Return to the home page

Top Four Marketing Buys

Originally published: 10.01.08 by Ruth King

Target the right market, control the message, and track the results.

Here are four of the best uses of your hard-earned marketing dollars.

I’ve worked with contractors throughout the United States and found that one marketing activity works in all geographic areas — direct mail. In some markets that are small and contained, radio or television marketing matches the contractor’s demographic audience. I’ve helped these contractors use radio and television marketing very effectively. However, in Atlanta and other larger arkets, very few contractors can use radio or television because the station’s reach is too large. You could get a call from someone 100 miles away and not be able to service them cost effectively. In addition, with radio and television you pay for listeners or viewers who would never use your company’s services. 

With direct mail, you know exactly to whom you are sending your message and are not wasting money on people in geographic areas you don’t cover or people who can’t use your services. But, you say, most of it gets thrown out. That’s true, but not for the reasons that you might think. Poorly conceived direct mail pieces that don’t grab the reader’s attention or using the wrong mailing list are the main reason direct marketing is discarded. 

Some of the most successful direct mail pieces are targeted at inactive customers. An inactive customer is someone you have performed a service for or installed equipment for more than 18 months ago, and you haven’t had contact with that person since that time. 

Direct mail takes time. If you mail once, you’ve wasted your money. Keep mailing on a monthly basis. Also, track your results. You’ll know what is working and what isn’t. Then, you can make educated decisions about what messages to include in the future. 

In a reminder program, you consistently remind customers about your company through subtle means: a magnet on their refrigerator, stickers on plumbing and HVAC equipment, e mails with quick tips that will help with home care and home comfort; and newsletters and other direct mailings. The hope is that your name permeates customers’ subconscious minds when they see the magnets or stickers on a frequent basis. Then when a need arises, they see the sticker or magnet with your telephone number and call. 

Referral programs can be subtle or overt. In a subtle program, you don’t make announcements or regularly give a person who referred your company a gift. You just surprise that person with flowers, a thank you note, or something else. You hope that surprise encourages that person to continue to refer customers to you. 

An overt, referral program is a conscious effort on your part to tell all customers that you have a referral program, what that program is, and what they can expect if they participate. Some customers will choose to participate; others won’t. These programs include gift certificates for dinner, bonds, and cash. 

Announcements for the programs can be as simple as information on the back of a business card. Technicians can point the information out while they are on service calls. It might be included as a flyer with your service tickets. You could announce it in a newsletter or a special mailing to your customers. 

Referral programs don’t have to be complicated. They just have to be consistent. The salesperson mentions it at the end of every job. Office personnel need to know about it so that they can explain it to calling customers. Give everyone in your company the same opportunity to earn a referral fee as you give to your customers. They’ll start referring customers to the company, too. 

This allows you to control what Web sites say about you or your business. It also allows you to come up first when someone Googles your name. In the interest of full disclosure, I am an affiliate for qAlias. However, I have found it to be among the best $9.95 per-month fees that I’ve ever spent. I put up what I want people to see about me. Whenever I have a media interview scheduled about my book or some of the things I’m doing, the radio interviewers always ask for a bio or information about me beforehand. I tell them just to Google me. 

qAlias is especially handy for sales people. Someone will give a friend, colleague, or neighbor your card or your sales person’s card. Even if it is a referral, that person still doesn’t know you. One of the first things he will do is try to find out information about you on the Internet. (Even some 40-50 year olds are doing this). They should find what you want them to find first. 

This is the latest trend in direct mail marketing. Choose a database (customers who have done business with you in the past five years is a good one). Create a postcard with an entertaining and unique picture. When you mail that postcard to everyone in that database, each person on that list gets a personal URL with this program. 

You offer the people on the list an incentive for completing a short survey at their personal Web site. The offer is for movie theater tickets, a Starbucks card, or some other gift card. It is NOT for discount on your services. When they go to their personal URL, with their name on it, they see a survey form. You know immediately who has answered the survey and can follow up quickly. 

The questions should be those you would ask someone if you’ve only got two minutes of their time to make a decision as to whether they can use your products/services. When people complete the survey, you know they are interested, and they are the ones to develop trusting relationships with. Jodi Pierce,, my colleague who has successfully done this for hundreds of small businesses, says that this process lets you leave people off your list who don’t care. 

These four activities will help you get the most out of your marketing dollars. Be sure to track the results. 

Ruth King has over 25 years of experience in the hvacr industry and has worked with contractors, distributors, and manufacturers to help grow their companies and become more profitable. She is president of HVAC Channel TV and holds a Class II (unrestricted) contractors license in Georgia. Ruth has written two books: The Ugly Truth About Small Business and The Ugly Truth About Managing People. Contact Ruth at or 770.729.0258.

About Ruth King

Ruth King

Ruth King has over 25 years of experience in the hvacr industry and has worked with contractors, distributors, and manufacturers to help grow their companies and become more profitable. She is president of HVAC Channel TV and holds a Class II (unrestricted) contractors license in Georgia. Ruth has written two books: The Ugly Truth About Small Business and The Ugly Truth About Managing People. Contact Ruth at or 770.729.0258.

Articles by Ruth King

Keep Your Employees from Stealing this Summer

Don’t let policies you enforce during slow times get ignored when you’re busy.
View article.

7 Places to Look if Your Gross Margins are not Consistent

A consistent gross margin means that your profit and loss (P&L) statement is probably accurate (unless you discover overhead mistakes).
View article.

How Much Cash is Enough Cash?

Save the amount of cash that is comfortable for you. Get in the habit of putting money in savings accounts.
View article.

Cash, Profits or Profitability — Which is Most Important?

Continuous profits, turned into continuous cash, give your company the best chance for survival and building wealth.
View article.

Wealth Rule No. 10: Have an Increasing Current Ratio

Your company’s current ratio should be monitored monthly. It should always be greater than one. It should be constant or trending upward.
View article.