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Selling & Marketing IAQ

Originally published: 03.01.07 by Robert Wilkos


Enhance your success with knowledge, experience and instruments, consumer trust, and marketing.

If you’ve ever tried to sell a solution to a problem that’s invisible, intangible, and ambiguous, you know that the likelihood of a successful sale is pretty slim unless you are very lucky, very slick, or a very good salesperson. However, your chances of successfully selling Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) solutions are enhanced greatly if you have a combination of IAQ knowledge, experience and instruments, consumer trust, marketing skills, and an easily recognizable marketing tool such as our Comfort Creatures, which carry a registered service trademark. 

Before I start to share our not-so-secret marketing secrets, allow me to give you a quick glimpse of Peaden Air Conditioning. We primarily are a residential/light commercial service and retrofit hvac contractor located in the Florida Panhandle. We are a market leader in our service territory. Our primary focus is to be a very good hvac contractor with an in-depth knowledge of IAQ-related subjects. IAQ certainly has been a key part of our business strategy, especially in light of industry developments over the past 10 years. The hvac and IAQ industries took different turns over the mold issue


but now are more entwined than ever. 

We are pretty savvy hvac marketers. However, marketing and selling IAQ always has posed a unique challenge because of the variety and complexity of IAQ issues. Twenty years ago, we came to believe in the importance of hvac maintenance. Relative to this subject, many talk the talk, but not as many walk the walk. Our belief is that nothing runs better than a clean machine, and we performed more than 17,000 tune-ups last year. Roughly 15% of the 60,000 households in our service territory have an active agreement with us, and our total of 9,000-plus Energy Savings Plans (ESP) continues to grow. (An Energy Savings Plan is a maintenance service agreement that includes semi-annual and annual cleanings and inspections.)

Why is this information important to selling IAQ? The answer is three-fold:

 

  1. We have maintained these customers’ hvac system for years, including the cleaning of the blower section and both coils, which we believe is essential to good IAQ.
  2. We have trained our maintenance personnel to look for IAQ issues when performing a tune-up. They note anything unusual on their tickets, which are reviewed by a person with IAQ knowledge and experience. After a quick review with the maintenance tech, if deemed necessary, a certified IAQ tech is dispatched to take a closer look. Our customers love this follow-up and become a little more inquisitive on our second visit. (Due to our IAQ training, we removed the word “mold” from everyone’s vocabulary years ago. Because the presence of mold and type of mold can’t be definitively determined by visual inspection, there’s absolutely no reason to set off any health and emotional alarms prematurely. Instead, we use the term “mold-like substance,” a much friendlier term to everyone involved, including the occupants and insurance companies — ours included).
  3. We have already established a trust factor with our ESP customers by performing their maintenance and service for years, which pays dividends in an IAQ selling situation. After we present our factual information, our guaranteed solutions are given serious consideration. 

 

I don’t wish to give you the impression that great marketing overcomes all, because it doesn’t. You will still need to earn your keep. However, good marketing certainly has enhanced our image and reputation in the public’s eyes. At the same time that we started a unique top-of-mind-awareness (TOMA) marketing campaign, we also hit the IAQ books and classrooms to earn certification from the National Air Duct Cleaning Association (NADCA) and the Indoor Air Quality Association (IAQA). We’ve had Air System Cleaning Specialists (ASCS) and Certified Indoor Environmentalists (CIE), myself included, on staff for over 10 years. We have spent hundreds of hours in specialized IAQ training and have the credentials to qualify our IAQ recommendations. 

Marketing: Making The Intangible Tangible

What’s a Comfort Creature? Let me answer that with another question. Have you ever seen a sunray shining through a window and noticed all the multi-colored particulates in the air? If so, let’s just say that all those particulates are different Comfort Creatures. This example works the same if you named the three Comfort Creature characters on this page Dusty, Dirty, and Dander. Although I doubt the Comfort Creatures were created with IAQ in mind, it was definitely my initial thought when I first laid eyes on a Comfort Creature button 16 years ago. I changed the original color to make it more environmentally appealing and had two-dimension and three-dimension motion added. I knew that they would attract attention once unveiled and, more importantly, I hoped that they would help bridge the gaps from invisible to visible, intangible to tangible, and ambiguous to easy-to-understand. 

The Comfort Creatures have been used in our media spots for many years. They also are displayed on billboards, newsletters, stationery, business cards, hats, jackets, shirts, and all of our company vehicles. They are so well known in this market that our company is referred to as the “Comfort Creature” contractors by people who don’t recall our company name. Our Comfort Creatures in our phone-directory display ads quickly are identified by consumers. This simple connection makes it easier for us when we visit the site of an IAQ lead or complaint because the conversation frequently begins with a chat about our Comfort Creatures. Check out the photo of the backside of a Peaden vehicle on the previous page. If you were stuck in traffic behind this truck, would you know what we did for a living? I don’t think so, but I would hope that you’d become curious enough to try to change lanes and pull up beside our truck to see that we are an hvac company. 

