Every business relies on the process of marketing, lead generation and sales. Sure, there are different nuances on this theme, depending on the product or service and the price-point of that product or service, but the core principles hold true, regardless of the industry.

Dealers in the water quality industry are selling a product and service and the end result of their marketing and advertising effort is to generate leads so the salespeople can meet their prospects “belly-to-belly-across the table” to close the sale. I continue to find that many of the owners and managers of water dealerships are pretty much mystified by today’s marketing landscape. Many of these are family owned and operated establishments that have operated a certain way for many years and are losing market share to those operations that are using more sophisticated marketing techniques to drive lead generation.

While dealers are wanting to upgrade their marketing outreach, I think there is a real disconnect between knowing what they want to do and understanding how to do it.

Do customers find you, or do you find them?

Owners and sales managers need to understand that marketing dollars needs to be budgeted across a 12 month period. The rule of thumb is five to 10 percent of sales, depending on the organization’s goal. The dollars need to be allocated between branding and visibility, direct marketing outreach and lead generation.

A well-established, high name recognition dealership may need to spend less on branding/more on direct outreach; a newer establishment may need to spend a higher percentage of their marketing budget on branding and awareness. Let’s not kid ourselves, the name Culligan carries huge brand recognition. The name Value Water Co. of Valhalla does not.

Can they find your dealership? The simple visibility test

How does a dealership know if they have visibility in their marketplace? A simple Google search will tell the story in one minute. Since most water dealerships are local, typing in their own name and seeing who pops up is the easiest way to see if consumers can find them online.

If you don’t see your own dealership listed, chances are that no one else can see you either. If you do not see yourself listed, get nervous, get serious and find an expert resource in pay per click (PPC) or search engine optimization (SEO) who will help you get your name out into the marketplace as soon as possible.

If you find your dealership and it is way down on Google’s list, you also need to be concerned because consumers tend to click on the listings closer to the top. Again, find a resource to help you as soon as possible.

If you are near the top of the list, great because now you can concentrate on lead generation, since so much of the process focuses on driving consumers to your website and phone number.

Telemarketing and the new TCPA

While telemarketing used to be the number one driver for lead generation in the water quality industry, the Do Not Call laws have made it much more challenging. It used to be great to call 10 homes, speak to two people and make one appointment for a home visit, which gave a salesperson the opportunity to close the sale.

Nowadays, only 10 percent of consumers are available to call. The more affluent homeowners are no longer callable; many of the younger homeowners are becoming “untethered,” trading their landlines for cell phones.

There are several caveats to this. Dealers who use new homeowner and new connect lists are still setting appointments week after week. For those water dealerships in a rural market with spotty cell phone coverage, telemarketing is still a great outreach tool.

Dealers who use autodialers need to pay special attention to the new TCPA law, since it specifically prohibits autodialing individuals without express consent for that purpose. This is much different than an established business relationship, which is what we have all been used to. Dealers should definitely consult their attorneys on this and should consider running their own customer lists against both the Do Not Call list and the cell phone databases to ensure compliance. No one wants to be stuck with a fine.

Direct mail is back

We’ve all heard about the resurgence of direct mail: Yes, it's back. Our mailboxes are less cluttered with fewer credit card offers and bills coming through the mail system and people are paying more attention to their postal mail than ever before.

Direct mail is a huge driver of lead generation in the water quality industry and can be used to invite prospects to a lunch seminar or offer a home-delivered premium that culminates in an in-home presentation.

Dealers should not fool themselves by thinking that they can do one direct mailer and people will be walking in the door. Direct mail is not an event, but a well-planned series of touches that affirms brand, serves as a reminder and becomes part of the conversation regarding a family’s needs. It is an essential part of a dealer’s marketing toolbox.

In direct mail, the list, the creativity of the mailer and the offer rule. Dealers who target the right prospects using the right message and making the right offer will get response. Bottom line: When done correctly, direct mail will work.

But remember, direct mail does not sell a system. It sets up the opportunity for your salespeople to sell the system.

Email marketing

If I had a nickel for every dealer who said to me, “I want to email everyone in my area to let them know about my systems,” I could retire. For the record, email simply does not work as a prospecting tool. It is spam, it will not be delivered, it devalues your brand and is a waste of a dealership’s time and dollars.

Dealers who want digital visibility should concentrate their resources on pay per click and search engine optimization instead.

Social media

Does your dealership need a blog or a Facebook page? Sure it does, .but only if you’re committed to updating it and maintaining it. Consistent posts will add to your digital credibility with the search engines, helping your dealership in terms of position and ranking, making it easier for consumers to find you online.

But, there is nothing worse than an out-of-date Facebook page or a blog from two years ago. Reaching a page that’s out-of-date leaves prospects and customers wondering if your dealership is still in business and does absolutely nothing for a dealership by way of lead generation.

People buy from people. Consumers need to be able to find your dealership or you need to figure out the best way to find them. The most successful dealerships do a combination of both. Every dealer needs to take a hard look at how they are allocating their marketing dollars.

A dealer’s marketing campaign must generate leads to set the stage for that personal appointment. Bottom line, that’s the only way to sell a system.


Dale Filhaber is president of Dataman Group Direct Mail and Telemarketing Lists based in Boca Raton, Fla. She is also past-president of the Florida Direct Marketing Association. "DataDale," as she is known in the industry, has been a guest lecturer at several WQA, national and regional water conferences. She has published numerous articles about marketing in the water and home industries and is the author of "Ask DataDale," a popular blog for the direct-marketing community. She can be reached by phone at 800-771-3282 or email at dale@datamangroup.com.