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Customer newsletters – Just how critical are they?

Here is the truth: After your service department, newsletters can become your the No. 1 source of sales leads. They will outstrip direct mail campaigns. They will annihilate yellow page advertising. They will beat radio advertising too. The ROI on newsletters can be absolutely outstanding. Not to mention their value as a brand building vehicle and an excellent mechanism for retaining your existing customers. But it’s also true that a lot of newsletters can’t, and never will, deliver business for contractors. That’s because too many newsletters in the HVAC world are seriously flawed or don’t allow you to generate business because of how they’re written, how they’re designed, or because they lack the necessary strategy.

Whether you develop your newsletter in-house or work with an outside marketing professional, your newsletter can be a huge revenue-generator for you. Follow these guidelines, or make sure your outside firm is following them, and you’ll drive a lot more leads with your next customer newsletter:

1. Personalize your company.

It’s a fact – the more your customers know, like, and trust you, the more likely they’ll buy from you. A message from the company president, an “Ask the Expert” column that focuses on technical questions, or a “Spotlight” article on an employee who interacts with your customers can showcase your expertise and make customers feel more comfortable with your company.

Keep in mind that personalizing your company doesn’t just mean talking about your company and how great it is. You must strike a balance between talking about your company and talking about the benefits of your products and services to your customers. If you don’t answer “what’s in it for me?” you’ll reduce readership and greatly decrease your chance of achieving any of your newsletter’s goals.

2. Sell through Stories.

Stories bring your special value to life. Saying “we are responsive and dependable” is okay, but you can make things more compelling. If you tell a story about when Mrs. Jones had no heat on Christmas morning but had a service agreement, which meant 24-hour priority service, now you’re making a real impression. You can parlay those kinds of stories into promotions for your products and services, like service agreements or new equipment.

When you “sell” this way, you make your newsletters more entertaining in a relevant way, and you help your customers understand why they should buy their next piece of equipment from you. Plus, you increase your value in their eyes when you put your skills on display for them.

3. Keep it clean and concise.

Your newsletter should be a professionally designed piece that has a high-quality look and feel to it. Avoid using too many type styles, because it’s distracting to the eye. Use graphics and images to break up the page, because having pages that are all text is absolutely deadly and won’t get read. Use subheads in articles to separate key topics. Most importantly, keep things interesting. If the articles are too long, too boring, or not relevant, your newsletter will only be good to line the bottom of your bird cage.

4. Write strong headlines.

As in newspapers, headlines either attract or lose readership. The best headlines tell readers about the interesting and valuable information they’ll receive by continuing on. By the way, if you are having a difficult time coming up with strong headlines for your articles, chances are your articles aren’t delivering anything useful and should be scrapped. Also, remember that customers make quick decisions about what articles they’ll read, so keep your headlines short and to the point.

5. Stay focused on home energy/home comfort topics.

Do not waste space on irrelevant topics like recipes, crossword puzzles and gardening tips. Your customers read your newsletter because something related to HVAC is of interest to them. You are paying good money to deliver your newsletter and you can’t afford to waste space. And don’t think these “nice add-ons” will make your customers think good things about you. When their air conditioner breaks down in August, do you think they’ll care that you sent them a recipe? Not likely. They will care that you are an expert at fixing air conditioners. So stick to relevant topics.

6. Integrate your newsletter online.

You have a big opportunity to cross promote your services via print and online, so do it. Use your newsletter to drive traffic to your web site. Use your web site to increase distribution of your newsletter. By integrating your newsletter content online, you’ll also increase the searchability of your website. This will lead to increased search engine rankings and an increase in consumer traffic.

Also remember that a whole chunk of your customer base will be more interested in reading an online newsletter than a printed one. Consider turning your newsletter into an e-blast to meet their needs as well.

7. Track response and readership.

Presumably, you aren’t distributing a newsletter just because it makes you feel good. It needs to carry its own weight, by way of lead-generation and relationship-building. While it can sometimes be difficult to measure an intangible like “building strong relationships,” measuring leads and sales generated is a must to gauge results. Establish a tracking program with your team so you know exactly what your newsletter is delivering for you. This way, you’ll be able to measure ROI and make future decisions about what’s working well and what’s not for your newsletter – and by extension, your entire marketing plan.

Next issue, we’ll discuss the importance in investing in your people. Specifically, we’re going to focus on proven strategies and approaches to increasing the sales performance of your service techs.

Blaine Fox, Vice President of Warm Thoughts Communications, is a recognized expert on the residential mechanical services industry. He is currently working with some of the nation’s leading HVAC contractors to improve their marketing, fine-tune their operations and grow bottom-line profits. Previously, Blaine was general manager of ServiceMark, a $32 million HVAC contractor with more than 25,000 service agreement customers. Blaine oversaw 160 field employees, 30 install crews, 12 sales people and a call center that handled 140,000 calls per year. Blaine is a sought-after speaker, and will be presenting at Comfortech 2009. He is also a frequent contributor to HVAC industry trade publications. He can be reached at [email protected]

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