Parcells' Advice Holds True in Propane
By Rich Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
Former New England Patriots star linebacker Tedy Bruschi recently shared a story about his former coach Bill Parcells that made me think about propane websites.
Bruschi said that Parcells always told his players, "Don't be that guy." As Bruschi explained on ESPN.com, "What he meant was don't be the guy that made the key mistake, the crucial error, in the biggest game of the year, one that ended the season. The first time I heard that, I was scared out of my mind. I never wanted to be that guy. I used it as motivation to know my job and my responsibility inside and out."
The connection to our industry is this: There are still many propane dealers in our midst who think that the quality of a company's Web site is not all that important. As long as the company is "on the Internet," they have fulfilled the obligation - covered that gap in the defense, if you will.
In 2010, the website is your marketing hub. The site alone does not cover all your outreach needs, but it puts you just a few mouse clicks away from your best prospects at their moments of peak motivation. To underestimate that unique opportunity and think that just being there is good enough is to let the employees and co-owners down - to be "that guy" (or that gal.)
A Multidimensional Player
Adverse market conditions make growth in propane a challenge, but there are still customers out there making choices every day. If you have competitors who play games on price, do shoddy service work, or belittle customers, there is low-hanging fruit in your market - and the Internet is your best recruitment tool.
A Web site offers return on investment unlike any medium before it because of the multiple roles it plays.
- It connects you to motivated prospects.
- It creates an excellent first impression, defining the company and - and true value in propane - on your terms.
- Customers can use your site 24 hours a day to access account information, schedule deliveries and service, and pay their bills online.
- Your site can promote new products and services to both existing customers and prospects. Every diversification campaign needs maximum Internet support.
- With photos and employee profiles, the site puts a pleasing face on your company. Add customer testimonials, and you have objective recommendations that carry a lot of weight.
- You look smart and progressive when your site features contemporary enhancements such as a walk-in introduction, Google map integration, or an interactive house that highlights energy-saving opportunities.
- You tap into consumers' environmental ambitions when your site promotes high-efficiency equipment
The site should say enough to pique a prospect's interest without putting all your best ideas out there for your competitors to steal. The goal is to create a positive impression and generate the high-percentage prospect calls you need most.
In addition to its versatility, a website has unique durability. You will spend a good chunk of change creating it, but it will deliver value for years to come, connecting you with customers and prospects 24 hours a day, without geographical limitations. You will pay to host it and update it, but those costs are minimal for a company that exploits the value of regular site updates. A strong Web site doesn't replace other marketing efforts, but it strengthens every move you make and consistently improves your return.
Quality Is Paramount
The importance of quality cannot be overstated. Many of the most desirable customers are people who want the best for their homes and families, and you may only get one shot with them.
You and a prospect might first connect when he or she goes on Google searching for a new dealer that they can trust. The search might return, say, eight company Web sites. In just a few minutes, he or she will narrow the choice to two companies. What is it that will put those two companies on the short list? If the prospect is looking for value first, the major influence will be the quality of the Web site presentations.
It's daunting to think about all the things that could keep a company off that short list: an outdated design that makes you look old-fashioned, clunky writing that fails to enunciate the value you deliver, typos and misspellings, or just being not quite as impressive as the competition.
The most common excuse you hear for not making a strong investment in the Web is that it's too expensive. Unfortunately, this is truth for some companies, because times really are hard. But more often than not, the money is there, but there is always something else that seems more pressing. That's an assumption that deserves reconsideration. Try proactively identifying the other things you might spend that money on, and list the risks and benefits of each choice, including the Internet investment.
Consider how that superior site might help you.
Customer acquisition: When you pursue new business with advertising, direct mail, or pay-per-click, a strong site increases the value of every outreach dollar.
Customer retention: Drive customers to the site for online specials and convenient service, and make a great impression that bolsters their loyalty. The site can provide another powerful demonstration that they have picked a winner. Imagine a conversation in which a customer of yours boasts to a friend about your Web site.
Equipment sales/cross selling: Create compelling product promotions and coupons on your site, then drive customers there so they can get enthused about your featured equipment and the advantages of upgrading.
Launches: When you introduce a new product or service, create a promotional area on the site, then use newsletters, advertisements, letters and postcards to drive traffic there.
Some small dealers think websites are just for the "big guys," but a good one can help any company. A strong site provides a compelling presence in the one venue where people are most likely to shop. For a small company that does only propane and service, a simple message well presented will set you apart and improve your odds.
If you run a great company that delivers on its promises every day, it pays to advocate for yourself aggressively, and the Web site is the linchpin of any great campaign. Be the guy (or gal) who believes - and makes the key play this season.
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.