Leads From Free Inspections

Since the mid-90s, we’ve offered free inspections on the usual hvac items, but especially on duct cleaning, tune-ups, and filter replacements. The duct-cleaning leads and sales results are particularly interesting to review. For the last 10 years, about 80% of all of our duct-cleaning inspections revealed that the duct system didn’t warrant a duct cleaning, but you would be pleasantly surprised at the number of tune-ups, Energy Savings Plans, filters, hvac systems, and IAQ products we have sold on those same leads. On many duct inspections, the fiberboard and flex duct system is in such poor condition that we refuse to clean and only suggest replacement. Here’s a great example of IAQ scratching the back of hvac. 

The Value of Monitoring

Everyone knows about the wide variety of IAQ products and services that are available today. The most common ones are filters, air cleaners, air purifiers, and UV lights. In each of these categories, there are dozens if not hundreds of different products. There are some very good products and then there are some funky ones. Duct cleaning and air monitoring probably are the most widely known and sold IAQ services. Although we sell all of the items listed above, how do you know what to sell a particular customer? You don’t until you acquire some real IAQ facts. For that reason, we’re a proponent of the AirAdvice monitoring products (www.airadvice.com) and have several monitors in constant use. Our Comfort Creatures may gain customers’ attention, but the AirAdvice IAQ report is the missing link that bridges the three gaps mentioned previously. The colored report is easily downloaded, and remote Internet access via their Web site is a convenient feature. 

The AirAdvice report format, language, and graphs make it easy for any layperson to understand. It gives a quick snapshot on the particulate, VOC, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, temperature, and humidity levels in the conditioned space; and it lists recommendations to remedy whatever the problems or issues may be. When we purchased our first monitor several years ago, we didn’t know how to market this service, but we decided to price a three-day monitoring period and report at $89. Based on past history, we figured that we would reap residual sales from the test results, so from day one we marketed that the $89 monitoring fee would be completely waived for any purchase of $1 or more. This offer, promoted on television, radio and print advertisements, opened the door for consumers to have an air test performed by us without hesitation. I don’t know exactly how many payments of $89 we have received in the past few years, but it hasn’t been many, and our residual sales figures just keep climbing.

Handling ‘Serious’ Problems

Most IAQ issues can be easily solved, but some can get really serious. We’ve been involved in our fair share of high-profile IAQ situations involving carbon monoxide and mold in particular. We’ve also dealt with dirty-sock syndrome, carbon dioxide, and black-soot syndrome to name a few others. We have experience with subpoenas, and we are well schooled in what to say and what not to say. If we are dealing with a serious IAQ issue, and a customer declines our IAQ recommendation, we have them sign our proposal that they declined our offer, and we keep it on file. We’ve learned that some may do nothing to remedy an existing IAQ problem until someone becomes ill, and the legal stuff hits the proverbial fan. Documentation really comes in handy then. For this reason, we document anything and everything associated with an IAQ problem and save it for years, including, but not limited to, service tickets, photos, video, test reports, notes from phone calls, etc. We create an investigation log as soon as we determine that the situation has all the ingredients of a potential claim and document dates, times, and conversation content in case any legal issues evolve. 

This is a good place to restate our primary focus: to be a very good hvac company as we continue to grow and not drift too far into the IAQ field. We do not perform remediation work. That type of work always is referred to others who are specialized and certified in their specific fields and definitely not part of a Peaden subcontract. From this hvac contractor’s perspective, the legal and insurance liabilities, in addition to the health risks of those impacted by a serious IAQ situation, are too great to chance. Be knowledgeable and careful if you want to cross fields.

We don’t want to become IAQ experts, but we do wish to be IAQ knowledgeable so we can make a positive difference in peoples’ lives. Our mission statement is, “Creating customers for life to enhance their lives, comfort, and safety with our commitment to excellence in service.” When you’re not feeling well and seek a physician, you don’t want to deal with a health-care provider that treats just your symptoms, but rather with one who finds the root cause and treats it accordingly so that your suffering ends. We feel the same when it comes to Indoor Air Quality. Although a healthy net profit always is our goal, we don’t wish to sell things just for the sake of selling. Guaranteed results are what we are all about as an hvac contractor. 

Selling IAQ solutions successfully will become easy once you gain IAQ knowledge, establish your credibility, show that there’s a problem to be solved, and let consumers know that you possess IAQ skills. The basis for our last advertising campaign was “It’s the contractor that makes the difference!” and you can make a difference, too! 




About Robert Wilkos

Robert Wilkos

Robert Wilkos has more than 30 years of senior management experience. He is former business leader for Peaden Air Conditioning, Heating & Plumbing. He is now an independent consultant focusing on healthy growth and long-term long-term prosperity of residential service businesses.

To learn more, visit www.robertwilkos.com




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