How does your sales close rate of proposals sent to one business actually compare to other snow and landscape companies? Which marketing works best to generate qualified leads? And has that changed since 2022? Check out today's episode to see the highlights of the 2023 Snow & Landscape Sales Survey, that nearly 200 companies took, plus some key takeaways to help you increase your sales and marketing this year. Hey, everyone. Welcome to The Landscaper's Guide Podcast.
My name's Jack Jostes, and this show is all about sales, marketing, and leadership ideas for the snow and landscape industry. I'm excited to release the results of the 2023 Snow & Landscape Sales Survey. We interviewed nearly 200 companies across the country about sales, marketing budgets, close rate, and more. This is our second year doing the survey, and in today's episode, I'm going to share the keynote I gave at the Landscaper's Summit a couple of weeks ago.
I was surprised, having done this twice now, that the top marketing source, the top driver of qualified leads, has changed. So listen to this, as I talk with the audience and get some feedback from some landscape professionals about why that may be. And make sure you click the link in our description, to get the full beautiful PDF version of the infographic of the survey results at landscapersguide.com/survey. There's no email opt-in or anything required. You can just straight up click the link and get the results, so landscapersguide.com/survey. So here are the results.
1:53: Our Inspiration for Creating the Snow & Landscape Sales Survey
So let's get into the 2023 Snow & Landscape Sales Survey. Now, I'm sure a lot of you read Lawn & Landscape Magazine, and it is a fine publication. They just did their industry trends report. It's really good. There are a lot of good surveys in the industry, but I found not a lot of them get really into sales and marketing. And people are always curious. They're always asking me, "Jack, what's a good close rate? What should my marketing budget be? What's working for other landscapers?" So last year, I got together and wrote some questions with some of my Wild Frontier clients. And we brainstormed questions like, "What's a good close rate?" And more. And we did a survey last year with 167 companies, and this year, we got 190. So this year, we also rebranded it a bit to be the Snow & Landscape Sales Survey, because we interview a lot of snow people.
2:58: How We Collected Survey Responses
We interviewed a lot of snow people at the SIMA Symposium, and big thanks to Casey Hendrix from Tex-Scapes, he literally worked in our booth at ELEVATE. That's Casey in a Ramblin Jackson shirt there with me, and Jamie and Robert. We got over 70 people at ELEVATE to take the survey, so thank you for doing that. And then, Alyssa and Eli, who are here, they are landscape marketing assistants. They picked up the damn phone and called some people. That's one of our core values. So we called people who subscribe to our podcast. So if you took this survey, thank you. My goal with this is to really benchmark some important sales numbers for the snow and landscape industry.
So that's how we arrived at the 2023 Snow & Landscape Sales Survey. "So which services do you offer?" This was one of the questions, and it was across the board, 28% do landscape design, 40% do landscape installation, 37% do landscape maintenance, 29% do design build, 24% do snow and ice, 30% do 30, only 5% had a garden center or a nursery, 13% offer tree care, 20% offer commercial landscape installation, and 24% offer commercial landscape maintenance. So across the board, and what we find is many of our clients, many of the people we work with, offer some combination of this information or of these services rather.
4:45: The Biggest Challenge for Snow & Landscape Companies
One of the questions that we asked people was, "What is the biggest challenge that you're facing?" One of the options was generating the right qualified leads, sales process, recruiting quality employees, employee retention, work-life balance, finding equipment, landscape supplies, access to capital, and then, low ball competitors. We surveyed a lot of different people and of different sizes. About a quarter of the people were under a million, 34% were between one and three million, 14% were between four and six million, 4% were between seven and nine million, and then, 23% were north of $10 million in revenue. And one thing we found that the challenges were a little different for the companies under $6 million.
