In the Internet age, consumers like to comparison shop. Help them make better decisions with a robust Web site.
Today, when most people want information they go to the Web — to educate themselves, to look for solutions or to compare companies and products. Often they may be ready to buy, based on the information they find. That’s why it’s so important to design a Web site that includes all the information customers need at any stage in the buying process.
Your Web site is your electronic storefront and as such, it should accomplish three things. First, it should be easy to locate. You can invest thousands of dollars on the best Web site in the world, but if you don’t drive traffic to it, the site won’t do you much good.
Second, your Web site should position your company the way you want it to be perceived — attractive, relevant and consumer friendly. A sloppy, clunky or slow site makes you look sloppy, clunky and slow. Your site should be easy to navigate. Think of the sales process. If you want to up-sell a homeowner to a higher end hvacr system, you need to walk them through the sales process and show them why a top-of-the-line system is the right choice.
Finally, your Web site needs to feed the sales bucket. The site can generate leads for you, but if you have a hole in your bucket, e.g., you don’t call back the homeowner in a timely fashion, you will miss out on the sale. A good site moves beyond generating leads to delivering sales.
By incorporating a number of best practices, it’s possible to achieve these goals as you increase traffic to your site and through your door. Consumers are bombarded with thousands of messages a day, so begin by choosing a URL that is easy to remember, like BobsHVAC.com. Also, remember to register similar sounding sites (e.g., BobHVAC.com or RobsHVAC.com.).
Next, get your name out there. Make sure your Web address appears on everything, from your stationery, invoices and business cards to all your outbound marketing pieces, advertisements and service vans.
“We have a rule at our company,” says Adam Rahmanovich, owner of Indoor Comfort Team LLC, St. Louis. “Nothing can be handed out without our phone number, logo and Web address (http://www.indoorcomfortteam.com). It’s everywhere we are, on our trucks and everything we distribute.”
Rahmanovich also is working on a “Friends of Indoor Comfort” page that will offer links to other businesses in the St. Louis area. “In return, those businesses will include a link to my site, providing an inexpensive way for all of us to promote our Web sites.”
Once you get people to your site, make sure it’s a site you’re proud of. Keep it clean and uncluttered. First impressions are important and provide opportunities to immediately engage visitors with information that meets their needs.
Begin by providing a brief description of who you are, including the products and services that you offer. Avoid industry speak, and keep your history and mission statement off the home page, reserving this valuable real estate to tell visitors how you can help them. That’s exactly what Rahmanovich did when he designed a home page that describes “Services that Keep you Comfortable,” “Services that Help You Breathe Easier” and “Services that Help You Save Money.” “I thought it was important to immediately tell visitors what we can do for them,” he explains.
Make the site easy to navigate and the source of relevant content that is short, simple and to the point. Online shoppers want to find valuable information quickly.
Tie product information to the needs of your customers. Speak to them about the features that are important to them, not those that appeal to technicians. Customers want to know how you can solve the humidity problem in their homes or help alleviate their allergies, not how easy it is to access a compressor.
Frequently asked questions (FAQs) also can enhance your Web site. In addition to influencing purchase decisions, a well-developed FAQ section can help homeowners distinguish between problems they can correct and situations that require professional attention. Homeowners get help when they need it, and you are spared unnecessary service calls.
In addition to FAQs, the Indoor Comfort Team Web site includes a section entitled “Helpful Articles.” “Above all else, we want our Web site to be informative,” explains Rahmanovich. “We included several articles reprinted with permission from the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA).”
As you organize the content on your Web site, make use of resources that are available to you. For example, most original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) would be happy to provide Web quality photos of their equipment.
OEMs also can provide tools to help homeowners make educated decisions. By linking them to OEM Web sites for product and general industry education, you take advantage of the flash presentations, calculators and other interactive tools that these much larger companies have already developed.
“This is a great way to educate homeowners before you call on them, and it backs up the information you provide to them during a home visit,” says Rahmanovich, whose site links customers to the Web site for York products from Johnson Controls Inc.
Streaming videos and flash presentations, whether they reside on your site or an OEM site, can be highly effective tools for explaining complicated technology and troubleshooting problems. But when used poorly, they can cheapen your image. Don’t get too caught up in new technologies at the expense of content. Remember to focus on information rather than animation as you deliver your message.
More sophisticated sites offer product comparisons and tools that enable homeowners to build their own systems. But even something as simple as a brochure offered as a free downloadable pdf can go a long way toward deepening the relationship between you and potential customers.
As you provide homeowners with tools and information, remember to instill a level of confidence. Customer testimonials are helpful, but only if they are genuine and well presented.
“We’re trying to create people who are ‘raving fans’ of our company,” says Emily Green, co-owner with her husband Steven of 72 Degrees Air Pride Inc., West Linn, Ore. (http://www.72degreesairpride.com). “One of the best ways to do that is to share testimonials from the ‘raving fans’ we already have. We’ve scattered them throughout our site to be sure visitors see them.”
Validation from outside sources, including Energy Star, ACCA and the Better Business Bureau, to name a few, also goes a long way toward instilling confidence in your company. Consider including their logos on your Web site where visitors will see them.
“We definitely see value in using the logos of professional organizations,” says Green. “They send a message of professionalism. However, we try to pick only those logos that differentiate us. It’s easy to post a lot of logos, but if they’re the same logos your competitors use, they lose their value.”
If your company has a history of service in your community, note that on your Web page. However, be sure the message is one of trusted experience and not of a company stuck in the past.
“I’m part of a third-generation business,” says Tommy Croker, vice president of Arlington Heating and Air Conditioning Inc., Arlington, Va. (http://www.arlingtonheating.com). “Our tradition of quality service and products is important to us, and we try to reflect that in our Web site by using classic fonts and imagery. But we’re also embracing the technology of the future with this site.
“Our site is a work in progress,” he continues. “We still have pages to develop and links to activate, but we couldn’t wait any longer to launch it. A Web site is just too important and not something a forward- looking business can afford to ignore if it hopes to grow.”
Another easy way to instill confidence is to provide information about service packages and warranties. “If we’re going to sell ourselves as the company of choice,” says Green, “we need to offer guarantees that back up our claim and foster peace of mind.” As you design your site, it’s important to keep the buying process in mind. Don’t stop with providing homeowners with the tools they need to make educated purchasing decisions. Be certain to provide
them with a call to action, whether it’s forms to complete or a phone number to call, so decisions translate to sales. And when homeowners use that contact information, be sure to respond in a timely manner.
A distributor locator is another useful tool as you walk someone through the sales process. You want to use the Web to provide relevant information in a cost effective manner. But in the end, you also want to deliver the customer to your door so you can close the sale. “We don’t really want to make a sale online,” says Croker. “Ultimately we want to talk with someone in person, and we’re finding that our Web site can make that happen by introducing us and offering a way to contact us.”
Consider offering an incentive to people who visit your Web site. By asking them to do something as simple as completing a form to request a quote, you generate a lead that feeds your mailing list, and you know the source of that lead. A newsletter, new product information or regularly scheduled coupons also can be useful, informative and even entertaining while providing reasons for visitors to return to your site.
If developed correctly, your Web site can be an effective addition to your sales force. First, it frees your sales team from having to fill literature requests. Second, it supplements the team early in the sales process by exchanging basic information with little human involvement. Finally, the Web offers the opportunity to sell to multiple audiences, including consumers, commercial property owners and institutions.
Of course, your Web site and the relationships you establish there do not replace the sales force. Sales reps are still essential in building a personal relationship that leads to closing sales. However, by building trust and establishing a rapport with potential customers, a well-designed Web site can make the sale easier once you get your foot in the door.