Secure Your Customer Base by Meeting Every Need
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
Part 5 of 7
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fifth installment of a seven-part series in which PriMedia President Richard Rutigliano offers strategies and tactics for mastering the constant marketing challenges that Oilheat dealers face.
Every established home comfort provider faces serious competition from companies eager to lure your customers away. In some markets, it is the gas utilities that are beckoning. In others, the competition comes from rival Oilheat and propane companies.
The best way to keep the competition at bay is to meet your customers' every need so that your rivals never get a foot in the door—let alone a technician in the basement. To build the kind of exclusive relationships you need with customers, establish yourself as a full-service provider of energy conservation services and market your value proposition proactively.
Adding new services on your own is a tall task that requires an investment in personnel, equipment and training. Companies with limited resources might be better off entering partnership agreements with other local companies to fill out their service menu.
Are You Vulnerable?
If your services are limited to heating and cooling, you are vulnerable to attack from companies offering home energy audits. Those companies can get in the door with a promise to test the home from top to bottom. Once they're in, you can easily lose the opportunity to upgrade the home's equipment, and you face a huge risk of losing the account altogether.
You can protect your hard-won accounts by offering home energy audits yourself. If you have the personnel, the time to get them trained and the budget to buy testing equipment, you can roll out an energy audit service in just a few months. If you can't provide energy audits yourself, it makes sense to seek out a local audit provider who will work with you on acceptable terms.
Another adjunct service that can safeguard your accounts is home insulation and sealing. Homeowners who are serious about minimizing their energy needs are going to place a high priority on the building envelope, and they can find plenty of information online suggesting that tightening up the home is the best investment for saving energy.
If they hire an insulation contractor that has no connection to your business, the account is at risk. The contractor could say anything to the customer, such as suggesting a fuel conversion or recommending another fuel provider. You are much better off doing the work yourself or assigning it to an allied contractor who won't throw you under the bus.
Simply by offering home energy audits and building envelope services, you transform your business while shielding yourself against many would-be poachers. Instead of just heating and cooling, you are providing the core energy conservation services that customers are most likely to appreciate.
A company that offers energy audits, heating, cooling, sealing and insulation can truly promote itself as a provider of complete solutions. In the eyes of your customers, you become a problem solver, a money saver, an authority on home energy conservation—and a very valuable partner.
Not only will you sell them more services, you'll improve your likelihood of keeping their business indefinitely because they will see you in a more favorable light. As you add the services, you can also develop new messaging and imagery that focuses on energy conservation.
Spread the Word
Making the services available is the hardest step, but it's not the only one. You also need to get the word out to your customer base—and your market at large—that you are now a comprehensive provider. You might want to begin with a revised logo and tagline and a brief list of talking points for your CSRs and other employees. Plan on training all your employees about your new mission and ambitions. Make sure everyone understands the value of your new services and your approach to selling them. Teach them how to introduce the new services with just a few quick words that send a clear signal and pique the customer's curiosity.
If you are using special offers to promote the new services, craft them carefully to make them both compelling for customers and cost-effective for you. Familiarize yourself and your staff with any incentive programs that can help reduce the customer's investment cost, and make it clear to customers that you have all the answers on both solutions and cost savings.
Plan on selling the concept of comprehensive conservation services so that customers will understand that they can achieve their conservation goals with your help alone. You will be offering to simplify their busy lives, and they will appreciate that.
If you are in a very competitive market, it's important to publicize your expanded service model quickly and thoroughly. Start by overhauling your website to infuse it with your improved message. Label yourself as a onestop shop for energy conservation and develop a new section that explains the connection between comprehensive services and optimal energy savings.
If you're running a special package that combines the energy audit with related services, promote it prominently on the home page and link customers to it. Make it easy for a customer or prospect to request your new services on the spot.
Next, take steps to drive customers (and prospects) to your website. For existing customers, plan on promoting aggressively with some combination of customer letters and newsletters. You might want to publish a special edition newsletter that focuses entirely on your energy conservation services. Introduce your program with enthusiasm and authority, promote a special offer, and include a reply card so customers can easily signal their interest. Print extra copies so you always have them available to send to prospects.
Don't forget your message on hold. When you have a great package to offer, there is no better time to promote it than when the customer is about to speak with a CSR.
Your comprehensive service package might be very interesting to homeowners outside your customer base, too. Consider advertising on Google and in local media outlets with a clear, simple message that focuses on maximum cost savings.
Don't stand by and let other businesses steal your customers. Meet your customers' real needs in a comprehensive way and show them they don't need anyone else to help them reduce their energy costs.
January Marketing Reminders
As part of this series, I am including reminders of steps that dealers can take each month to strengthen their business. Here are my suggestions for January:
- Start to plan for your spring newsletter
- Update your website with seasonal content for spring
- Replace your holiday message-on-hold with a winter message-on-hold
- Create an e-mail blast or billing insert thanking customers for clearing their fill pipes of snow
- Use a door hanger to remind your customers of the convenience of automatic delivery
- Develop or refresh your sales kit for the new year
- Consider new trade show booth materials for this spring's industry and home show events
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.