Lead generation, generating leads was the biggest challenge, and the biggest challenge for companies making above $6 million was recruiting quality employees. We also asked, "How many people do you have in peak season?" And 45% had one to 20, 18% had 21 to 40, 7% were between 61 and 100 employees, 12% were between 41 and 60, and 18% had over 100. Now, we asked people, "Which marketing works best for you?" And 4% said direct mail. The largest was search engine optimization, SEO, 26% said social media, 11% said vehicle wraps, 8% said outbound sales, 7% said online advertising, 1% said radio, and 32% said other. We also surveyed people on their close rate, and it varied quite a bit between different tiers here. But one quick observation was that 14% had no idea. So close rate, and we defined it of proposals sent to new side in business, not of all the leads you got that turn into a business, but "When you're actually presenting, how many are closing?"
7:20: The Average Marketing Budget for Snow & Landscape Companies
And we broke it out, we asked people about their budget. We found that 25% are spending under 5,000, 15% are spending five to 15, 23% are spending 15 to 30, 12% are 30 to 50,000, 14% are between 50 and 75,000, 8% are 75,000 to 100, and 2% were spending north of 100,000 a year. We also broke that down by revenue range. So the companies that are under a million are spending around 11,000. Companies in the one to 3 million are spending around 27,000. Four to six are spending 32,000. Seven to nine million dollars companies are investing 45,000, and $10 million plus companies are investing around 58,000.
8:17: Regional Distinctions & How Trends Differ Based on Geographic Location
We also then broke this out by region. Of the people who took the survey this year, the majority were in the Southeast. So that was 44.6% of the survey data is what we're looking at here. So we did this at national shows with SIMA, we did it at ELEVATE, and ELEVATE was in Texas this year. And we have Texas as its own category here, because it's just true that Texas is its own special place in America. And we love Texas. We're members of the TNLA. We have a ton of clients there. I'm going back down there in January. I love going there. I also spoke at the Florida Nursery, Growers Landscape Association, the FNGLA, The Landscape Show, which was in Orlando. So I think that may have contributed to the reason why we had so many in the Southeast take the survey.
And we saw some other trends though was that companies in the Central region of the United States are spending 44,000 on average is what they were spending. In the West, it was a bit lower at 22,000. And in Texas, they were investing around 34,000. Companies in the Southeast are spending, in the South and Southeast, are around 29,000. And then, the Northeast was up in 24,000. We also saw some different challenges in the West, Texas, and the South. Recruiting quality employees was the number one. And in the Central and Northeast, generating the right quality leads was the biggest challenge. And I can tell you, just from word of mouth conversations with numerous people in the Central and Northeast part of the country, I'm hearing a lot of that. I'm hearing that a lot of the third and the start of the fourth quarter are lower than they were the past few years and that they're noticing a decline in lead generation.
10:39: Close Rates Compared Between Commercial & Residential Service Types
So that's a trend that I'm hearing. And I just interviewed or rather Mike Callahan from SimpleGrowth interviewed me, and he was saying that he's hearing the same thing. When we looked into close rate, the close rate for commercial was 51%, for residential, 49%, and for snow and ice, 47%. So I wanted to invite people to ask me questions about this. So I want you to think of one, and I'm going to call on some people. And Robert, Eli, Alyssa, maybe you see some people here that you talked to, that you might help me think of people to just ask, "Are you seeing this in your region?" One thing that I noticed though, from having done this survey twice now, was that, last year, social media was the top driver of new leads. Whereas this year, it was half that amount, and it had increased to search engine optimization.
11:42: The Top Marketing Channel for Landscape Companies in 2023
And I am curious about that. My sense of it is that, for the last several years, we were in a boom economy, that was, in many ways, artificially stimulated by the shutdowns, the COVID shutdowns, the stimulus spending, the shift to working from home, for a lot of office workers, increased the demand for landscaping. And I think people were seeing it on social media, and they were like, "Oh, cool." And now, maybe those customers bought sooner than they would have. Maybe they were going to be a customer in 2024 or 2025, but that timeline was accelerated. And now, it's back to kind of pre-pandemic, where it's a bit more driven on people searching.
