Definition & Overview
Benefits & Capabilities
Marketing & Installing
Subscription Based Water Management Business Model
Positioning as a Water Management Business
Monthly Fee: Understanding Pricing
Maintaining & Growing Model
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During the early stages of the 21st Century, smart irrigation controllers and its technology - from internet connection to localized weather and forecast to soil moisture sensor data - has been utilized mostly by commercial and golf course systems due to its cost. But like with all emerging technology when prices decrease, they become more prevalent in society. And the same has happened with smart controllers the past decade or so. Each year more and more smart controllers have been trickling into the residential consumer market.
Today a smart irrigation controller can basically be defined as a device that incorporates intelligent functions such as utilizing weather and/or soil moisture sensor data to properly schedule irrigation frequency and runtimes. The controller’s WiFi capabilities connects your irrigation system to the IoT - allowing you the contractor - (or even a customer if given permission) to schedule, start or stop watering, and receive notifications on a phone app, whether you’re at your office, in the field or on a beach.
How do all these technological features and capabilities translate into real world benefits for your business, the customer and the irrigation industry as a whole? Well pretty much all of the benefits can be boiled down to saving you and your customer time and money.
As you can imagine, being able to both, remotely monitor an irrigation system and remotely access an irrigation controller, has the potential to save you, your business and your customer time and money in a variety of ways. The time saving can be something as simple as not having to coordinate with the homeowner to access a controller locked in a garage. And the money saving can be something as complex as using weather data and on-site sensors to automatically adjust watering to reduce your customers’ water bills.
When life changing technology emerges it triggers a transformation in the world around it. This is currently happening in the irrigation industry with smart controllers. Its emergence was less abrupt and its progression will likely be slower than other technology we’ve seen. Regardless, this new technology has - and will continue to - change the relationship between you and your customer. It’s nothing new for the customer, they’ve already gone through similar changes with other services and products - from dollar shave club to amazon prime to all the movie and T.V. streaming services. And the general public has fully embraced these new B2C relationships, just ask Sears.
This new economic ecosystem creates the opportunity to position yourself more as a water management business and less as an irrigation services and repairs business. With smart controllers you are not reactive you’re proactive. The customer doesn’t call you to say their lawn’s flooded, you call them to explain you’ve shut off the system after it alerted you a pipe burst and you’re sending someone out to fix it.
Interactions like this one, don’t really favor pay per service/work model since you’re remotely monitoring their system and scheduling appointments and creating work orders in real time when necessary. This type of relationship gravitates towards more a subscription - flat monthly fee - model that most of us use and are comfortable with in other areas of life. We’ve started calling this the Subscription Based Water Management Business Model (It’s still a working title, so bare with us…).
As we’ve seen in other industries, the irrigation professional that recognizes and understands how they must alter their business model to best suit this new technology and relationship will put themselves at the front of the revolution. It’s these type of businesses, that have both the awareness that times are changing and that there’s a way to better position themselves to not only survive, but thrive during such transitional times.
Before a business can start evolving its model, it needs to get people using smart controllers. So before we go into detail on how a subscription based water management business model works we need to get customers into that model. And like with most things, getting people to buy and adopt new technology can be the toughest part. There are a few ways to generate awareness around smart controllers and get potential customers interested in the new tech.
But whatever method you go with it’s crucial to know the selling points that will get customers taking action. The two main threads to pull on when marketing and selling smart controllers are the attraction of the newest tech and water and money savings.
Water, Money & Time Savings: This is probably going to be the most effective talking point. Pretty much everyone - whether rich or poor - want to save (and have) more money. And it’s an even more potent selling point when it’s combined with - and the result of - eliminating the waste of water and time. Focus on how the controller’s technology, and all its features, translate into real world benefits. From free up their time with remote access to saving their money on water bills to every little benefit in between there are plenty of things you can highlight to show how it makes their life easier.
New Tech: The first point is going to work on the majority of people. But we’ve also heard from some of our clients that some people just want the newest, shiniest tech. You can be throwing every line and fact about water saving you have, but all they care about is that it’s new and cool. So if you’re dealing with one of those customers, lay out all the bells and whistles and wait for them to say yes (we know it’s never that easy but you get the point).
Partnering with Hunter Hydrawise, this past year we worked with some of our customers to create an email campaign around smart controllers. Basically they did most of the work, we just gave them a Hydrawise template and helped them along, if necessary, as they sent the emails using HindSite.
The end results were pretty remarkable from a marketing perspective. One of the businesses, Marlo Company, sent out 1200 emails and ended up installing more than 50 smart controllers. That’s a pretty insane sale conversion rate for a single email send. Even better, those installs resulted in approximately $20,000 of revenue.
