9.01%
Other metrics include:
- 150% increase in lead generation from 2010 to 2011
- 1,500% ROI on SEO in 2011
- 200% ROI on PPC in 2011
"What matters to me is return-on-investment. Not related to revenue, but related to profit," said Ulwelling.
On the overall program, and looking back to step number one in this case study, Ulwelling found convincing the team to be willing to "fail fast" was one of the biggest challenges, but also the key to its success.Mike Ulwelling will present this material at the upcoming MarketingSherpa B2B Summit 2012, August 27-30 in Orlando.
Creative SampleServiceMaster Solutions’ website
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