12:33: Audrey Hayes Shares How Consumer Spending Has Affected Her Company’s Revenue
I don't know, we have not surveyed all of the customers of landscapers, to find out what their buying trends were, but that's just partly my sense of it in having talked to people and being a consumer myself. And another thing that was interesting was marketing budgets were smaller this year for certain revenue ranges. So I'm seeing some interesting commentary in the chat. And I was curious, Audrey, if you wanted to share a little bit about what your comment was.
Hi, thank you, Jack. Yeah, so we were talking about a spending decline and people holding onto their money. And I recall reading, at the beginning of the fiscal year, that, if we did see a decline in people spending, that it was going to be toward the end of the year, specifically the fourth quarter. However, I did just read last week that people are still spending, but their savings is starting to go down. So I don't know if that could be a good thing for us. Luckily for us, specifically with marketing and everything, we're great throughout the end of the year. We've got some jobs lined up, but I'm not sure how people are paying for it. We do offer financing, but really, that's not something that our clients tend to do. It's not a trend for us at all, actually. So yeah, I just thought that that was some interesting information. But I do know that some of our contracting friends, that are in house renovations and things like that, they are kind of seeing a decline. So I'm not sure how true it is across the board, but sounds like it's pretty true.
That's interesting. Yeah, credit card debt is also at an all time high in American history. So savings are at an all time low, credit card debt is at an all time high. That changes things. That changes things. Another anecdote that I'll share from a client in Colorado, who's in Colorado Springs, who's very good at sales and business, and that's a key point, because not everyone is good at sales or business, and I don't know what they tell me may be less informative than somebody who's on it and who's been on it in sales and business for like 30 years. So his name's Jake, Jake Harris, and we've had him on the podcast. He's really good, and he's telling me that they're booked out. So their pipeline is actually, from a timeline standpoint, pretty full, but that what he was seeing for, in the past few years, for 100 to $150,000 projects are now back to 50 to $75,000 projects.
15:46: How Shifting to Phased Projects Could Impact Revenue & Close Rates
And there are very few six figure projects. So they're entirely design build. So those numbers may not make sense for some of you, but that's what I'm hearing from Jake in Colorado Springs. But he's saying, "Yeah, people are still buying, but they're not buying as much or as big of a project as they were in the past few years. And we're back into proposing phases of, "Hey, here's phase one, phase two."" And Mike Callahan told me about how his landscape company proposed to him phase three, and he wasn't expecting phase three and ended up doing all of it at once. But that was just kind of a fun side story. So apparently, I blew it here on my geography, Dave.
I'm really more of a Virginian at this point, which is even more sacrilegious. But yeah, I had to support Maryland.
Good. Kirstin Mains, would love to hear from you about, what are you seeing or what were some of your takeaways from the survey?
16:54: How Weather & Seasonal Change Impacts Landscape Companies Across the US
Hi, from the Des Moines, Iowa area. So we saw a slight decline in new leads coming in late September. Well, let me go back a little bit. When school started, mid-August to mid-September, things started kind of increasing a little bit into early October. What was interesting is the calls we were receiving, the new leads, they were really large projects, 50, $60,000 retaining walls. Even some customers, that we had given proposals to last year, had called and said, "Hey, I'm ready to start my project." And we're like, "Okay, well, let's come out and rebid that for you." And right now, our pipeline is full through the end of November. We're in Des Moines, it's starting to get cold here. Our crews need to toughen up, and it's going to be in the twenties and mid-thirties next week.
So we're kind of in that unknown zone of it could snow in the next 30 days. So we've already been working on our snow, shifting from projects to getting ready for snow and really being careful about our project management and our scheduling, not to get too deep into those projects, where we're making a huge mess and trying to get through them as fast as possible.
Good. Good. Well, thanks for sharing.
Yeah, thank you.
So Megan works with McFarlin Stanford, who has, I think, over a hundred landscape clients around the country. Megan, what are you seeing as far as trends or any comments on the survey?
