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Maintain your Edge: How to protect your brand

April 7, 2021 -  By
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LandCare crew members working in field (Photo: LandCare)

Working together Sales commission was eliminated companywide at LandCare so the operations team is more agreeable to the work that’s sold. (Photo: LandCare)

When Jim Kelley started at LandCare in 2015, the company was in the midst of a transition. Mike Bogan had recently been named as CEO, and the company was undergoing a multimillion dollar rebrand from TruGreen LandCare to LandCare.

The company culture also presented challenges. “The sales staff at the time was driven to sell work at any price to get commission,” Kelley recalls. “Production teams required a certain number of hours to satisfy the client, but salespeople reduced those hours and threw low-bid jobs at the team to earn more commission.”

Kelley is LandCare’s regional vice president of SoCal and Southwest, a territory which in 2020, included seven branches in Southern California, Las Vegas and Phoenix. He says that throughout this transition and to this day, Bogan reminded the leadership team to protect the brand at all costs.

With the company’s portfolio comprised mostly of low-margin work, unhappy clients and unhappy team members, the company took a big step in an effort to improve operations and job quality: It eliminated sales commission for all team members companywide.

“With this strategy, we now had a better chance of selling work agreeable to the operations team,” he said. “It was critical the entire company realize that this change had long-term value. (Team members) knew they were going to have to build relationships, earn trust, deliver problem-resolving solutions and sell the work.”

LandCare provides landscape maintenance including enhancements and irrigation to a completely commercial clientele. In 2020, it reported revenue of $208 million. Kelley’s region reports 21 percent year over year portfolio growth and 91 percent client retention.

Kelley explains some of the ways his team protects the LandCare brand and stays successful in commercial landscaping.

Define your ideal client

As LandCare began to replace low-bid clients with higher-value clients, it prompted a big question: Who do we want to work with and why?

LandCare worker (Photo: LandCare)

On deck LandCare works with prospects to be next in line if their current contractor isn’t measuring up. (Photo: LandCare)

“We want to work with engaged clients who participate in win-win situations — people who appreciate a better quality of service and people who will take the time to strengthen relationships by sharing information and their perspective,” Kelley says.

Kelley had more than 20 years of his own experience in the landscape industry prior to joining LandCare, having worked for The Brickman Group and Palma Azul Landscape, a San Diego landscape company that was acquired by LandCare. He says it takes hard work upfront to qualify a good potential client. That step can happen before or during the request for proposal process.

On the other hand, quickly disqualifying clients who don’t fit your ideal client type is an important step. “When an opportunity shows up, get to ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on submitting a bid as quickly as possible,” Kelley says. “Who do we not want to work with? Let’s save ourselves some time and not try to win a bad contract.”

For commercial clients such as a homeowners association (HOA), Kelley says that the ideal scenario would be to communicate with a single decision-maker, such as a knowledgeable property manager who is able to guide and influence the HOA’s board of directors.

Develop a “next company up” mindset

Kelley says his team has a diverse mix of valued clients who help the company earn referrals off their current work, and his team also seeks to qualify itself with potential clients at the same time.

“We have relationships with prospects who currently have a relationship with a provider they’re happy with, but it’s always been our goal to develop a ‘next company up’ mentality,” he explains. This means LandCare wants to be the next qualified contractor to be called, should the current contractor fail to perform. “We’re not aggressively hard selling, which turns everyone off, but we’re trying to connect and be a real resource, and that allows real interaction to occur.”

The company works with associations like the Building Owners and Managers Association and has social events such as Zoom calls and, pre-COVID, cooking classes. The interactions with “next company up” clients are geared toward building trust and gathering information on any pain points, like poor quality landscape service, poor communications or frequently changing crews, which could lead to lost information.

Patience is a factor when connecting future clients, however. “Our 2020 wins, that groundwork was laid in 2019 and 2018. You have to commit to a longer sales cycle — about one to five years,” Kelley says. “But, you’re deciding on the cadence of the touches. Qualify yourself and earn their consideration when pain does show up.”

Build relationships with intention

As a desirable LandCare prospect begins showing interest in working with the company, “we challenge everyone to determine who is the best, deepest contact with that prospect or client,” Kelley says. That person deepens trust by offering consultative information and follows through all the way through to the end of the sale.

The consideration and intentionality when it comes to determining a client’s LandCare contact goes a long way to ensuring their happiness and protecting the brand. “It’s so much easier to sell to a happy client than a client you don’t know,” he says. “We need loyal clients who give us a chance to make them happy — and when we find that win-win relationship and we don’t take advantage of it, we’ll have them forever.”

People matter

Kelley says that because quality service is crucial to protecting the brand, LandCare makes hires long before there’s a dire need, which allows new hires to be fully trained and evaluated before they face customers.

“Many (companies) wait too long to hire, they’re leaking at the seams and have customer complaints, and in the meantime, they’re damaging their credibility,” Kelley says.

LandCare uses behavioral assessment tools like the Predictive Index when hiring for or promoting team members into roles like branch manager, business development manager, account manager, production manager and above. This step is an effort to ensure the person’s personality traits match the skills required of those positions.

“We have an awareness of specific individual strengths and weaknesses, and we’re always trying to improve,” Kelley says.

The company focuses on training and promoting from within and identifying future leaders and training them for potential promotions and certifications like licensed pesticide applicator, irrigation auditor or certified arborist.

Kelley has one final note for landscape companies: Don’t put your best and most efficient people on your most challenging, lower-margin jobs.

“That’s reactive, and it doesn’t make sense,” Kelley says. “Your best people should be working on your best jobs, with clients who are the most important to you or have more work to offer you. Don’t sacrifice your superior level of quality with your most important clients.”

Abby Hart

About the Author:

Abby Hart is the former senior editor of Landscape Management. A native Clevelander, she spent 10 years in Chicago, where she was operations manager of a global hospitality consultancy. She also worked as managing editor of Illumine, a health and wellness magazine; and a marketing specialist for B2B publications. Abby has a degree in journalism from Boston University’s College of Communication.

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