Pest Control Marketing Lessons Learned The Hard Way In 2012: The Secret to Marketing Smarter In 2013

Abraham Lincoln once said: "I am a slow walker, but I never walk backwards".

Thomas Edison said: "I am not discouraged, because every wrong attempt discarded is another step forward."

And, William Connor Magee said: "The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything."

While people rarely advise you to focus on past mistakes, it's always wise to learn from them before sweeping them into the wastebasket section of your mind.

There's a lesson to be learned from everything. When we make mistakes, applying the lesson we've learned to our future will make tomorrow even brighter, more profitable and easier to manage.

In 2012, I personally witnessed marketing mistakes costing their makers tens of millions of dollars…if not more. I'm confident that marketing and sales mistakes in the pest control industry add up to more than $100,000,000 annually.

In this short article, I want to share a few of those mistakes with you. Not to rub them in your face, but because true masters not only learn from their own mistakes but from the mistakes of others.

It is my hope that you'll learn from these to make 2013 your best year ever.

Major Mistake #1: Running "Me Too" Advertisements

Unless you're the only pest control company in town, you must differentiate. You must make it instantly clear why your prospects should choose you over the other options in town.

While this is definitely not a new concept, very few pest control operators run differentiating ads where it's necessary. Instead they run "me too" ads…

Here's a quick acid test for you to see if you're guilty of running "me too" ads.

Open up your yellow pages and go to the "Pest Control" section. Now, take a look at your ad and all of your competitors' ads. If you're saying something that they're saying, cross it out. It's not differentiating. How much of your ad is left after doing that?

Here's my bet…

I'll bet you could cross your name out and write your biggest competitors name in its place and more than 90% of the ad will still apply! Major problem…

Try this: next time you run an ad, focus on what makes you different. If nothing makes you different, you need to innovate. Try extending your service hours, making your pricing structure more hassle free, acknowledge a common complaint about the industry as a whole, and explain what you do differently, etc.

Major Mistake #2: Ignoring Your Number One Asset

Your number one asset is your customer base. Full stop, end of story. Without them, you would have no revenue, no referrals, no retail sales, and so on…

Yet, most pest control operators spend most of their time trying to acquire new customers instead of serving those they've already spent so many resources trying to get.

What if half your customers added a seasonal mosquito treatment this year? What if just a third of your customers referred one more person? What if just a quarter more of them upgraded from a base-level annual treatment, to a quarterly or bi-monthly contract? Not to mention... What if you were able to offer your customers additional services - like vent cleaning, pool cleaning, or lawn care - either through your organization or via a joint venture relationship (with compensation to you of course) through another service provider in town?

Answer: Your profits would soar!

I'm not trying to tell you ignore new customer acquisition, I'm simply telling you to put together a database marketing program that focuses on your existing customers. You already have trust with them. Every pest control operator in this country should be marketing to their customer base at least once per month via customer newsletter, and offering them a referral program and other ancillary products and services.

Major Mistake #3: Not Understanding the Lifetime Value of your Customers

What is the lifetime value of your customers? For example, if your average general pest control quarterly treatment rate runs $75/quarter plus an initial treatment charge of $100, and your average customer stays with you for 3 years, then your average lifetime value of a customer is $1,000 (and that doesn't even count the lifetime value of referrals derived from that client!)

I've seen lifetime customer value numbers from the low $300's to over $5,000! In this business there are so many variables that will drive value up or down that you shouldn't rely on industry averages for your operation. Figure it out … it doesn't take long.

Now, why is this relevant? Because, when you market your business smartly, you'll know what your cost per call and your cost per acquisition are. If you are spending more money to acquire a customer than they're worth…well, you're in trouble.

That's not too common though. What's more common in this industry is PCOs who aren't willing to spend $100 or $200 to make that $1,000.

I'm not quite sure why this is, but I'm certain that if they knew how much a customer was actually worth, they'd think completely differently about marketing.

So, figure out your average lifetime value of a customer for each type of customer - termite, bed bug, general pest, etc. and use that number to drive your marketing decisions.

Of all the mistakes I've seen, these are the big ones. Hopefully you'll be able to make a few course corrections based on reading this and have a wildly successful 2013!

Ryan Levesque is president of Pest Control Marketing Systems (PCMS), an advertising and marketing agency dedicated to the pest control industry. For a complimentary Marketing-Strategy Session and Pest Control Marketing Tips Newsletter, call 800.434.8103; or visit


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