But they weren’t the only business that saw some serious ROI from this kind of email campaign. TradeWinds Irrigation sent the email to 3000 people and generated $25,000 in revenue. Three weeks after sending them out, their owner, Mary Ellen Krom, told us they had “installed 50 to 60 controllers and have quite a few more on the book for the next couple of weeks.”
These results highlight the reason why email marketing has endured the age of technology’s shifting times. Email marketing is easy and inexpensive. It doesn’t need a big budget or a bunch of resources. But like with all marketing, there are a handful of best practices to keep in mind.
From the time of the year you send the emails to the time of day they’re received - timing is crucial in email marketing. This is especially the case when it might generate a lot of work for your business in the following weeks.
You probably don’t want to send your smart controller email before you’re going to be really busy and won’t have the capacity to get the work done. At the very least, it’s best to have a plan and not just blast out a bunch of emails with reckless abandonment.
For the past two decades there have been endless marketing studies that show the better the list segmentation, the more successful the email campaign. Segmentation is basically the division of your email list into small groups (i.e. segments) based on a set criteria. This helps you deliver relevant information to the right people. For example, you don’t want to send an email that’s trying to get people to upgrade to a smart controller to someone who is a snow removal customer that doesn’t even have an irrigation system. Segmenting your list for a smart controller could like a few things depending on what you’re trying to do:
Awareness: If you’re trying to just get the most amount of people aware that you install smart controllers then sending it to every irrigation contact without a smart controller (if you know) is probably the right move.
2nd Homes: Controllers with remote access could be enticing to people who own a second home (cabins, lake houses, etc.). By segmenting your list by this criteria you’re able to create messaging around how this feature can make their life easier.
Commercial: Grouping commercial contacts gives you a list of people who have deeper pockets and larger properties. This means they might be more likely to invest into technology that can save them more money compared to smaller residential irrigation systems.
Larger Residential: Similar to the thinking around segmenting by commercial, these properties would probably see more savings and, if they have a big ol’ house on a bunch of land, then the upgrade is likely in their price range.
Email is great and all but sometimes you need to go straight to the source. And for smart controllers that means talking to your customers about upgrading their tech when your at their properties.
There are a few perks of selling in the field. First off, you’re seeing the property, the person and the system first hand so you can see if a smart controller makes sense for them and their system. And when situations like an old controller on the fritz present themselves, it’s an easy sale, because a sale is always easier when it’s also a solution. Another advantage that applies to all in person sales - it’s easier to read the customer and adapt when you feel, hear or see any push back or disinterest.
Another thing you can do in the field, since you’re seeing the customer’s system in person, is to create a personalized water saving report to leave behind after a site visit. Instead of general or vague industry wide numbers, this report shows the customer how much they can potentially save on their own system, simply by installing a smart controller.
I’m not an irrigation tech. I once installed a football field irrigation system and had no business doing that. So I’m not going to act like I’m in the position to give anyone pointers on how to hook up and install a controller.
What I will say is incorrectly installing a smart controller (or the system it’s connected to) will cause you headaches in the future. It’s obvious advice and you’re far more familiar with the consequences than I am, But it’s something we’ve heard from a bunch of our customers. Messing up something as tedious as the wiring can cause the controller’s monitoring to blow up with false alerts.
Lastly, it’s important to understand that the money your business gets in this initial phase from the installs (like the $20,000+ we highlighted in the beginning of the section) is just the tip of the revenue iceberg that can be generated by smart controllers. What you’ve really done is installed a new relationship between you and the customer. One that fits a 21st Century business model, with less friction and more technology.
You’ve installed the smart controller, now what? Well, there’s a few things you should probably know and do before you completely overhaul your business model.
When selling any of your irrigation, lawn or landscape services it’s important to show the customer all the value the service can provide them. It’s even more important to do this when offering a service that your market may not be familiar with - like water management.
Pretty much everyone knows the value they’re getting when buying an irrigation system (i.e. a green lawn without having to lug around hoses and shoddy sprinklers) or lawn care services (i.e. a well kept landscape and timely mowed lawn). But it’s likely the majority of your customers don’t fully grasp all the benefits of having an experienced irrigation professional manage their water and the smart system that delivers it. That’s where you come in.
Whether you’re selling the water management subscription at the same time as the smart controller install or after, it’s important to follow a similar recipe. Focus on the real world benefits of combining the features of smart controllers with an experienced irrigation professional. Having a system that offers easy monitoring and convenient access isn’t that valuable if nobody’s actually using those functions. So it’s important to explain how having you monitor and manage their system and water allows them to experience the full potential of the technology.