Yeah, thanks for the shout out. We do have several clients up in the Des Moines area, and I was just visiting Des Moines, RJ Lawn & Landscape in October, early October, a couple of weeks ago. And we were also at Ankeny at ETCH Outdoor. And we're hearing very similar stories to what Kirstin shared. People are willing to invest right now in projects, and they're, I think, trying to take advantage of some of the slightly lower costs from COVID.
What do you mean by "slightly lower costs from COVID?"
Some of the hardscape projects have decreased a little bit in their costs, in terms of the supplies. And so, I think people in the Midwest particularly, I grew up in Iowa, so I feel comfortable saying this, but people from the Midwest in particular are pretty thrifty with their spending. And they follow that and know that. And so, I think they're aware that at least lumber, things like decks and patios, is a little bit more affordable now, and they're trying to capitalize on some of that.
Yeah, the price of lumber was insane during COVID. That's definitely true. So some of those material costs have come down. And we had another comment here that Derek Kelso is also saying similar numbers within the Colorado Springs and Pueblo area, so it's interesting. And any other questions or comments on the survey? Or Eli or Alyssa, was there anyone that maybe you had a conversation with, while you were collecting the data?
Yeah, actually, I had a really good conversation with Robert with [inaudible 00:20:21] just yesterday about what's it looking like in his Seattle market, because he's seeing them turn as well. Then we honestly went over Google trending data, like we had talked about earlier this week, found some really cool insights there. So for those of you joining that call that haven't checked out Google Trends, I think it's a really cool tool to go in and see, "Hey, what specific keywords are triggering or pending during which specific timeframes?" You could go all the way back to, I think, 2004 or 2005, but it really helps you understand, what should you try to market for at what time of the year? Is it seasonality? Is it climate? Is it budget and economy? It's really cool information there that Robert and I chatted about yesterday.
22:00: Trends in Keyword Search Data for Landscaping
Cool. I happen to have it open, like I usually do. So what we're looking at is the trends for people searching landscaping on Google, and it goes back, I'm going back all the way since they started tracking it, which was 2004. And there's your spring, and this is an average over the nation. So this might vary geographically based on when spring starts and winter ends can vary from year to year, even in the same geography. But in general, we're seeing a spike every April in the searches. And the number 100 is based on a scale of zero to 100, meaning when is the peak in all of the history? And you can see that there was a lull in 2009, and then, it kind of came back. And then, it was kind of steadily increasing a little bit each year, and then, it was like COVID, high. And it got to the all time high in 2020, and now, we're down about 30% from that peak in COVID.
So that's why I'm saying we're back down to pre-COVID demand, at least from an internet search standpoint. And you can look at things like landscape design. When we look at it without landscaping in there, the peaks are a bit more pronounced, and I think it's a lot lower than it was in 2020, for things like design are a lot lower than they were in that 2020 peak. A question that we ask our clients at Ramblin Jackson is, "Who is your hell yes customer?" And hell yes customer is, when you get a lead through your website or when you get a phone call or referral, you're like, "Hell yes, I am going to do a great job. I'm going to make a profit doing this. I want more of you." And you want to design your marketing around a hell yes customer, and part of hell yes customer is budget.
23:12: How to Handle High Demand with Better Communication to Prospects
What is the budget of a hell yes customer? And what is the budget of a hell yes customer now? And has it changed from three or four years ago? Three or four years ago, or in Texas, as an example, I have a client in Dallas, and there was Plantmageddon, there was the great freeze of 2021, and all the plants died. And they were shipping in plants from Florida, and Florida was thrilled about all their plants leaving. We were just in Florida. And so, it was interesting to hear their side of the story, but that was a weather event, on top of COVID happening. And it created this tsunami of leads and demand in Dallas, and it created so much demand that one of our clients said, "Hey, I'm drowning in work. I'm drowning in leads. My staff has COVID. It's like total chaos. We're taking over a week to get back to people."
