Monthly Archive for July, 2011

The Social Media Leap of Faith

Social media is sweeping the business community. Ford Motors, for example, is spending 25% of its marketing budget on digital/social media. Yet most contractors are slow to adopt it. Stunningly, there’s apparently no shortage of industry skeptics willing to speak out and shout down digital technologies, proclaiming everything this side of email to be a fad.

Social media is no fad. Facebook added 100 million users in nine months. If it were a country, Facebook would be the world’s 4th largest. YouTube hosts over 100 million videos, gets one billion views per day, and is the world’s second largest search engine. Per Hitwise, an online competitive intelligence service, social media tops pornography as the Internet’s top activity.

Advertisers have noticed. The New York Times reported that newspaper advertising was down 18.7% in 2009. Consumer magazine advertising dropped 14.8%, radio 11.7%, and television 10.1%. By contrast, mobile advertising is up 18.1% and Internet advertising jumped 9.2%. Budgets are shifting to chase results.

Yet, many industry pros willing to acknowledge that social media is more than a passing fad still claim it just won’t work for HVAC.


For example, Yorktown, VA contractor, Chuck Worley used Facebook to reconnect with old friends and leverage his high school alumni base. This led directly to a $13,000 residential job and $30,000 of commercial work.

Some claim they just don’t “get it.” Of course they don’t. They haven’t spent time with it. Even those who do spend the time find it difficult to get their arms around social media. Moreover, it’s constantly changing and evolving.

Others say it takes too much time. Social media does take time. So does driving to the customer, but that doesn’t mean it’s a waste.

I believe contractors fail to see the value in social media for the same reason few see the value in local networking. Based on informal surveys during seminars, I estimate less than 2% of the contracting community belongs to a service club, like Rotary, Lion’s, Optimist, Kiwanis, etc.

My Rotary Club includes dozens of well-connected business and community leaders who not only need air conditioning service, but are in a position to recommend contractors to others. Unfortunately, we lack an air conditioning contractor in the club to recommend.

It’s not like the area lacks contractors. Dallas is crawling with air conditioning companies and most need to eat lunch. So why not eat with a group of local influencers once a week and join in the occasional community service project (further enhancing the contractor’s image in the community)? Frankly, I think contractors should join as many clubs as their schedules allow, maximizing networking opportunities.

Networking is not horribly expensive, though it does require an investment in time. It builds over time, and expands your direct and indirect connections within your community. It pays off many times over, but is hard to measure, and the timing is unpredictable.

Social media, done right, is similar to local networking. It’s building and leveraging relationships to drive referrals. It’s engaging customers and prospects in conversations.

In the past, marketing was based on shouting a controlled message at the masses. It wasn’t a conversation.

It was a lecture. Today, consumers are increasingly using DVRs to fast forward past commercials, satellite radio to skip ads altogether, and the Internet in lieu of the newspaper. The old ways are losing effectiveness.

Unlike mass marketing, social media is two-way. It’s engagement. It’s a conversation. It requires a changed approach. You can’t control it. You can only influence it. You can’t dictate. You must entice. You’ll get shunned if you simply shout and shill through social media, which explains much contractor consternation.

The good news is social media can create a resilient base of business resembling a strong service agreement program. Over time, it’s more effective than traditional advertising because it carries the strength of word-of-mouth.
According to the “Nielsen Global Online Consumer Survey,” 90% of consumers trust peer recommendations and 70% trust opinions posted online about products and services from unknown consumers.

Like networking, social media works, but the timing of the payoff is unpredictable, stopping many contractors from making the investment. It requires a leap of faith. Are you ready to take the social media leap of faith?
Matt Michel

Are We Headed for a Double Dip?

The news has been pretty grim lately. Unemployment’s back up. Housing is heading down. The Federal Reserve is out of arrows. The debt rating services appear poised to downgrade the government’s credit rating. Meanwhile, the government response is to keep spending like a lotto winner, boost taxes by a trillion dollars or so, and promise to unicorn budget cuts a decade from now. The only thing worse would be mild weather.

Fortunately, this summer’s proven to be a scorcher for most of the country. About the only thing that can interrupt contractor bliss from wallowing in triple digit temperatures is the prospect of a double dip recession. Lately, it’s all the talking heads can screech about. Listen to them on the radio. Watch them on the cable news shows. Screech, screech, screech.

