Boosting Your Business: Leveraging Awards to Attract and Retain Clients - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Boosting Your Business: Leveraging Awards to Attract and Retain Clients

Photo: NALP/Philippe Nobile Photography

The NALP Awards of Excellence provide an opportunity to recognize your team’s outstanding work on a national level and set your company apart from the competition.

“There is a sense of company and individual pride that goes along with awards,” says Danny Stawowczyk, design sales associate for Live Green Landscape Associates, based in Reisterstown, Maryland. “It could be from a sales, project management, or production standpoint. It’s a great feeling to see a project you contributed to get showcased to the entire industry. It’s a way to stand out and attract potential clients/customers.”

Why Enter for Awards?

Joseph Barnes, marketing director for Yellowstone Landscape, headquartered in Bunnell, Florida, says winning awards is a way for them to recognize great client partnerships. He says they appreciate the recognition from the industry and are honored by it. They use their awards to solidify and honor their clients.

“They trust us with the properties,” Barnes says. “If it’s an award-entry worthy property, it’s obviously something that they’ve invested a lot of time and resources and money in, so we want to acknowledge their investment in our services and really celebrate that partnership and the trust they placed in us and pay that back and show them that we think that property’s not just great, but our entire industry thinks that property is great.”

Ivan Giraldo, co-owner of Clean Scapes Landscaping, based in Austin, Texas, says their clients like for their property to be award-winning as well, but the Awards of Excellence is a chance for them to recognize their crews.

“We decided it is important for the people who work on every site,” Giraldo says. “It’s recognition for them and we as a company take a lot of pride in what we do.”

Chris Strempek, president of Complete Landsculpture, based in Dallas, Texas, says they endeavor to create landscapes that are unique and evoke emotions, so when they have projects that hit those marks, they like to celebrate them with their team.

For McHale Landscape Design, Inc., based in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, awards are an integral part of their marketing plan.

“We typically spend 1% of revenue on marketing and awards are a big part of that budget,” says Kevin McHale, principal of McHale. “The award program legitimizes the quality of a project because our peers are judging them. It is especially impressive in residential design-build to tell a client that their backyard won a national award.”

Selecting Award Entries

One challenge you can face when entering in the Awards of Excellence is narrowing down which projects to enter.

McHale, Complete Landsculpture, and Live Green make a point of considering all of their teams to make sure everyone is represented. McHale says their marketing director contacts each of their design-build and maintenance teams to see which projects merit an award entry. He says all the teams are represented and rotated each year.

Complete Landsculpture has a committee that selects their entries and each division will submit a project they’d like to showcase.

“When we select projects to submit, we like to have everyone in the company have a say,” says Kevin Crawford, commercial project manager for Live Green. “Projects that were technically challenging or have a lot of custom details typically get nominated by the team. It’s rewarding when a job that required extra effort or learning a new skill gets selected for an award. We typically look at projects that have achieved significant milestones, demonstrated innovation, or made a positive impact in their respective field. It’s also important to choose specific projects that align with the criteria and categories in which awards are being considered.”

Logan Lowry, account executive with Moore Landscapes, based in Northbrook, Illinois, says he likes to enter the properties that tell the best story.

“Throughout all your properties, you are going to run into challenges on site,” Lowry says. “So within that story, you acknowledge and you talk about the challenges that you have on the certain sites, which are going to be different on all of them, and how you overcome those challenges.”

Giraldo says they also like to consider the project’s story, size and if they have a good amount of photos. Sometimes, they will wait to enter a project for a few years if they don’t have the right pictures to convey the level of transformation.

Involving Clients in the Process

A question you have to ask is if you want to involve your client in the award entry process. Some companies like Moore Landscape prefer it to be a surprise when they inform the client that their property is award-winning as they don’t want to promise anything for sure.

Giraldo says they always touch base with the property owner from the start just to be sure as certain customers are particular about pictures of their site being shared for security and privacy reasons.

“We like to ensure the client is comfortable with us showcasing their property or home,” Stawowczyk says. “In the past, we have had award-worthy projects that could not be submitted due to clients respectfully declining the opportunity.”

Strempek and Barnes say they’ve done it both ways and it just depends on the nature of the relationship with the client.

No matter if clients are involved from the start or surprised with an award, the response is always positive with them being very appreciative. McHale says on a few occasions they have given the award to the client, which makes them feel included and that the money invested was well spent.

“The feeling of being included and celebrating the recognition of a job well done is appreciated by everyone,” McHale says. “It also makes a professional relationship feel a bit more personal and collaborative.”

