By Richard Rutigliano, PriMedia, Inc.
By the time you see this article we will have already celebrated the Vernal equinox and the start of spring. Heating professionals know that these dates do not symbolize the end of the heating season, but at least we are getting close. While official “heating seasons” vary by region, one thing is sure. Absent a late season blizzard, service and delivery schedules will have lightened considerably and will continue that way.
Many of our readers will take a much needed and well deserved vacation in June or July. But their businesses must continue to work to nurture the customer relationships built over the winter months. Doing so keeps communication lines open, protects market share for next season, and creates opportunities for additional sales. The question, then, is how. In this article we will explore a few ways we’ve helped our clients continue to stay top of mind past the winter and all throughout the calendar year.
It’s Always “Heating Season”
In your customers’ minds, heating season ends with the advent of spring … or around Memorial Day … or, in the northernmost regions, sometime mid-June. But does it really? Every home and small business will need a spring or pre-season fill-up to minimize condensation and other complications which can arise from low tank levels. And then there’s the myriad of service issues to attend to, both in your customers’ homes and businesses and with your own fleet and facilities.
If a strong percentage of your customers are COD/Will Call, it is imperative that they understand the importance of keeping their tanks full. The best way to do this is to tell them, early and often. The easiest way to do this is to send email and text blast messages out to these customers in May and August. The most successful way is to personalize those communiqués by tying them to the customer’s account, and sending individualized reminders out when you know their tank is between 25 percent and 50 percent full.
For residential customers on automatic delivery, and commercial, agribusiness and multi-family accounts whose “heating seasons” never really end, these fueling needs are accounted for in your systems. But communication is still key to retaining these customers’ good will. How often have you heard a customer gripe about “unnecessary” spring fill-ups? Too often, we would guess. It is your job to educate these customers about the real necessity of the fill-up. An automated email or text, sent the day after delivery, can show the property’s tank readings and explain how the fill-up extends the equipment’s lifespan. Pulling real-time data from your CRM goes a long way to quieting those concerns, and automating the process goes a long way to easing your workload.
Mix up your media and messaging formats to get the word out more broadly, by creating a custom web page, inserts and flyers to attach to your delivery tickets, and blogs, social media and digital marketing campaigns that tease the information and drive the customer back to the web. When customers can see the value you provide, they appreciate the services you offer.
Upgrades and #everythingelse
The information in your account management software is your most valuable sales tool. One of the first lessons in business is that it is easier and less expensive to sell to an existing customer than to someone new. A smart, personalized communications push during the quieter seasons can drive profits beyond expectations.
Integrating your enterprise software with your email and text platforms makes it easy to increase sales with account-specific messages promoting the savings in upgrading. “Upgrade” usually relates to high-efficiency heating systems and tanks, but its meaning can be expanded to encompass smart thermostats, burner controls, maintenance agreements or budget plans. You can also use these tools to sell your other services, such as air purification and IAQ systems, air conditioning, plumbing, electrical or construction. These customers are the low hanging fruit to expand your services and keep your company in their home year-round. Whatever you promote to a specific account holder, that customer needs to believe your service provides a solution to a problem.
Your messaging must demonstrate your awareness of their home and its systems, and how the item you’re offering is the remedy to make his/her life better. Providing a solution to a problem the customer didn’t know existed is one of the oldest axioms in marketing. No one cared about “ring around the collar” until laundry detergents embarrassed homemakers over dingy collars. No one concerned themselves about the softness of toilet tissue until marketers squealed over “squeezable softness.”
In that same vein, you need to make your customers care about:
- High efficiency … so they have more money to spend on their families
- Smart controls … so their homes are more comfortable
- Renewable Bioheat® fuel … because, grandchildren
- Plumbing services … so they aren’t embarrassed by clogged drains and messy back-ups.
Each of the examples above connects your product to a real-life, relatable situation. Your customer may not be considering a new boiler at this moment. But when your message lands in front of them, with an infographic demonstrating exactly how replacing their 15-year-old system can help them afford a family trip (or save for college or pay for date night or add to their collection of comic books), then a new boiler suddenly becomes an important and necessary purchase.
Takin’ It to the Streets
We’ve discussed a lot of ways your digital strategy can keep you in touch and top of mind once heating season has ended. Personalized or bulk email and text messages, social media, blogs and digital advertising all connect you to your customers. But don’t forget the tried-and-true communications methods that built your business in the first place. Yes, we’re talking about newsletters and direct mail.
The newsletter gives you pages of marketing real estate! In one mailing you can feature new customer offers, upgrade discounts, limited time coupons, recommended equipment, a “human-interest” story about an employee or customer, and more. Use your newsletter to open the dialog with customers – introduce yourself and your story, promote the values for which you stand, and tell your tales of unheralded problems and brilliant solutions.
Sending “off season” postcards, coupons and newsletters literally puts your message in the customers’ hands. Somewhere in your customers’ homes are refrigerator doors covered with coupons and magnets; calendars overflowing with flyers and menus, or growing piles of mail that need to be sorted. Contrary to public opinion, this is a good place for your company. Your logo will be in front of the customer regularly, and when they go searching for “that company that offered that discount,” they will see your materials and make the call. The rest is up to you.
Branding, personalized marketing and communications designed specifically for the retail fuel industry are what PriMedia does every single day. For a free demo or consultation, call 800-796-3342 or visit goprimedia.com.