And I'm like, "Wow, do you really need to take a whole week to get back to people?" And he said, "Yes, it's what we need to do." So I said, "Great. Well, let's tell them that. Let's put that on your website, on the contact form, like, "Heads up, we're currently taking over a week to get back to people."" Because prior to that, people were emailing a second time like, "Why didn't you get back to me yet?" And now, they knew in advance. And then, a year later, that had kind of calmed down, it kind of got back to normal, and they had increased their staff.
So I said, "Well, hey, do we still need to warn people that you need a week to get back to them?" And they said, "No, no, we're definitely able to get back to people the same day." So we removed that warning from their website. So I'm sharing that story. That was a drastic story of, I don't know if any of you were in Texas, are there any Texas landscape companies here? Can we get a yee-haw from... Hey, Rachel. Right? So what was that year like for you, Rachel?
It was chaos, honestly. It hit so quick that I really don't... And it was right before spring, so the snow hit like early February. And it was chaos. That was extremely stressful. And then, you mentioning members of the team getting COVID, and we've got the same kind of... We're staffing up as much as we could, but it was pretty chaotic. I don't know. I don't want to do that again.
So it was chaotic, and it was too much, right? So that's an example of when there was just way too much demand and not enough supply of landscape. And now, I think maybe we're back to normal. Oh, there's also then people moving to Texas, during that time. There was also the state population was growing and people were moving and they were selling their condo in California for $2 million and then, spending the excess money on their landscape in Texas. So that was happening. So I'm just sharing this, because I think it's an important question to ask as you head into the fall.
26:31: Questions to Ask During Your Next Annual Marketing Planning Meeting
I'm getting ready to do my own annual sales and marketing meeting, and we're going to look at, "Who is our hell yes customer?" I think you should look at this every year, because as your business grows, you expand your services or remove services or you acquire companies or maybe you sell off divisions or maybe you lose certain key people or acquire certain key people, or as Robert commented, as the market changes, as the economy changes, and what people can afford may change, or new trends. So it's a good time of year to think about, "Who is my hell yes customer? And does my website..." When you look at your homepage, does it reflect your hell yes customer now? If you have a pricing page on your website, that's something that we do at Ramblin Jackson is we build pricing guides, are the pricing guides still accurate? Or are they out of date? If you have a pricing minimum, is that minimum still accurate? Or has it changed?
I think you've got to be careful not to be wishy-washy though. I'm not suggesting that you're changing your price with every person you talk to. "Oh yeah, it might be this much. It might be that much." It's more of just getting clear on, what are you offering right now? And are you marketing to those people currently? I was talking with Mike Callahan, who he successfully, he sold his snow and landscape company and he started SimpleGrowth, and he now does consulting and different things, and he was saying that, during the recession, he survived by expanding his marketing. And he talked with me about offline marketing and online marketing, and I'm a big advocate of doing both. So this is a good time, if, and I'm seeing this in this survey, if people are spending less and retracting, this can be a time for you to actually expand and gain market share.
And advertising can sometimes cost even less when fewer people are buying it. During a boom economy, when everyone is paying for advertising or Google ads, your cost per click is going to go up when more people are competing for it in the spring than they will during the summer or the winter. The same is true with a lot of other advertising opportunities, and you can grow, you can expand your market by doing that. So those were some of the takeaways. I'm curious, from the Ramblers, who worked on the survey, what other ahas or questions did you have? Because I had numerous people help me create this cool survey. So I'm curious, Jamie, Jessica, or Robert, did you have any insights?
29:00: Attendees Share Their Key Takeaways From the Survey Data
I thought it was interesting to see how, as your annual revenue does increase over time, you should also be prepared for your marketing budget to increase. And I think that is a huge testament to part of how our clients are able to be so successful, especially with the number one highest performing marketing tool being SEO this year. I think it was just cool to see it all tied together, because those things really do make a difference, in both the short-term and the long-term results.
Yeah, they do. And SEO really is a long-term play. It's something that you build, and that's why I created the Tree of Good Fortune analogy, with the apple tree, is that you're always building it, nurturing it, growing it. And when the market is searching, and this very seasonally, in the spring, when it's high, you want to be ranking already, so that way you're showing up and getting those leads. And even during the dormant time of the year, it never goes down to zero actually, but there are fewer searches during this time of year. You still want to be building, nurturing, and getting Google reviews.
