By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia Inc.
The heating season is upon us, but there us still time to tackle some last-minute marketing projects that can generate additional revenue and improve your profitability in the cold months ahead.
Whether you have invested sensibly in marketing this year or let things slide a little, it’s not too late to raise your visibility, influence your customers and bring in some new business for this heating season.
Every company has its own unique set of challenges and opportunities, and the suggestions below do not constitute a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, think of this as a helpful checklist to stir your thinking and help you build your business this winter.
1. Tune up the company website. When customers go looking for a new fuel service or home comfort provider, they are probably searching the Internet and choosing only from those companies that turn up near the top of their search results. Evaluate your website and run some searches to see how your it is performing.
First, make sure that your home page is well arranged for winter, so that your heating services have top billing. If your site needs work, try to update and upgrade at least the home page. Be sure that the home page description puts your company in a favorable light and does not understate your capabilities. It’s hard enough to secure new business when you do everything right; an unprofessional website virtually guarantees that your business will not reach its potential. Don’t let another year go by without putting your best foot forward online.
If your site does not appear on the first page of results when you perform searches for local heating oil and heating services, you need to improve your search engine optimization (SEO), which is the coding behind your site that communicates with Google and other search engines. Without good SEO, your website can never achieve the visibility you need.
2. Send a newsletter. Communicating effectively with customers is a great way to reinforce the value you provide and keep them onboard. It also shows that you care and don’t just take their business for granted.
Newsletters are particularly useful for a couple of situations. First, if you are concerned about losing customers to natural gas, it is essential to tell your side of the story, and a newsletter is the perfect vehicle. Natural gas might have a price advantage now, but there are some excellent reasons not to switch fuels that you can share with customers to offset the utilities’ propaganda.
In addition to the known advantages on safety and service, Oilheat is converting to clean-burning ultra-low sulfur fuel, while natural gas is taking on ugly environmental baggage relating to methane. Natural gas is also attracting large demand for power generation, transportation and exports, and there is every reason to think the price advantage will be short-lived. A newsletter is a great place to tell those sides of the story.
Another great use for newsletters is for a company that has added new services. A newsletter alerts customers and explains the new services and their value. Your own customers are your best prospects for new services, so it makes sense to invest in informing them.
3. Expand your web presence. There are many opportunities for free or low-cost publicity on the Internet, and they reward you. Start by registering with Angie’s List and the Better Business Bureau. Your affiliations there build trust, and Angie’s List can also drive new business your way. Listings in online directories like Google Places and Yelp also create new ways for customers to discover you and read reviews.
To expand your web presence, get listed wherever you can and link to your company website from the directories. Not only will you give prospects more ways to find you online, you’ll also boost the search performance of your site, because the search engines like those directory links.
4. Add a mobile website. Recent research by Google indicates that 94 percent of US-based smartphone users look for local information on their phone and 90 percent take action a result, such as making a purchase or contacting the business. A mobile website is a relatively small investment that helps you attract new business and retain customers. When you deliver a great customer experience with a mobile website that is optimized for the small screen, you give customers another reason to choose you and stay with you.
5. Use pay per click advertising to attract new business. Pay Per Click (PPC) advertising boosts customer acquisition by putting your ad in front of customers when they are searching for a new provider. When you mount an aggressive pursuit for new business using a special offer, it makes sense to bid high for the most relevant search terms to ensure prominent placement at or near the top of the search page. If the offer is enticing and the ad is well written, your PPC ad could be your best source of new leads.
PPC can also drive business for specific products and services, such as emergency backup generators. Whenever there is a big storm in the forecast, raise the bid amount on your generators ad to get it to the top of the stack.
6. Advertise in local media. Advertising in local print and broadcast venues can be costly, but it makes sense in certain situations. If you are pursuing new business with special offers, the local newspaper is a great place to spread the word. Stretch your advertising dollar by placing your ads strategically to reach the communities that interest you most.
Broadcast advertising is also useful for boosting brand recognition, but you’ll want to be selective to keep the costs under control. Choose broadcast outlets that align well with your markets to avoid wasting your ad dollars. Broadcast makes good sense if you expect customers to be on the move in your area this year due to problems with competitors, because your name is fresh in their minds.
7. Speak up about natural gas. Conversions to gas heat are the biggest threat to many heating oil dealers. Rather than stand by and let the utilities raid your base, reach out to your customers and open their eyes about natural gas.
Add a section to your website where you compare the benefits and drawbacks of natural gas and heating oil. Send customers a letter regarding fuel choice and direct them to your website and the American Energy Coalition (AEC) website. Include current inserts on natural gas in the bills you send.
Experience tells us that pricing for natural gas and heating oil will probably re-converge within a few years as demand surges to natural gas from all directions. When that day comes, natural gas will not offer a single advantage over Oilheat. By advocating forcefully for heating oil today, you are doing your customers a favor and helping them avoid a costly mistake and stay with the better heating choice. Don’t be shy!
8. Track Your Sales Leads. Every home comfort company needs new accounts and additional business from current customers to thrive. As new leads come in, it is vital to convert them to sales without frittering away any opportunities.
The best tool for monitoring and nurturing leads is a lead-tracking system like PriMedia’s Lead Pro. All leads are recorded and tracked in an online system, where they can be managed with contact information, notes and reminders. Rather than relying on salespeople to manage their own leads, you gain centralized control, so you can review activities and direct sales more effectively.
9. Speak Out. A good public relations campaign can generate positive publicity for your business at an affordable price. Start by choosing your topics and formulating your talking points. Comparing natural gas and heating oil is a topic that is likely to spark the interest of reporters and editors in your area.
Contact each of the media outlets that cover your area, including the larger newspapers and TV and radio stations, and initiate a conversation. You can offer to write an opinion piece for an op-ed page and let them know you are willing to field questions for any stories they’re writing about energy and home comfort. (If you’re not comfortable with your own writing, feel free to call on PriMedia for ghostwriting services.)
Once you are known as a go-to energy executive for the media, you might get your company in the news repeatedly. Just remember to choose your words with care every time you speak with a reporter, and don’t expect every article to turn out the way you want it to. Getting your name out there is good for the company, even if the article is not favorable to the industry as a whole.
10. Amplify your positive reviews. Positive customer reviews are extremely beneficial because they create confidence in your business and encourage new customers to sign on. Gather all the positive comments you can about your company and place them prominently on your site. At the same time, gather more comments by using a feedback form and training your CSRs to get customer quotes on the record. Consumers lean heavily on online review when choosing their local companies. Encourage customers who admire your company to post their opinions on Yelp and Google Local.
The winter months are primetime for making money and adding new customers. Update your marketing now to maximize your sales opportunities in the months ahead. As always, the PriMedia team is happy to help. Please give us a call at 1-800-796-3342.