Help Your Market Embrace Home Comfort
By Rich Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
When you look to supplement your Oilheat business by adding new home comfort services such as indoor air quality (IAQ), plan to adapt your sales and marketing strategies to match the new challenges that you will face.
To succeed at selling new products like whole-house air cleansing systems, for example, you need to do more than sell equipment or services: You need to sell the concepts behind the solutions.
Selling heating and cooling products is easier, because everyone understands hot and cold. No one ever had to persuade a homeowner in Maine, New York or Pennsylvania that they need heat. Air conditioning can be a tougher sell than heat in northern states, but not for lack of understanding.
A home comfort concern like Indoor Air Quality (IAQ), on the other hand, lacks the tangibility of heat and cold. A home can have unhealthy air that should be addressed without the owner ever figuring it out on their own. Maybe they have some unexplained ailments in the family, but the cause may not be apparent, and they might not go searching for a solution in the same way they would if the heat stopped working.
To sell products and services that address these subtler problems, you have to overcome a certain measure of customer apathy. You could provide all the right training for staff and build solid relationships with vendors only to see your venture fail due to a lack of knowledge and will on the part of customers.
Your target markets will be your existing customer base and new customers in your geographic area. You can build awareness of your new services in both groups using a range of marketing tools, and your website will be the critical resource that supports all of your outreach efforts.
Take advantage of your site's flexibility and adaptability to add a new section that delivers comprehensive information about the problem and the solutions. If you are offering IAQ services, for example, your new section should include a detailed description of the problems with indoor air. It should highlight the airborne threats that exist in most homes in a compelling way that will motivate customers to protect themselves and their families. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has published numerous reports on the topic, and those can serve as a source of authoritative, unbiased information.
Your new section can also provide a detailed but generic description of different solutions, followed by specific descriptions of your products and services. Ask your vendors what resources they have that you can use. Make written articles a centerpiece of your new section and consider supplementing them with new media like video, podcasts and slideshows.
This new central information resource is a critical component that will support your search-based marketing as well as your newsletters and direct mailings. You can reach out to the larger market outside your customer base using a combination of traditional advertising and search-based advertising to maximize your exposure.
Your online marketing efforts will lead potential customers to your new website section, and your detailed collection of information resources will immediately brand you as an authority on the subject. Any customer who is seeking a local contractor to provide services will likely put you on their short list of potential installers. The more informative your Web section is, the more highly your potential customers will rate you.
Your new Web section will play a vital role in marketing to your existing customer base as well. You will announce your services with direct mail and promote them in every edition of your company newsletter. Those communications will all recommend that customers visit your website for more information. When they visit, they will be impressed by the wealth of information that you are providing. Your company image will improve, and you will be well on your way to successful cross-selling.
You'll also need extensive in-house training to arm your staff to sell the new products and services. Be sure to develop effective talking points and share them with everyone who interacts with customers. Air quality problems manifest themselves in many little ways, and you need to anticipate as many problems as you can so that your staff learns to ask the best questions and make the most effective suggestions.
Your CSRs, technicians and salespeople should get extensive training not just on the talking points but on the larger issues behind them. As much as they may know the heating business, you are now introducing new issues and solutions, and the better educated your whole staff is, the more fruit your new venture will bear. When your staff feels a sense of ownership in the new venture, they will engage customers eagerly and speak with confidence. Let them know how important the new venture is to the company's future.
The strategy of selling a concept in order to sell a product or service can also apply elsewhere in your business, including in your sales of heating and cooling equipment. High efficiency is the best defense against high prices, and you can rev up your sales and installations by aggressively marketing the cost-saving potential of high-efficiency equipment.
If you already have an equipment section on your website, consider overhauling it to create a strong emphasis on high efficiency. At the same time, you can redesign your home page to brand your company as a leader in conservation and high-efficiency installations.
Newsletters and direct mail can make the same points and refer people to the detailed information on the website. Staff should also be educated to promote high efficiency and strongly encourage upgrades. With a well-coordinated effort you can motivate even stubborn customers to act in their own best interest.
If you can sell the concept, you can sell the equipment.
Richard Rutigliano is President of PriMedia, Inc., a full service marketing and communications firm with offices in New York City, Long Island and Boston. The company is now offering free marketing consultations to Oilheat retailers. Phone: 800-796-3342, or visit their Web sites at www.primediany.com and www.oilheat-advertising.com.