So are we headed for a double dip? I don’t know. You don’t know. No one really knows. And it doesn’t matter.

You can’t control the economy. You can only control your own company. Your personal economy can expand even as the nation’s economy contracts.

At the depth of this recession, the economy contracted 6.8% for one quarter. Across all of 2009, the contraction was 2.6%. Instead of $100 of sales, the economy generated $97.40. Heck, the typical contractor drops his price more than 2.6% whenever a homeowner hiccups.

That was then. If we double dip, it’s not going to be as deep. More than likely, growth will simply be a little more lethargic. You can hustle through it.

Some of your competitors, however, will panic. They will freeze. They will try to save their way to prosperity. This creates opportunity for you. As they contract and disappear, you can pick up their market share. There’s more opportunity among nine contractors fighting for $97.40 than ten chasing $100. Divide $97.40 by nine and $100 by ten to see what I mean.

This has been a good summer for most contractors. You’ll end the season with money in the bank. Use it to invest in your company and your market. Here are a few investments you should consider:

1. Buy the competition.

Mail letters to your competitors and offer to buy their companies. Tell your territory manager you’re interested in acquisitions. He would rather you picked up one of his dealers than a contractor selling a competitive line.

The acquisition opportunity is real. Contractors trying to save their way into prosperity have instead saved their way into bankruptcy and desperation. I’m hearing about contractors picking up some tremendous deals on companies, essentially paying pennies on the dollar to grab their mail list and phone numbers.

2. Build your brand.

Now is the time to invest in your brand. Focus on your company. Direct all of your marketing around your business, why you’re unique, what you can do that no one else can.

3. Expand your offering.

The classic way to grow in a down economy is by expanding with new products, moving into new markets, or both. Are you selling generators? Have you added a solar offering? Is this the time to move into plumbing or electrical?

4. Focus on customer retention.

Your best results will come from existing customers. If you don’t have a newsletter, add one. Save money by gradually converting your customers from print to email. Market tune-ups and service agreements to your customers. Send anyone who opted for a repair over the summer a “second chance” letter, where you give them a second chance to upgrade by applying the price of their repair to a new system.

5. Get social.

In 1849, people rushed to the Northern California foothills in search of gold. Today, gold can be found in social media. If you lack the time and/or experience, hire a college student or recent graduate. They know social media and need the work.

6. Invest in yourself.

If you haven’t been to HVAC Comfortech, this is the year to go. Talk with other contractors who refused to participate in the downturn. Find out what they did to continue to grow. Sit in on presentations by the industry’s elite contractors, sales professionals, consultants, and marketers.

7. Join a buying group.

If you do not belong to a buying group today, you’re like the guy paying full fare for an airline ticket who is sitting next to the bargain fare flyer. You’re flying in the same section of the same plane, you’re just paying a lot more. How’s it feel?

While we can’t avoid the news, maybe we can change the news we follow. Instead of listening to talk radio during the day, tune into sports talk. Instead of cable news, watch cable sports.

Above all, don’t let the talking heads get to you. You can create your own expansion.

Matt Michel

Goal Setting Essential for Success

There’s a story about a World War II German U-boat that contacted headquarters to inform them that they were lost. When asked by headquarters as to where they wanted to go, the U-boat responded, “We don’t know.” Headquarters replied, “Then you’re not lost!”

If you’re not getting anywhere in life, maybe it’s because you’ve got nowhere to go!

Before you can get what you want out of life and your career, you have to decide what it is that you actually want.

I’m not crazy about the term “goal setting,” because it’s a “motivational speaker” term, which can translate to artificially and superficially psyching people up, but not really providing any practical, substantial advice they can use to improve their life.

How To Set Goals
Lao-tzu said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

I’ll take that 2,112,000 steps further and say that a journey of a thousand miles requires that you concentrate on making each and every step the right one to take you to where you want to be.

Unless you’re really into taking the “scenic route to success,” the most efficient way to get where you want to go is to plan it out.