Use real world scenarios to help people understand how this service fosters a more proactive approach. Maybe one of their pipes burst, you get an alert and shut off their water and schedule a fix the next day, saving them time, money and water. This not only shows them what they save but it shows them a new, modernized way of doing business. One that uses technology to not only save, but to streamline the entire relationship.
Some of the benefits are easier to convey visually. You can create water saving reports to visually show how you’ll save them time and money. This is probably easier if you already have a few water management customers to base you’re analysis on. But even if you’re trying to get your first customer, you can still pull data from things like irrigation audits or your current customers’ water usage.
It might take you time to construct and refine the proper way to demonstrate the value of your water management service. Just remember to keep it grounded in the basics. When a customer is spending thousands on water usage in a season, you just need to show how you can cut that back by simply using technology and your expertise. It’ll also become easier over time with more customers and data to base your initial systems and water analysis on.
And as you’ll see later on, just because you’ve got their business doesn't mean you should stop demonstrating your value. Whether it’s a monthly email attachment or a leave behind after a site visit, you should be frequently sharing water saving reports so they can see the money they’re saving and the value your service providing.
When looking for your first handful of customers, know that these customers might need to be malleable at times. Water management is quite different than the others you offer. It’s not a simple one-off task (i.e. installations, winterization, etc.) or recurring work (i.e. mowing/blowing, fert, etc). It’s a mix of both, combined with active monitoring and analyzing, which is something that irrigation professionals aren’t used to doing on a daily basis.
So since it’s a new model, it’s important to select initial customers who aren’t too rigid - causing unnecessary headaches as you refine your process. Instead, look for people you think will not only be a good fit for the service but will also provide constructive feedback.
We won't hammer away on pricing too much since multiple factors can cause it to vary drastically. Instead we’ll lay out what we’ve seen and heard from people around the industry so you have some understanding on what people are charging and why.
Most businesses we’ve seen and talked to have been providing water management services for large commercial and HOA properties. Due to the scale of these customers’ systems and budget, knowing their monthly figure probably won’t help you with your pricing. That said, most of the prices for large properties (commercial, HOA) fell between $150 and $400 per month. The few residential-focused businesses we came across charged anything from $10 to $100 a month.
As you can see, there’s quite the discrepancy in monthly prices. That’s why we think it’d be more useful to understand how businesses arrive at their price. And after doing some research we found that the majority of businesses calculate their prices based on three general categories: Irrigation System Characteristics, Services Included, Work Included.
Of course as you break these three categories down they become much more nuanced. And the more nuanced each gets, the more complex pricing gets. But knowing the irrigation system characteristics and figuring out what services and work will be covered by the monthly fee will guide you towards a final number.
One last note on pricing. We’ve also heard of some businesses doing an initial system walk-through to find any necessary repairs or upgrades (main lines, controllers, valves). This is an additional charge to the customer and ensures the system under your water management contract is fully repaired and up to speed.
After some time your model and its processes will find some footing and you’ll begin growing your customer base. During this time, it’s important to recognize opportunities to optimize your model. From integrating additional technology or simply refining procedural best practices - the habit and ability to do this will determine if you maintain and grow.
As more of your customers use smart controllers and your water management services, the less you’ll be burdened by inefficiencies and time-intensive operations. Instead of having to send service techs out in the field to simply program a controller, they can do it remotely. It’s a culmination of time-saving activities such as this, that’ll likely cause you to reconsider how you allocate your business’s resources and your workers time.
Managing Customer Data & Systems
Providers like Hydrawise not only link the controllers back to an intuitive user interface, but they also allow you to group all of your customer data and dashboards under one professional/contractor account. This simple feature is incredibly convenient once you have too many customers to keep track of on your own. It’s also essential to operational efficiency since you can seamlessly move between customer controllers instead of having to log in and out of different accounts. Thus, saving you time and making the life of a water management business, a lot less chaotic.
Connecting Smart Controllers to Business Software:
What’s better than using one new technology? Combining it with another one. You’re well aware by now how using smart controllers to manage customer’s systems will make your business more proactive. But by integrating system alerts (think busted pipe) with your business software this alert can seamlessly turn into a work order and be scheduled with just a few clicks.
Throughout the past 100 years, new technology is constantly changing the business landscape. It’s affected each and every industry. The companies that thrive during these particular times see the shift and adapt their model to better suit tomorrow, not yesterday. When the irrigation industry looks back 20 years from now, the leading businesses will not only have adopted smart controllers but they will have molded their entire operation - seamlessly - around the new technology.