Harness the Internet to Boost Equipment Sales
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
It takes a lot of appeal to succeed at high-efficiency equipment sales.
Consumers are very interested in saving energy, but fewer of them are willing and able to spend on new equipment, and those who can are more selective than they used to be. The challenges are enormous, but companies that can offer better value and convenience while raising their visibility have a great opportunity to connect with serious shoppers and win more business.
Spending power is diminished across the U.S., but two recent surveys indicate that consumers are very interested in saving energy and reducing costs. The "reSources 2011" study conducted by Deloitte found that nearly 70 percent of households are taking steps to reduce energy consumption, and a survey by The Consumer Federation of America revealed that 62 percent of consumers support a government regulation requiring automakers to meet a 60 mpg standard by 2025. For companies that sell high-efficiency comfort equipment, these are encouraging signs about consumers' mindsets.
When trying to connect with conservation-minded consumers, your company's appeal is vital because your success hinges on the choices that the individual consumers in your market make. You might be but one among many companies offering high-efficiency heating and cooling, and each of your competitors has the same opportunities to reach out that you do. The companies that differentiate themselves most effectively are the most likely to succeed, particularly over the long haul.
Guidelines for Success
To improve your company's appeal, look to the Internet, where you have your best opportunity to connect with prospects and win them over. Here are some quick guidelines for increasing your success.
- Your website's search performance is vital. Ideally, you want your site to appear early and often in search results so that prospects who are looking for high-efficiency equipment will find your company before they find your competitors.
- Differentiate yourself. Many of the prospects that you want to attract are going to choose which companies to call based on what they see online. To be the company that gets their phone call or e-mail, create a website that is conspicuously better than the competition's sites.
- Think like a customer. Companies across the economic spectrum have raised the expectations for online convenience and e-commerce capability. Make it very easy to do business with you by offering more online conveniences than your competitors do.
- Demonstrate your technological savvy. Encourage consumers to equate high efficiency with advanced technology while you conspicuously embrace Internet technology through the online conveniences that you offer. Make it easy for customers to identify you as the smartest, most forward-thinking company in the market, so they will be more likely to trust your integrity and competence.
- Be easy to like. Demonstrate your good nature with customer-friendly options such as online account lookup and an online loyalty rewards program. Use social media astutely to express your knowledge and passion, attract new customers, and make it easy for existing customers to influence friends and neighbors on your behalf.
- Be informative and timely. Consumer expectations have risen, because leading companies across the e-commerce spectrum publish helpful, relevant information on their websites. Consumers expect the same from a company that installs advanced comfort equipment, and your chances for success improve when they come to see you as an expert on high efficiency.
Many Possibilities in 'Web360'
All these possibilities can seem daunting, but there is good news: You don't have to nail every opportunity to improve your company's equipment sales. At PriMedia, we use the concept of "Web360" to illustrate the vast array of possibilities encompassing the website and all other online marketing opportunities. We recommend to clients that they clarify their goals and opportunities and then consider the vast array of online possibilities.
There are many tools to choose from, and most companies would benefit from all of them, but you can only accomplish what your budget allows. Fortunately, it's pretty easy to consider all the possibilities and identify which tools would do the most to advance you towards your current goals.
It is thought provoking and informative to consider all the Web360 possibilities. You gain an understanding of all the things that you - or your competitors - could do to be more appealing. One size does not fit all, and some online tools align very well with specific company goals and create the kind of competitive advantage you're seeking.
Here are some of the possibilities and some thoughts about how they can support your equipment sales.
Website Development: When high-efficiency installations are a top priority, the website plays a vital role. The most cost-effective recruitment strategy is to drive traffic to your website, and the best companies put their website address on their trucks, in their advertisements, and on all communications. The strategy only works, though, when the website is a strong asset. First and foremost, it must inspire confidence and strengthen your appeal. Publish clear, helpful information about the benefits of high-efficiency, and emphasize your qualifications to install and service the latest and best equipment. Post online special offers that reduce the cost of equipment upgrades and update the offers frequently to match the season. Be thorough with your search engine optimization, which drives high performance in search results.