While it’s necessary to step back and take a look at the big picture, you’re not going to achieve your goals until you devise a believable and workable plan.
The way to get anything done is to decide on the ultimate achievement, then break it down into smaller increments, like this:

  • Lifetime or ultimate goal
  • Five-year goal
  • One-year goal
  • 12 monthly goals
  • Four weekly goals
  • Daily goals
  • Hourly goals.
  • Some hourly goals can and should be broken down into smaller, 15 minute tasks.

At this point, you see that we can substitute the word “goal” with “plan;” so, “goal setting” is not really a “motivational speaker” term — it’s nothing more than planning . . . and planning is huge!

Notice also that, when you plan it all out, some very vague sounding goal, such as, “I want to be able to retire comfortably at the age of 65,” transforms into a plan consisting of a series of small, doable steps, such as saving an average of $6 per hour, per 40-hour work week, and scheduling a weekly deposit of $240 into a savings account. Do that, stay out of debt, pay off your house, and you’ll have a very comfortable retirement.

Scheduling Your Success
Until a goal is scheduled, it’s just some vague notion of something you would “like to see happen.”

Once you’ve broken your larger goal into smaller, 15 to 60 minute tasks, schedule them in your daily planner.

I call this step “scheduling your success.” You don’t hope that someday you’ll become successful, you schedule it in.

Your goals don’t always have to be financial. People say they want to spend more time with their children, their hobbies, or their religion. Have they scheduled it in?

Start using a daily planner and scheduling your activities, and you’ll find out how many hours there are in a day, and just what you can and cannot do. You start prioritizing things differently.

If you really want to hold your own feet to the fire and make yourself miserable, start scheduling in advance — in writing — your television-watching schedule.

If you want to cut down on your alcohol consumption, schedule in what you’re going to drink and when, days and weeks in advance. You’ll find deliberately scheduling your alcoholism to be a sobering experience.

In order for goals to work, they must be time-specific.

When I entered sales back in 1972, I had what I thought was a bona-fide goal to pay cash for a brand new Cadillac. By mid- 1998, I realized that the problem with my “goal” was that it had no schedule. A goal is not a real goal until it’s planned out and scheduled. I wrote out a plan and, by the end of 1999, I had the money for the Cadillac.

For the record, I never bought the car. That’s one reason why I say you’ll spend your money more wisely if you make it a personal policy to stay out of debt and only pay cash for everything but your house. There was no way I was going to blow more than 27 years worth of savings on a car! I took the money and put a down payment on my current home.

The Key is Commitment
Another point about goal setting is your attitude toward your goals. Are your goals something you would like to happen? Are your goals a guideline? Or, are they mandatory?
In order for goals to work, they must be mandatory.

In 1987, I decided I wanted to make one sale per day, six days per week. In order to force myself to succeed, I also decided that I would not eat on any given day until I made a sale. Here’s where it gets complicated. I was given a total of 157 leads that year. I closed 143 of them.

Now the question is, did I go hungry most of the time? The answer is no!

That was the year I started driving through working-class neighborhoods. I was looking for homes that had two things: an air conditioner in the window and a late-model car in the driveway. The window air conditioner told me they needed central air. The newer car told me they had a credit rating.

Why, in this day and age, would anyone not have central air conditioning? Is it because they don’t know they can get it with no down payment and very affordable monthly payments? Is it possible they still think that central air conditioning is a “rich man’s game”?

The only way to find out was to knock on the door and ask.

How many doors do you think I had to knock on to make a sale? Let me put it this way, I was usually eating breakfast by 10 a.m., and never went hungry.

The point of the story is that a serious, inner commitment is required to hit your goals.

Achieving Success
Success does not happen by accident. Success happens on purpose. Success is not a matter of luck or good timing. Success is a result of planning, followed by deliberate right action. Set career, financial, and personal goals.

Plan your work, then work your plan.

Everyone knows you should set goals. However, it’s like exercise. Everyone knows you should, but only 8% of the population do it.

People who set mandatory, time-specific goals, and schedule them into a daily planner, tend to hit them much sooner than they’d planned.

Staying Motivated
Goal setting is the answer to the age old question of, “How do you stay motivated?”

When you’ve got long-range goals, you’re no longer working, per se. Every day, you’re consciously and intentionally taking one step closer to achieving your ultimate career goal, which is a very nice feeling.

