Use Your Web Site to Support Equipment Sales
By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
In today's challenging equipment market, a salesperson essentially has to make three separate sales to close one deal. They have to sell the concept of the propane upgrade; the value of their company as an installer; and a particular equipment package at a particular price.
Across the table from them sits an increasingly sophisticated customer with easy access to a universe of information and choice. The Internet has rewritten the rules of sales, and there is no limit to the amount of research that a customer can do online.
The ready availability of online resources is a major shift that requires contractors to adapt. Just having a Web site is not enough; these days, your site has to be optimized to support all aspects of your business, including equipment sales.
The same people you're targeting for equipment upgrades could be ordering their books on Amazon.com, listening to Internet radio while they work, and posting videos on YouTube. The Internet is as familiar to them as a shopping mall, and they have come to accept - and expect - sophisticated Internet marketing.
As a contractor or propane dealer, you don't need a lot of bells and whistles on your site, but you need a reassuring presence. That comes from having solid information displayed in a professionally designed and built environment.
The prospect of making a major home improvement is a research opportunity for the Internet-savvy consumer. They're likely to go online and gather reams of information about equipment efficiency, carbon footprints, selection of a contractor, and price negotiation. Of course, they'll also check out your company.
Are you positioning yourself to win with the Web-enabled customer? Companies that invest in their online presence to provide solid information and a professional veneer can compete effectively for that business. Those that underestimate the Web's importance are shooting themselves in the foot and hanging their salespeople out to dry.
A strong Web presence supports your sales efforts at every stage.
- New customers can find you. When a homeowner searches online, the companies they find first are the ones that use search engine optimization or pay-per-click advertising. If they find your site and like what they see, you're more likely to win their job.
- Existing customers can be reassured. Your customers might be thinking of replacing more than just their equipment. If your website reflects well on the company, it can serve to reinforce their loyalty.
- A strong Web presence supports your staff. Do your technicians and salespeople regularly refer people to your Web site? If they do so voluntarily, that's a sign that they have confidence in it. Your website should be a helpful resource for customers who are interested in upgrading to new equipment.
- A website can be a deciding factor in the buying decision. After your salesperson finishes his presentation and leaves the home, the homeowners have to make their choice. A great Web site can clinch the deal by providing information that supports your sales pitch. It also serves to reassure the customer that your company is the safest and best choice.
To support sales most effectively, a contractor's site should address the full spectrum of customer considerations: the upgrade proposition, the company and the equipment.
There are tremendous savings to be had in upgrades, and contractors should drive this message home every chance they get. Develop and hone your upgrade message, then deliver it across all channels: in person, on the phone, in newsletters and on the Web site. Consider adding a section to your Web site that discusses conservation and upgrades - and then promote it with a prominent link on the home page and a companion article in your newsletter.
The website also must make the case for the company's equipment installation prowess. Many propane sites play up the company's tradition and family ownership. These are important attributes that work in the company's favor, but they need to be supplemented with convincing information about the company's expertise with modern, high-efficiency equipment. If you are making substantial investments in technician training to bolster your expertise, use your Web site to let your customers know.
Customers doing Internet research may well come across the Comfort Institute's Tips and Secrets To Buying A New Heating and Cooling System. There, they will read, among other things, that, "A lot can and does go wrong when a contractor takes the equipment out into the real world and installs it in your home. Most homeowners are simply not getting the efficiency they are paying for."
Information like that raises consumer skepticism and bodes badly for companies with lackluster Web sites. You might have the smartest, best-trained installers in the county but lose installation jobs because your Web site conveys a lack of sophistication.
For your salespeople to close a deal, they must also sell a particular equipment package. Some contractors are helping themselves by carrying descriptions about manufacturers and their equipment on their sites. Manufacturers and contractors can collaborate more effectively, however, so that prospective customers can get all the information they want without leaving the contractors' Web site.
Comprehensive, up-to-date information is an essential on your site. Times change, and you can't afford to rely on the same message month after month. Propane dealers are working in a dynamic environment, and your website can't sit still any more than you can.
Some contractors shy away from putting time-sensitive information on their sites because they don't want to deal with changing it - or worse yet, letting the information sit and go stale, in full view of their customers.
But a Web site that is static cannot be fresh. If you want to use your site to tell customers how sensible it is to upgrade in 2008, you have to be in the habit of updating your site. If you expand into a new line of business or add a new line of high-efficiency equipment, you should use your site to promote it.
Contractors and retailers may view the Web site as an one-time IT project, but customers see it is a communications medium, where the premium is on information that is thorough and pertinent. They look to the Web for answers to important questions, such as, "What can I do to reduce my heating costs?"
You should maintain an ongoing relationship with a communications expert who can regularly compile up-to-date information and refresh your site. By making site updates a regular part of the process, you can foster good communication practices. You'll be able to do all these things:
- Change the focus of your home page regularly to promote different products and programs at different times.
- Add online videos that highlight new equipment or deliver important news about the company and its services.
- Maintain an equipment section that includes your latest products.
- Post regular updates from you and your staff at critical times of the year, like when you're putting out your prebuy programs.
- Post profiles of your staff, knowing you can change them whenever positions turn over or responsibilities change.
One great addition that contractors can make is homeowner case studies. If you installed a high-end, high-efficiency system in the last few years, that customer is probably feeling great about their investment. Everything you told them about insulating themselves against rising energy prices has come to pass. If you can get them to share their story as an online case study, it will make a compelling sales tool. Once it is on the site, any technician, CSR or salesperson can simply advise other customers to visit the site and read it. Don't fear the Web. Master it, and sell more 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.