Customer Account Look-Up: This feature provides excellent support for customer retention and acquisition alike. It gives customers the ability to log in to a personal section on your website where they can view details of their account activity and make online payments. Account look-up is one of the best ways to improve your appeal, because it gives customers a sense of ownership in your company and makes your website more personal. Also, customer account pages present a premium marketing opportunity, because customers will visit with some frequency and linger for a while. It's a great spot to promote high-efficiency equipment with coupons and links to information on the benefits of high efficiency and the particular equipment lines that you install.
Online Marketing: The Web360 approach encompasses all the steps you take to extend your reach online and connect with more consumers. This includes social media marketing, which taps services like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to engage with customers and prospects and demonstrate how friendly your company is. For example, you can create a blog on your site where you provide relevant information and updates about your services. Every blog post becomes the basis for a Tweet on Twitter and an update on your Facebook page.
When you are looking to increase sales of high-efficiency equipment, you can post blog entries that pertain to the benefits of energy saving. These will reinforce your image as a smart, friendly company that is serious about helping customers save money. You can also use pay-per-click advertising to create targeted visibility with ads that the user sees when they use specific search terms such as "high efficiency boiler" or "save money on home heating." You can also create more search results for your company by posting listings on social media services such as Angie's List and Yelp. These will often appear high in the search results, which give you the look of "being everywhere."
Online Loyalty Rewards: Loyalty rewards programs are everywhere these days, and consumers have become "points junkies" who like to maximize their points and explore their redemption opportunities. You can take advantage of this trend with a robust online rewards program of your own that offers greater flexibility for you and your customers. Instead of awarding points just once a year for a service contract renewal with just one award opportunity - typically a discount on new equipment - you can create something far more enticing.
With a flexible program, you can identify the customer choices that you want to promote, such as trying a new service or buying equipment, and use targeted rewards to motivate customers. You can also excite customers with an appealing range of redemption items: flat-screen TVs, iPods, your company's branded merchandise, and third-party discounts with local companies. At the same time, you can also offer company-based rewards such as discounts on products and services.
An online rewards program gives customer a new reason to visit your site frequently, and you can post compelling offers and coupons for high-efficiency equipment in the loyalty rewards section of the website, which will get a lot of customer traffic. You can even send updates on Rewards Point awards to customers' Facebook pages to build positive buzz about your company. Customers and prospects alike will appreciate the added value you offer, and they'll have an additional reason to choose you instead of your competitors.
E-Billing: Electronic billing supports equipment sales both directly and indirectly. The electronic bills that you send can contain a marketing section where you can promote high-efficiency installations with coupons, special offers and links to information on the company website. By offering e-billing, you also appeal to customers who want to reduce paper waste and/or manage their finances online. Your company appears thoughtful and sophisticated, and customers have one more good reason to choose you over your competition.
Online Price Protection Enrollment: Customers who are looking to reduce energy consumption are tuned into the cost of home heating. An online price protection program on your site signifies that you proactively help your customers reduce costs and manage expenses. It is an encouraging sign to a consumer who is looking for a smart company to deliver the improved energy efficiency and cost savings that they are seeking.
High consumer expectations can be a curse or a blessing. They are a curse if you don't seize the online opportunities, because you run the risk of losing market share to rivals who are willing to go the extra mile. High expectations are a blessing for companies that move aggressively, because you can offer value and convenience that quickly differentiates you and extends your reach in the centralized marketplace that is the Internet. It's a great way to widen the gap between you and the competition and make it difficult for them to catch up.
When you impress customers and prospects with online convenience and advanced website features, you set yourself apart from the competition and truly take on the look of a different, more capable kind of company. Sell as many consumers as possible on the value of your company with purposeful online marketing, and you'll have more opportunities to sell high-efficiency 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.propane-advertising.com.