Yeah. One thing I also noticed too is close rates went down just a little bit across the board, but I know, with our clients, I think, sometimes, there's a perception that it's harder to close commercial than it is residential or other services. But from both years, we've seen that that's not true. The average close rate, regardless of commercial versus residential is pretty similar. So I think that's always a little bit of a misconception, that commercial's harder to close. It might be a longer close time, because of the avenues you have to go through, but ultimately, it is pretty similar.
Yeah, close rate is interesting. And I think, as we know from working with people, especially in commercial, is, how are you selling? And how many people are you trying to sell to? Are you the 15th bidder just submitting a estimate? Or are you qualifying people and taking more of a directive approach in that sale?
Mine was a little bit on commercial. I just thought it was funny is, when you interview people at ELEVATE, it's like the residential B2C were like, "Oh, well, my close rate's around this," and B2B was very like, "Well, my close rate is about this." So that would be the only one I would take with a bit of grain of salt is just a lot of pride in the B2B sales and the close rate. And for B2C, it was a lot more honest and a little more like, "I wish it was higher." And B2B was like... I don't know, they're trying to compete with each other a little bit. So I agree with you, Jessica, but also, that was just something I [inaudible 00:32:30] interviewing people at ELEVATE.
Recently, I interviewed Christeen Era who wrote Profit First for Lawn and Landscape Companies. And when we were talking, we were talking about the cost of sales, and I tell this story often. Because it's so impactful. One time, we had a client who came to us, and we were interviewing him about his close rate. And he was closing one out of 20. So he was going through the process of interviewing 20 people, having conversations with them, going to their office. This was for commercial. At this time, he was using Go iLawn. He had a very kind of manual proposal process that... And I asked him, "Well, how much time does it take you to create one of these?" He said, "Well, actually, one of my employees does it." And I said, "Well, how much time are they spending?" He said, "12 hours." And I said, "And how much do you pay this person?"
And then, I saw the light bulb going off of 12 times 25. I'm like, "Well, how often are you doing this?" And he said, "19." So there's your profit problem, if you're spending all this time and money, and that role was also hard to retain. Who wants to be in a sales job where you're closing one in 20, spending 12 hours on nonsense? So he started qualifying a bit harder after he worked on it and then, started closing one in five. And part of it was just getting rid of a bunch of the sales that were asking them, "How many bids are you collecting? Oh, you're on number 13? What are you hoping will be different about bid 13?" "Oh, we don't really need it. We just have our boss says that we need to get 13." "Okay, well, typically, we're the most expensive. Should we talk?"
"No. No, we shouldn't." "Great, thank you." So don't even bother with that. So the close rate thing, for sure, people get pretty ego driven with telling us a larger close rate. So sometimes, I'm skeptical of the data too. My goal with this survey is to serve the snow and landscape industry with information that I haven't found anywhere else, because people are always asking me. So not everyone who took the survey is a client of mine. Many of them are. And I'm grateful.
35:03: Help The Landscape Industry Benefit from The Snow & Landscape Sales Survey
Thank you for taking the survey, and if you have feedback from me, if you have suggestions on how to improve it, maybe questions we consider asking next year, because we're going to do it again, let me know, firstname.lastname@example.org. Or if you know anyone that should feature this, maybe your state association has a magazine or an email newsletter, share this with them. Help me spread this information. That's why we put it out for free without an email opt-in. And if you haven't already, make sure you subscribe to The Landscapers Guide Podcast at landscapersguide.com/podcast. You can join our email newsletter, so you never miss an episode. Plus, I'll send you our top three podcasts right away when you sign up. So see our show notes for a link to landscapersguide.com/podcast. My name's Jack Jostes. It's been a pleasure talking to you today, and I look forward to talking with you next week on The Landscapers Guide Podcast.
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