• Why Your Dealers Had Better Market Smarter Starting Now

    March 1, 2007
    Adumb, overpriced Yellow Pages ad isn't doing it. A dealer who says they take credit cards is not and it sure isn't Truck signage that looks like an afterthought

    Adumb, overpriced Yellow Pages ad isn't doing it. A dealer who says they take credit cards is not “financing,” and it sure isn't “special.” Truck signage that looks like an afterthought isn't helping them. And the business card with the “former” holder's name scratched out or a “new” e-mail address handwritten in is for losers. Same with that website that is turning more visitors off than on…

    It's a changed world.

    While websites and electronic marketing (more in a moment) have been the focus of this change, the savviest HVACR dealers are outmaneuvering their competition with a whole host of new tools. Plus some sharp people are using old tools in new ways.

    The result? Dealers using “smart” high-performance marketing methods are walking — make that running — away from the slack-jawed competition. We see gaps widening greatly, especially among the dealers who are “waiting” for the weather … or the economy … or for the busy times … or for that “super” employee to yank them from the jaws of defeat. Two cautionary notes: 1. They're in for a wait. 2. Possibly forever.

    Today's customer doesn't “wait” very well, so the spoils go to the quick. And I'm not talking about how quickly you answer the phone or show up — even though those help greatly. I'm talking about getting the call. I'm talking about being “in their face,” on their mind or so ingrained in the customer's memory bank that they only call one person.

    And if they do call three, just make sure your dealer is one of them. It's a numbers game. Numbers of impressions, frequency of impression and commitment to regularly remind the customer who they are. The dealers who “sit around” thinking about this are losing customers as you read this sentence.

    Since customers don't have time to (or want to) call every dealer in town for a quote, use this to your advantage with smart marketing.

    HARDI member Luther Clemons of Associated Equipment with 9 locations doing more than $35 million volume annually said, “If distributors think that the same-ol' same-ol' is going to work with a modern consumer, they may as well go back to selling buggy whips and iceboxes. Ad messages inundate today's customers, so our dealer must stand out. We don't take chances with this.”

    That's why Luther has an annual meeting that focuses on marketing issues for dealers. Interestingly, this method puts him and his company at the top in dealers' and prospective dealers' minds. “Yes, I realize that our training classes for them is also ‘marketing’ for us. To me, that's the beauty of great training.”

    “Sometimes we have marketing trainers from different industries give us an ‘overall’ marketing view, but twice we've hired a marketing expert (ED: Adams Hudson was their chosen trainer.) who gave them specifics they could use in their businesses right away. We like to mix it up,” Luther said with a laugh.

    Smart Marketing Methods That Work

    • Trickle marketing — This method focuses on specific “clusters” of prospects, using the frequency/recency principle of human recall. The point is to not let a valuable group ever forget you. You do this by selecting a cluster of ZIPs, neighborhoods, income brackets or age brackets; sending that group a postcard a month for four to six months; and measuring the results. You then continue on favorable results or shift the clusters using the same postcards.

    • Sequential marketing — Sequential marketing is, you guessed it, a sequence of letters or e-mails sent in an effort to gain new customers while keeping older ones. A predetermined timetable allows you to create a sense of urgency and a call to action for prospects and customers. This can be systemized, automated and bring in thousands of dollars for your dealers.

    • Smarter websites — With more customers and reference sources using the Web to find local businesses, contracting professionals must create a Web presence so they are not left out of the search results. The first action is to make sure your dealers have a website, a registered URL (Web address) and an up-to-date hosting service for your site. If they don't have a site, if their Web address or hosting contract has lapsed or they are relying on a simple line listing on a Web directory, they're making it harder for customers to find them — even those who WANT to call them. Not having a website puts dealers at a distinct disadvantage when they are trying to grow their business — or even keep their current customer base intact and active.

      Customers look at an average of four sites for 15 to 30 seconds each before choosing one to call. Brian Kraff — Web marketing expert and president of Market Hardware (www.markethardware.com) — cites research that shows customers do judge a book by its cover. Seventy-eight percent said they were more likely to call a business whose site looked “professional.” Sixty-five percent said if they had a choice, they would not call a business whose site contained errors or looked out-of-date.

      Successful dealers are addressing this in one of two ways:

      1. Allocating sufficient time to research Web design principles so when they do it themselves, the results look good enough to convince customers to call; OR

      2. Working with an experienced Web firm with a solid track record of professional designs and a clear understanding of both what content a customer expects to see on the site and how to market your industry's services.

    • Thank-You's with a Twist — A thank-you note after the sale is not just being polite; it's a part of the customer retention program. The salesperson should be sending (if not signing) the “thank- you.” Why would your customer want to hear a generic “thank-you” from a receptionist or unknown marketing person? The thank-you comes from your dealer and/or the company's tech that visited.

      More tangible “thank-you's” can also help dealers stand out from their clichéd competition. That means coupons for future repairs, free movie tickets with referrals or even a gift certificate for a free dinner. Small investments on the part of the dealer equal much larger returns in loyalty — and sales.

    • Retention and referral methods — The fact is, loyal customers spend 33 percent more than nonloyal customers. And referrals among loyal customers are 107 percent greater than among nonloyal customers. If the business that wins a customer stays in touch, treats him fairly, remains valuable and continues to build the relationship, the customer can't help but use and refer the business.

    As a part of your dealers' marketing, a well-designed “customer-retention program” will make a significant difference. A customer-retention campaign investment will range from a minimum of 8 percent to a maximum of 24 percent of the total marketing budget. The higher figures would include maintenance agreement promotions, which you should design to secure a loyal customer base for years to come.

    The more modest figures include the fundamentals of retention, including thank-you notes, holiday cards, “customer-only” direct mail offers and customer newsletters. The last item is the most important method of friendly, helpful, “nonsales” communication.

    Effective newsletters are not solely about “heating and air” and certainly aren't only about the company. Instead, they provide genuinely useful information to help customers run their households safely and cost-efficiently. This is something they want to read more about — unlike the content of a hard-hitting sales piece that is begging them to open their checkbooks.

    But just because the primary focus isn't for the direct sale doesn't mean sales won't follow. The benefit for your dealers is that this helpful newsletter brings their company name and logo right into your customers' homes. It reminds them that they are their heating and air-conditioning company, and it keeps them informed about new products and services that will be of benefit to them.

    The fact is, a dealer's company's current customers are the absolute No. 1 source of your future sales. When customers are lost through neglect, all of their future business and all of their referrals are lost to the competition. When you keep customers by maintaining regular contact, dealers keep that pool of sales for themselves. A strong customer-retention program is the tried-and-true method for making that happen.

    You are only as strong as your dealers, and your dealers are only as strong as their marketing. The smarter they market, the more you both stand to gain.

    Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Readers can get a free report, ‘How to Host a Successful Dealer Training Event… for Free (or Darn Near It!)’ by faxing your letterhead to 334/262-1115 with the request. Call 800/489-9099 for more marketing info or visit www.hudsonink.com.