Up Close and Personal with Thomas Ballantyne

Thomas Ballantyne

Thomas Ballantyne is speaking at State of Search and is the Director of Marketing for Bulwark Pest Control, and brings with him an infestation of online marketing know-how. We interviewed Thomas about how he got Bulwark over 4K reviews, making great content, and who he looks up to in the industry.

1. Tell us the story behind Bulwark Pest Control.
Bulwark is family owned pest control company started by my brother-in-law, Adam Seever and his two brothers. Bulwark opened its doors in Austin, TX back in 1999. I was on board that first summer as a technician. The Seever’s goal was to fill the service gap between what other pest control services provided and what customers really wanted. In fact, I remember telling Adam one time that we were losing money on a customer because the customer expectations were too high. The customer demanded a lot from us, and the service they wanted and were promised was costing us more than what we were charging. He smiled and said, “I know. Yes, we are losing money on that particular one, but she is happy, and we are making money on the rest of her neighborhood.” I was shocked. He thought it was okay to lose money on a customer. I didn’t see the big picture, until years later. Adam calls this the open hand policy. Imagine a man grabs a fist full of gold flakes from a bucket. The gold flakes are valuable so he closes his fist to hold them tightly. Now I scoop the gold flakes up from the bucket, leaving my hand open. Who holds more gold, the closed fist or the open hand? Whose gold is more vulnerable?

It takes trust. But you gain so much more trust. You can’t lose money on every customer, but you can afford to spend money on a few customer to maintain a reputation of quality service. In the economy of trust, you can make yourself a little more vulnerable but you will be able to hold more gold.

2. You helped Bulwark get over 4k reviews. How on Earth did you pull that off?
Great question. How much time do you have?
It began with our customer surveys. We survey customers every single year. We started this long before online reviews were main stream. We found from those surveys that certain employees were getting a lot of compliments. Bulwark has always tried to reward technicians for doing excellent work, which keeps our techs and customers happy. We commenced measuring the compliments that came in from the surveys. We made games and gave out fun rewards for mentions in the surveys. The owners took note of who the most complimented techs were. The techs love the praises they get both internally and from customers. It is a great boost to morale.

When online reviews came along we already had a base of monitoring and rewarding praises given. So we amplified it. Today, we keep track of every mention a tech gets. We have individual score cards. Techs understand that promotions within the company will require they have good reviews and consistent good reviews. We have also made it easy for the techs to ask for a review. We give them training on how to time a request after they do something to make the customer smile. Customers know the reviews are important to a Bulwark techs career. And our customers love giving back to their techs.

So with measurement, and time, we built our online reputation with real customer reviews. Reviews that the customer gives because of genuine happiness and good will towards their techs.

3. What are some of the most important marketing lessons you’ve learned?
Trust is currency. A business can only buy a customer with trust. The greater the trust the more value a business may earn from each customer. Trust turns customers into advocates.

Personal relationships trump clever branding. Indeed, the best branding is that of relationship building. Humans build relationships with other humans. Those ties are more powerful than company slogans, or company mission statements.

Marketers need to do what is profitable. Which means accurately measuring marketing efforts to determine what is profitable. Link your marketing efforts directly to profits.

4. How can we make content as persuasive as a comfy couch?
When you see a comfy couch you just want to jump right into it. You want to kick back and relax. Words are powerful. Telling a story is powerful. Enticing them with a great headline makes that couch look comfy. Telling a visitor a story that is relevant to them helps them take a sit and listen. Now that you’ve got them in the chair you have to keep the story interesting.

Let me give you a real-world example from a blog post long ago, “Interview with Bing and Google Suggest” by the Pest Control Guy. The premise of the post was based on Bing and Google having different results for their suggest. We’ve all seen it. There is no “News Flash” here. And even if it were big news, now that the breaking news of the suggests being different has been delivered, why do you want to stick around? So lead them to the next question. “Why is there a difference?”, and don’t just tell them, show them. Tell the story with something unique and fun. Use images. Let your shinny objects shine. That particular post got the most traction of any single blog post I have ever written. It was relevant, it was unique, and it told a story. It was fun!

Have you ever wondered why scorpions glow under a black-light? Are you wondering now? That’s a comfy couch conversation and I bet you’d give me another 30 seconds to tell you Why Scorpions Glow.

5. You’ve talked about local SEO also. What are some of most common mistakes people make?
The biggest mistake with Local SEO is not being consistent with your business name, phone number, and address. And I mean every little detail. I am guilty of this too. Is it Bulwark Exterminating or Bulwark Pest Control? Is your address Street or Rd? Suite, Ste, or just #102? You’ve got a phone book tracking number, and a direct line, and you added another line. Take 5 minutes to unify your NAPS (Name, Address, Phone, Site). Now you will need to spend some serious time making sure your unified NAPS is being listed correctly everywhere online.

The second biggest mistake is putting little to no effort into getting online reviews. If you don’t build it they ain’t coming!

6. What advice do you have for young marketers trying to grow in the business?
I hate to sound like a fortune cookie, but dreams don’t work unless you do. You’ve got a dream? Own it. Take control. Work it.

I cut out a lot of things in my life so that I can keep growing. I haven’t had cable or satellite TV well before Netflix ever existed. I read/listen to a lot of books. You drive to work every day, make that time productive. Seriously, I know it’s just a few minutes and it is a little thing, but those little things add up. When you give up your time to radio, TV, aimlessly surfing the internet, you give up control. Put yourself in the driver seat as often as you can so that you may get where you want to be.

Keep growing. Don’t remain stagnant. There is no stagnant, you are either moving forward or backward. Stay teachable. Ask questions. You can only teach an inquiring mind. Make mistakes and learn from them. And make friends.

7. Are there any lessons as a Scout Master that transfer over into marketing?
Just because you told them once doesn’t mean they will remember it.

8. Who do you look up to/reach to when you get stuck?
Well that would be a lengthy list. “Check my Twitter account” is the short answer. I thoroughly enjoy connecting with brilliant minds, and I owe most those connections to great SEO conferences. (Yep, here comes the plug for State of Search). Go to conferences and get connected. Do it already!

Honestly, just sitting in my Phoenix pest control office would never have gotten me connections with heavy weight internet marketers from Ebay, Godaddy, and Home Depot. I tried to walk into Duane Forrester’s office while on the Bing campus, didn’t work. Couldn’t get past the secretary. She wouldn’t even call him for me. But I can have my fun with Duane at conferences.

So my marketing heroes and contacts have come from conferences. I keep those contacts safe and sound in my twitter account. If I want to message them then I’ve a few select characters to ask what I need. And I do. And I respectful keep my twitter line open for others.