If the Opportunity Is There, Move Boldly
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
Looking to expand AC sales? Show your market why you are the best choice
Many Oilheat dealers use air conditioning sales and service to improve their revenues and keep competitors out of their customers' homes, but success varies widely from company to company. If your business is among those that have truly committed to AC and built a strong operation, it could be time to get aggressive and see how much market share you can claim.
To realize the full potential, it helps to have a comprehensive approach to marketing that builds strong name recognition while portraying you as the most knowledgeable and reliable AC company in the area. By supporting your AC division with robust marketing, you position your company for unprecedented success.
When considering an aggressive move in AC - or any other specialty - a sensible first step is to evaluate your market. How much opportunity is there? How strong is the competition? Are you competitive on price? Which competitors pose the greatest threat to you? Are there opportunities to grow through acquisition? How well have you marketed your services to date?
Would You Choose Yourself?
Once you're ready to intensify your pursuit of new AC business, take stock of your public image. Look over your website and your advertising, and ask yourself the tough question: If I was a newcomer to the area and looking for air conditioning services, would I choose my own company?
If the answer is no, you're not alone. Many company websites and marketing materials are ineffective at promoting AC services, and there are common threads. The most prevalent one is an over-emphasis on Oilheat services. It starts with a company name that includes "Oil" or "Fuel" and continues with a home page that emphasizes cold-weather services. A site like that sends a clear signal, and it's not a helpful one: You appear to be an Oilheat company that does air conditioning on the side.
There are three great reasons to improve on that situation. First, to create a stronger impression of air conditioning expertise; second, to de-emphasize Oilheat; and third, to improve your website's performance in search results.
When you take on the look of an air conditioning specialist, you have greater appeal with those prospects (and existing customers) who think that their expensive AC installation should be performed by an AC expert. Similarly, you will benefit by de-coupling your AC and Oilheat marketing. Oilheat is making tremendous strides in cleanliness, efficiency and integration of renewables, but the public perception has not caught up to the facts. The image of an air conditioning specialist may have better marketing potential in 2011 than that of an Oilheat dealer who also does air conditioning.
Then there is the matter of the search engines, like Google and Yahoo. They are designed to help Internet users find what they seek. When a user performs an online search for air conditioning services, the search engines will be helpful and show them websites that emphasize air conditioning. A half-baked air conditioning presentation could get your site buried in the search results and cost you business.
To Sell AC, Focus on AC
To develop a more AC-friendly image, start with your logo and tagline. If you don't trust those elements to resonate with the air conditioning customers you want to serve, improve on them. Eliminate anything that makes you look or sound old-fashioned, and strive for a clean, professional feel. Be sure not to rush through this stage or skimp on your investment. A strong image is an essential building block that should support your goals for years to come. When your imaging basics are solid, they strengthen all your marketing investments.
Develop a strategy for publicizing your air conditioning services and making sales. Whether you are focusing on existing customers or new prospects, you'll need a strong online presence for AC. Companies that rely on just one website to communicate all their products and services should update the home page in spring to emphasize air conditioning.
A single website can provide adequate presence for both heating and cooling, but owners with a more ambitious bent will want to create a separate air conditioning site. By dedicating an entire site to AC and optimizing it properly for the search engines, you eliminate barriers and improve your chances. Between your main site and your AC site, you'll claim a greater share of the top search results and leave less room for your competitors.
When investing in Internet visibility, pay particular attention to the quality and functionality of your sites. Your websites will be on display 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and they will make a lot of first impressions without any opportunity for additional input. As such, they need to paint the company in the best possible light.
The risks of relying on subpar websites can't be overstated. If a prospect visits your site and finds sloppy writing, outdated information or disorganized navigation, you're probably dead in the water with them. Even a reasonably nice site can bog you down if it is overshadowed by a competitor's superior site. The most aggressive path is to publish a polished site that offers online conveniences, and then maintain it regularly so the information stays fresh and the functionality remains current. Keep your eye on the competition and try to maintain the most compelling online presence in your market.
A great air conditioning website generates enthusiasm for your company's services. It uses a combination of imagery, information and features to portray the company as the best choice and compel consumers to invest in new equipment. It has an authoritative style that inspires confidence and action. It helps to convey useful information about efficiency, modern refrigerants and government incentive programs to reinforce your image as the leading authority in your market. It might include an article on how to choose the right contractor, which can help prospects appreciate all the things you do well. You can also use videos, walk-on introductions and blogs to demonstrate your comfort with technology.
Imagine a homeowner visiting your site and telling their spouse, "Come see this! These people really know what they're talking about!" When your site generates that kind of response, you'll feel the difference in your bottom line.
Drive Traffic Your Way
Once you are confident in your website, it's time to bring customers and prospects to it. To make the site a magnet for new customers, advertise. Pay-per-click advertising will extend your reach on the Internet and create new shortcuts to your website. Cable television, radio, billboards, direct mail and periodicals can be very effective when you have a strong image and compelling message. Always include the company URL in your advertising, and urge customers to visit your site.
If there is opportunity within your customer base, use newsletters and direct mail to generate interest. Help customers embrace AC upgrades with newsletter articles that discuss the cost savings available through energy efficiency, or highlight your most advanced systems. Include a reply mechanism such as a mail-in reply card so that the customer can easily signal their interest.
While you're perfecting your image and outreach, evaluate your customer intake process too. Instruct CSRs and salespeople to create high expectations for new customers. They should speak highly of your AC team and maintain the enthusiasm that inspired the prospect to call you. Insist on a seamless experience, so that customers remain confident and comfortable throughout. Instruct staff to never over-promise. If you say you will do something, you must follow through without delay every time.
Make sure your team is ready to deliver the great experience you have promised. Hone your team's telephone skills. Make sure your salespeople are well informed so that they can build on the authoritative image that you are conveying. Anticipate every statement, response and question they might hear from a customer or prospect and teach employees to respond effectively. Commit to discussing a product's limitations as well as its strengths, because a prospect is more likely to trust you when you speak frankly and discuss negatives as comfortably as you discuss positives.
Consider offering energy audits to create a scientific basis for your product recommendations. If necessary, expand your product line so that it includes some of the latest, most compelling equipment on the market.
Investing to expand your opportunities in air conditioning (or any other specialty) is a crucial step. Evaluate the facts carefully before you make your move. If you decide to take the plunge, make a full commitment and give your venture the support it needs to succeed. Market so well and so visibly that competitors will be reluctant to take you on.
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.