Do you know why they pave the roads? It’s so you can’t see the rut you’re driving yourself into.

Set some goals and make certain you take one step toward achieving them every day, and you’ll start having a good reason to get up and go to work in the morning, because you’ll be making progress. You’ll drive yourself right out of that rut and actually start getting somewhere every day.

You might think you’re working for someone else, but you’re not. One way or another, you’re working for yourself. You’re not in a dead-end, low paying job. You’ve got a good job, and it can be better. It starts with planning the steps to your own success, scheduling them, then taking them.

Charlie Greer

Closing the Sale

Anyone can make a good impression. The difference between the true sales professionals and the wannabes is the ability to close sales.

A good closer is someone who is good at helping people make decisions. The key to being a good closer is having a good closing procedure.

A good closing procedure simply helps your prospects clarify their thoughts and reach the conclusion that taking immediate action by buying from you is the best decision they can make, and helps them achieve the confidence to make that decision.

A sale is a series of small decisions made one at a time. That makes the final decision to buy just one more small decision, and a natural and non-stressful thing to do. You lead customers into these small decisions through the use of “trial closes.”

In this column, I’ll walk you through my personal closing procedure.

The Set Up
We’ll say that the customer’s equipment is still running, just not very well.

At this stage of the game, we’ll establish that I’ve explained their energy savings, I’ve told them a few nice things about the equipment I’m recommending and why I feel it fits their unique set of needs, and I’ve shared a few nice things about my company — what we do that is a little exceptional or unusual and why those things will benefit them in particular.

I’m getting a lot of positive feedback from the prospect in the form of verbal cues, head nodding, and maybe even a little pupil dilation. Things are looking up.

The ‘Walk-through’ Close

We’ve been sitting for a while and it’s time to get the customer’s blood pumping and their energy level up before asking them to buy, by asking, “Everything sound good to you so far?”

There’s no reason why they shouldn’t respond in the affirmative, so I continue with, “Good. You want to know exactly what I’m going to do, then?”

They usually say, “Of course. That’s what we’ve been waiting for.”

I take them to the equipment. I removed a few panels earlier while I was doing my equipment inspection and left it open. Their seeing it all opened up, dirty, and falling apart helps to remind them of their sense of urgency.

I say something like, “Just to reiterate, Mr. and Mrs. Smith, if you wanted to keep your existing furnace and air conditioner all you’d have to do is have me spend about a day doing some extensive maintenance. I’d have to clean the indoor and outdoor unit. I’d have to pull and clean this blower and the air conditioning coil. Of course, you’d still have old equipment with old parts in it that are all aged out and due to fail, and that doesn’t address your indoor air quality, energy efficiency, or comfort concerns, but you could keep it.”

That’s called negative selling, where you don’t act like you’re all that excited to make the sale. It compels your prospects to paint a dismal mental picture of them still owning their old equipment and helps reinforce the idea that this thing needs to go . . . now.

I want to help my prospects envision themselves enjoying the benefits of owning the equipment. I do that by painting a word picture of a quick, upbeat, energetic, and very general description of the replacement job. I also include some subtle hints that I’m looking out for their best interests by not overdoing anything or leaving anything out that really should be done.

Example — “Everything from here to here will be brand new. This stuff over here all looks good, so I couldn’t see spending the money to replace it. If it needed replacing, I’d do it, but it doesn’t. This will be more level and this will be more compact so you’ll have more room over here. I’m going to set this part up over here so you get more air through it, so you’ll be cooler and able to sleep better at night. This is where that new air return I told you about will be. See all these minor air leaks? Put your hand over here and feel that. I’m going to seal all these. Can you imagine what that’s going to do for your comfort and energy efficiency? Does this sound good to you?”

I then provide a brief description of the installation process.

Example — “Once we reach an agreement, I’ll take a credit application. I’ll handle all the paperwork on your loan. You won’t have to go anywhere or do anything. After obtaining credit approval, I’ll call you to confirm the installation date. In the meantime, I’ll get together with the installers and go over the job with them. They’ll come into the office in the morning and load the truck, then head over to your house. They probably won’t be here until 9 a.m. or so. The job will take two days, but you won’t be without heat or air conditioning overnight, they won’t leave a mess between the two days and it will be done over two consecutive days. I’ll come out and visit the job while it’s going in to make sure they’re doing everything according to my specifications. Sound good to you?”

