The Internet Imperative

May 1, 2006
Your customers are already on the Internet. Can they find you there?

There's one simple, pressing reason for committing to make your company's website as effective a marketing tool as possible: your customers are already on the Internet. Nearly 70% of North America is online 1 , and the common excuse, ". . . my customers are older and don't use computers," doesn't wash, as 35% of people over the age of 65 are on-line. 2

To really see how fast everything has changed, you simply need to look at your own use of the web today compared to your dependence on it as little as three years ago. Your customers are no different.

Over the last 10 years, this accelerating explosion of electronic media and communication has been affecting your bottom line as well. With more consumer media options available, and consumers' increasing ability to filter the marketing that reaches them, your cost per lead has dramatically increased.

Meanwhile, the dawn of the 13 SEER era has placed a premium on differentiating yourself from the crowd. Your website is the perfect place to do that.

The Approaching Advertising Train Wreck
Our industry must become more effective in how we use the web to market because marketing is becoming increasingly expensive for the return on investment. In the last 10 years, the suggested marketing budget for a growing contracting business has doubled from 4 to 5% of sales to 8 to 10% 3 — just to sustain growth. That's an additional 4 to 6% that used to be part of your bottom line.

The problem is not that your marketing no longer works; it's that the marketplace has become so cluttered and fragmented that you now have to do twice as much traditional advertising to reach the same amount of people.

To illustrate this, consider direct mail. Direct mail now accounts for about half of all the mail sent 4 , with the average family receiving more than 30 pounds of it per year! 5 The additional clutter has made it much harder for your customer to focus on your message.

Consumers are quickly abandoning traditional media for new communication technologies. These technologies give them more control of the content, as well as control over who has access to them. For example, a growing number of people are dropping their newspaper subscriptions and getting their news online — where the ads you place in the local papers don't reach.

This is why it's imperative that you start looking now for more effective and affordable ways to communicate your services to potential customers. You're already missing a large portion of your marketing audience if you're not using your website effectively — and it's going to get worse.

I was recently made aware of a statistic that really shows how fast things are changing and why you need to be proactive in harnessing the potential of the web. The statistic came from the 2004 Home Comfort Study put out by Decision Analyst and Contracting Business. Out of 2,400 people who replaced their heating and/or cooling system during 2004, only 7% used the Yellow Pages to find their contractor. This was 70% fewer than the number who located their contractor through the Yellow Pages in 2002. In the 2004 study, 21% said they used the Internet to help choose the contractor they selected — three times as many as who used the Yellow Pages.

Developing an Effective HVAC Website
In my work with contractors from all over the country, the biggest issue I see with industry websites is that contractors mistakenly view them the same way they do the Yellow Pages — a necessary evil one must employ in order to get customers. Given that attitude, is it any wonder that our industry typically takes what is probably the most affordable and effective communication tool ever seen on this planet, and uses it for nothing more than an electronic Yellow Pages ad? At least the phone book gets updated once a year, where far too many contractors' websites don't!

The key to having an effective web-site is to first have a clear understanding of who you need to design your site for, and secondly, to have a strategy in place for how your company will use it — or more importantly, why your customer will.

You need to understand who your target audience is. Since the goal of every business decision is to make a return on your investment, the only way to guarantee a return on the time and money you invest in your website is to first target the only audience you can control. The audience you have the best chance to leverage into additional sales is your existing customer base. We have all heard that there's gold in our existing base. Yet very few contractors actually mine it.

The Importance of Focus
People today are so busy that it's almost impossible to get them to focus on your message. This same problem has caused response rates to plummet in all forms of marketing. It's why companies are putting millions of dollars into television ads that spend 26 seconds trying to be outrageous enough to get your attention so they can spend the last four seconds mentioning the product they're selling.

Customers are overwhelmed by everything demanding their attention, leading them to focus consciously and selectively in order to cope. The answer to this problem is not to compete with everyone trying to capture their focus, but to deliver your marketing when they are already focused by their need for your services. It's a matter of timing. Why try to create their focus when you can capture it by just harnessing it when it already exists?

Try to remember the last advertisement you saw or heard for a roofing company or a podiatrist. If you can't remember . . . why not? They all advertise. The reason you don't remember them is that they failed to make you focus on the services they provide. But, if water was dripping from your ceiling, or you had an ingrown toenail that was killing you, the story would be different. In these cases, the advertiser didn't have to create focus, you already had it.

So how does this apply to marketing to your customer base? Think for a minute about the money you spend trying to change people's focus to think about the services you perform and the solutions you sell. Then think how every day you have customers calling in who are the most focused they'll ever be about their mechanical system. These customers have a problem that they need you to fix - and yet the most you probably do is schedule them for service, failing to capitalize on their focus.

Capitalize on your Customer's Existing Focus
Every day the best opportunities you will ever have to market additional products and services to your customers are thrown away, just when their interest in who you are, and what you do is at its highest? The good news is that this situation can easily be solved, and if your website is designed correctly, it won't cost you a dime more to do it.

The strength and beauty of your website when properly used is that it's a bulletin board, one to which both you and your customer have instant access. With its 24/7 availability, if you keep it up to date, it's ready to be used at the exact time your customers are focused on their mechanical system. Since when they need your service is an easy way to identify when they're focused, all your customer needs is a reason to go to your site. This is why having a strategy behind your website is so important to your success.

The Difference a Strategy Can Make

Here’s a quick and simple example of one strategy to encourage your customer into your website when they're focused on HVAC. Simply raise your diagnostic charge by $20, and place a $20 coupon on your website. Then, when you get a call for service, let the customer know it's there. Is this any different than the supermarket member clubs that "bribe" you with discounts so they can build a marketing database associating who you are with what you buy? Of course not! So why not borrow this strategy and bribe your customers — with their own money — to go to your site, where they can dis-cover all the products you sell?

Using your website to market other services to your customer when they're focused on their mechanical system is not only a great way to increase your tech's add-on sales, but also the easiest and best way to make your website work for you. This simple strategy works, and all it costs you is the time well spent keeping your site up-to-date.

Building a Good HVAC Website

  • Design your site around what your customer wants , not your ego.
  • Have real content that provides answers to common questions. Your site needs to be a resource for your customers.
  • Make sure your site has an easy-to-follow menu system—a search function is a must.
  • Make sure your homepage is organized and clean. Use it to "sell" what you want them to be sure to see elsewhere in the site.
  • Include a picture of one of your trucks on your homepage to create familiarity.
  • Make your logo part of the template.
  • Don't over-do the animations if you want the customer to perceive you as professional.
  • Use pictures that represent your company, not just the products you sell.
  • Provide online forms to collect required information for scheduling and answering questions.
  • Deliver forms, manuals & brochures as 'PDF' documents your customers can download when they need them.
  • Utilize exclusive offers to reward traffic.
  • Separate yourself from your competition and date your material such as offer expiration dates and customer testimonials—there is no better way to give customers confidence in your site (providing you maintain it).

David Squires is president and founder of Contr@ctors Online-Access, Port Huron, MI, a technology company dedicated to providing cost-effective and advanced Internet abilities specifically for the HVAC & Plumbing industries. For more information, or to contact David for speaking engagements, call 810/985-6603, e-mail [email protected]


  1. Internet World Stats, Dec 2005
  2. ClickZ "Internet Users Show Their Age" January 4, 2006.
  3. International Service Leadership --Managing & Budgeting.
  4. USPS 2004 Statement of postal operations.
  5. The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality "Junk Mail Reduction" 2002.