Live Green likes to surprise their clients with physical awards and copies of the professional photos for their personal use.

“Most clients feel a sense of pride when they realize their project is a national award winner,” Crawford says. “Oftentimes, a client will showcase their plaque in the lobby of a commercial building or in a home office.”

Giraldo says they always order a second plaque for their clients and typically, they hang them somewhere in the lobby or in their office.

“I would say folks that are in the commercial space tend to use it much more than residential people do just for retaining clients or attracting clients, but generally speaking, everybody’s excited about it,” Strempek says.

Promoting Awards

Complete Landsculpture promotes their awards on their website and social media for their clients, their team and their future clients and team members.

“Sharing the wins together, showing the success of our amazing teams, it’s so important to the future at Complete Landsculpture,” Strempek says.

McHale says they make sure their award-winning projects are visible in their marketing campaign. They also advertise in local publications that they are a national award winner.

“We don’t think clients actually hire us because of the awards but more so because of the professional validation the awards provide,” McHale says.

Strempek says that marketing their award-winning projects is part of the marketing and branding plan. It helps them attract both new customers and employees.

“We are always in the market for new team members, whether they are coming out of school or already in the industry who are drawn to excellence and this helps to differentiate us from others,” Strempek says.

Stawowczyk says awards are the best way to get recognition and your name out there.

“Plus, it’s advertising that pays for itself,” Crawford says. “All the groundwork has already been done so it doesn’t take much to upload the information to our website or social media. It’s a win-win.”

Barnes says they have a page on their website where they list their awards but prefer to share the story aspect of the project and what challenges they were able to overcome with the client.

“I think it’s less about the trophy case and more about it becoming a really awesome case study,” Barnes says. “We share those quite often. Our sales team will do that on a one-on-one basis, but definitely, those case studies are usually also the award-winning properties.”

Lowry says there are some clients who are going to care about the awards and others will have no idea, but it can give you a leg up in separating yourself from competitors in maintenance bids.

Giraldo notes that sharing these awards online can also be attractive to new hires.

“It’s more appealing to play for a winning team, and it also shows we are performing high-quality work,” says Stawowczyk. “New employees may feel like, ‘Hey, I can join this team and become an award-winner myself.’”

Advice for Others

If you haven’t taken the time to enter for the Awards of Excellence in the past, this is a lost opportunity to celebrate work that can be shared with your team, clients and future team members.

“If you don’t participate in awards programs, you are missing out on one of the best marketing opportunities available,” McHale says. “Both commercial and residential clients appreciate the recognition of an award. Everyone enjoys a compliment and receiving an award judged by your peers is one of the most effective ways to offer a compliment.”

Photo: McHale Landscape Design, Inc.

Stawowczyk says that if they sell one large job from marketing their awards, the time and fees are already paid for, and the marketing benefit only continues after that.

“I would tell them they don’t truly understand the pride of winning an award until they attend a national conference and see your company’s project(s) displayed on the big stage with the best landscape contractors across the nation,” Crawford adds.

Lowry says every property has a story and unique challenges and encourages finding the right category for your submission.

“If you have work that’s worthy of being promoted and you’re not taking advantage of that, start small but at least get something submitted,” Strempek says. “Learn the process because it’s not that complicated.”

Giraldo says the value proposition for clients and employees makes entering for awards a no-brainer. For Clean Scapes’ Gold award winners, he will take the crew leaders with him to the award ceremony at ELEVATE so they can receive the award.

“I cannot tell you how proud they are that they are recognized for that,” Giraldo says. “Don’t hesitate to do it. Yeah, it takes time. It takes money. It takes effort, but to me, it’s 100% worth it.”

If you have been winning awards in the past, don’t let them simply collect dust. Giraldo says they make sure their team and their clients understand how challenging it is to win an award and what a big deal it is.

“We don’t take it lightly,” Strempek says. “We know there are a lot of talented companies out there and we’re humbled and honored to be considered and acknowledged by our peers.”

Stawowczyk suggests putting the awards and pictures on your website and social media and marketing them to your clients. Gifting a copy of your plaque to the client will only build your relationship with them more and could result in additional referrals. He says they include their projects in their quarterly newsletter they send to their client base.

“Market your successes!” McHale says. “Your website and company newsletter should profile the award-winning projects and any print publication ads should also advertise ‘award-winning!’”

This article was published in the November/December issue of the magazine. To read more stories from The Edge magazine, click here to subscribe to the digital edition.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.