You can read additional examples of summaries with word pictures and emotional triggers in my previous column Summarizing with Word Pictures (CB, July 2006, p. 102).

I’ll then usually take the customer back to the kitchen table to complete the closing procedure and reach an agreement.

Trial Close No. 1
“Mr. and Mrs. Smith, is there any doubt in your mind as to the necessity of your changing your furnace/air conditioner at this time?”

By now, enough has been said to be reasonably-confident they’ll respond with “No, there’s no doubt about it.”

“Why?” I ask. Note: Whenever a prospect voices an opinion, ask them to elaborate. This allows them clarify their thoughts on the topic, and basically, to sell themselves on it.

What you might find out is that they aren’t really capable of articulating why they should buy right now. They just have a good feeling about everything that’s been said. That’s all well and good until they tell their father-in-law that they decided to buy a new furnace and air conditioner and he starts insulting them and telling them they don’t need one right now; that what they’ve got works perfectly well.

Back to my original question of, “Why?” They’ll get started telling me why they should buy right now and, before they run out of steam, I jump right in and support them by saying, “That’s right. The one you’ve got is old, it’s obsolete. The parts for it are hard to come by, and when we can get them, they can be expensive. You could be stuck without heat or air conditioning overnight or longer. You’re overpaying on your utility bills. You’re uncomfortable. It could be a safety or a health hazard and, we both know that sooner or later, you’re going to have to change it out, and it will never be cheaper to do that than it will be today. So, yes, there are a lot of reasons to change it out now.”

Trial Close No. 2
“Is there any doubt in your mind as to my ability and the ability of my company to do this job right for you; that there is no way that having me do this for you could be a mistake?”

Once again, they’ll say, “No, there’s no doubt in my mind.”

Since they just voiced another opinion, I’ll request an elaboration by saying, “Why? Why do you feel that way?”

While it would be nice if they could just blast out a dozen or so nice things to say about you and your company, you’re going to find that they can’t really specify why they feel confident in you, they just do. That would be all right if there wasn’t a father-in-law lurking in the background who is going to scream at them for buying from a first-class, legitimate company when he could get them a furnace stolen by a moonlighter for a fraction of the cost.

I’ll help them clarify their thoughts again by inserting, “That’s right. We’ve been doing business in this area now for many years and we’ve done thousands of installations. That means we know the climate, the codes, and the construction in this area. We know what works and what doesn’t, so we’ll do the job right for you. We specialize in this kind of work, so you’ll get a good job. My guys are all in uniform, they’ve had my training, they work neatly, and they work quietly. We’ll respect your property, we quote firm prices, and we guarantee your satisfaction, so you can’t waste your money. Sure there’s a lot of good reasons to use me.

Trial Close No. 3
“Then I guess as long as you can justify the price in your own mind, and feel you can afford it, you’re going to want me do this for you.”

Whoa! I’ve just given them every “out” in the world! Why? Because I’m not going to trick them into buying, and I’m not going to get them to paint themselves into a corner with word games or anything else like that. They’re going to look me square in the eye and make the conscious decision to buy from me or not, and we’re not going to beat around the bush about it.

The Close
I’ve already written everything down on a blank sheet of paper. On it, I’ve listed the four or five primary benefits they wanted from a new system. I then make a very general list of what I’m going to do for them. I’ve also written down a price. Below it, I’ve written “No Down Payment,” and two different size payments. Below that, I’ll add an option (usually for something non-essential) along with the new total and its payments.

I say, “We talked about your getting something that will take care of your (I list the benefits as written on the sheet).

“Here’s a list of exactly what I’ll install for you, and here’s the price.”

I point to the prices and ask, “Well, seem affordable?”

Obviously, the response I’m hoping for is “Yes, that’s affordable.”

At that point, I’ll do a combination “assumptive close” and “reassuring close” by extending my hand for a handshake and saying, “Welcome to the family. You’ve made the right decision. You’ve done exactly what I would have done if I were in your position. You’re absolutely going to love it.”

By Charlie Greer