Personally, I'm sick of being on hold for 45 minutes with a guy in India on my "support" call. More like "life support." Sheesh.

Oh, and I get giddy when I hand money to a mumbling lady at the drive-thru who tosses hamburgers in my general direction. I guess we both forgot there are 15 other restaurants within five minutes.

I also think it's charming when the answering service for the HVAC contractor interrupts my spelling of our street name (since it was so loud in her background) by snapping, "I know how to spell!" Wonder if she can spell "lost customer?"

Regardless of what "stage" of customer you are, the presentation of the solution is key to the next stage. It can be verbal, visual, or a combination. It can either attract or repel, add or subtract in a number of far-reaching ways, as you'll see.

Last month we looked at how Jeff Lee of Goyette Mechanical, our Marketing Makeover recipient, launched a new HVAC company intent on doubling the results of "standard" HVAC sales and marketing efforts. After climbing from zero to $3.4 million in less than three years, he's pretty convinced it works.

State of the Presentation
Remarkably — or sadly depending on your view — HVAC products don't have what marketers term a "broad perception variance." That is, they perceive HVAC products as fitting into a bracket of acceptance. Hard as the industry tries to differentiate on this point, in consumers' minds there is not a Rolls-Royce system, nor a Yugo, thankfully.

The good news is that the perceived difference is in presentation — presentation of the marketing message that drives the traffic and that of the "presenter" who closes the sale. One without the other is like one-handed applause.

The great news is that beating the current marketing model isn't difficult to beat. The current marketing presentation is a blah ad, with a picture of equipment, throw in some trucks or maybe a picture of dog and a line about "Dog Days of Summer." Yawn. Good money paid. Good money lost.

The current sales presentation has more variety, but it's mostly up to the individual presenter. Sometimes a presentation book, sometimes not. Sometimes a designated salesperson, sometimes a hurried or uncommunicative technician. Maybe one hour, maybe three. And follow-up system? Are you kidding?

Essentially, the marketing presentation and the sales presentation are radically separate efforts. This presentation incongruence leads to a common disconnect that most contractors fail to regard as important. Expectedly, customers fail to connect an ad to a company.

Think SouthWest Airlines — all of their communication is off-beat, fun, and casual. Think Disney — all of theirs is centered around family experience. Applebees — Neighborhood, family casual. BMW — Upscale educated. Now think Volvo — Have a dated, fading visual on this one? That's because, for 30 years they were conservative safety, now they're, well, something else. Market share has nosedived.

Highest success rates are where the marketing and sales message are parallel.

The ‘New' Model
Jeff's "high performance" marketing and sales presentations did four things:
1) Educated prospects only on the difference he offered (why re-state the obvious?).
2) Added humor and credibility.
3) Sold.
4) Followed up.

And, if he followed up correctly, the cycle would repeat. So once the lead was generated, it was up to his sales presentation to close.

Jeff did not have to work hard to trounce the "norm." But here's how his presentation was different.
1. Pre-appointment Staging. It started before he ever entered the prospect's home. The well-trained CSR had copies of each ad running (tracking, education) and "opened the door" for referrals and upsales in two sentences. A "day of" confirmation call added professionalism, eliminated no shows.
2. First Impression Twist. Appointments run in uniforms and logo'd trucks like most. To differentiate, Jeff used the Green Sheet method (CB, May 2007, Pg. 90), handed new customers copy over-runs of newsletters, and always carried his presentation book. He was selling himself and the company difference before the first word!
3. Congruency. He made regular references to his marketing message (guarantees, options), which reminded prospects why they called him in the first place, reinforced his differentiation, made himself memorable as a brand and not the competition. It's one of the easiest things you can do to lock in a prospect. You just say, "As you've seen in our ads, we (promise and delivery, . . ." Then you reference the testimonials.
4. Presentation Manual. In HVAC we talk a lot but demonstrate little. Therefore, in the world of closing sales, nothing is as effective as a powerful presentation done
with a concise, clear presentation manual. Show and tell.

At minimum, include your mission statement, licenses and insurance forms, testimonials, before and after shots, survey questions, and system options. This manual demonstrates your discussion and prompts prospects to act. Used correctly, conversation with prospects is less strained. This'll put you in front of about 85% of the others.
5. Comparison Shopping Guide. Jeff came up with this idea, even though I try to take credit for it. You want to save prospects time, improve credibility, and really differentiate? You want to cut the crud about "who offers what for how much," and get down to business? Then get proposal forms from your competitors bidding on the same exact system. Yep. Prices, warranties, the works. Pick the ones — of course — that compare positively to yours, wherein your warranty, specs, installation techniques, and other benefits are clear. You'll be absolutely amazed. Jeff ended up getting so many that he made a "table" that combined them all on one sheet he called the Comparison Shopping Guide.

And all you have to say is, "You'd said you wanted to shop around, and I don't blame you. That's why we've already done it." Open to your bid samples. "We researched this market — which was lengthy and confusing, even to me! Some bidders never showed up, some took two to three hours to present, and the options were everywhere. So, if you want to save some time, here's what we found." You should be able to end with, "Our aim was to improve quality and convenience in all these areas (point to them) to make your choice easier. Does that sound fair?"
6. Clean Close (CB July 2007, pg. 94) is a natural next step, not a leap. You've given practical and emotional reasons. Remember, almost all decisions are rooted in emotion. Now, it's just a matter of addressing any lingering questions and scheduling the installation. The thing that'll surprise your new clients the most, though, is your follow-up.
7. Follow Up. Remember, this is about relationships, not encounters. Jeff sends a postcard, plus a well-worded CSR call to see if everything is working properly. These also become your surveys. A simple "Thank You" card follows that. Your customers will know you're concerned after the check clears. This helps cement customers for the long term.
8. Continuity of Contact. This is huge, and has been worth more than $300,000 a year to Jeff. Since there's no better source of future income than your current customers, you've now opened the door to ask for referrals, agreement upsells, and educate on new products. Since these people are now newsletter recipients, you don't give them a chance to forget about you! Kind of the point.

Even if you just do half of this, you'll be ahead of the competition. Your presentation — from the phone call to follow-up — has proven you're the better choice. Rave reviews (which can land in your presentation manual, and in ads, or in the ears of inquiring neighbors) will confirm it. Present your business better and you'll be presented with more business.

Next Month: The Marketing Machine revealed. See what fueled the makeover, including one element that'll surprise you out of your booties.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson Ink, a contractor marketing firm. See www.hudsonink.com He'll be appearing at Comfortech this year, displaying an HVAC Marketing Makeover that generated $3.24million in HVAC sales . . . starting with nothing, all from marketing! You may request info on the makeover, free items in the article, or direct a marketing question to freecbstuff@hudsonink.com or call 800/489-9099.

Free This Month: Get "21 Simple Things You Can Do to Differentiate Your HVAC Company Now" by faxing your letterhead with the polite request to 334/262-1115 or e-mail to freecbstuff@hudsonink.com