In the last article, we spoke about the budgeting process and the HVAC Performance Bridge as a means to achieve the budgeted goals for the year. As a reminder, the HVAC Performance Bridge is comprised of the plans, strategies and actions you take to turn your budgeted goals into reality.

In this article, I’ll share some proven strategies that our clients have reaped the benefits of, and where we’ve seen great increases in sales or revenue-generating activities. The best part about it is that these results are proven to work, and repeatable, regardless of the market you’re in. So feel free to borrow these ideas to enhance your HVAC Performance Bridge in 2010.

Use radio to boost fall service plan enrollments.

I have seen firsthand the positive effects that a compelling radio campaign can have on a larger promotion. To be sure, radio is not a cure-all, and it’s not to be included as a part of every marketing initiative. The right radio spots can significantly impact service plan promotions in the fall.

When I ran the largest residential HVAC contractor in the mid-Atlantic, I employed radio to drive over 100 new inquiries per week of our service agreement offerings during our fall radio campaigns. I learned that if you use radio to complement your direct mailings, you’ll see your numbers increase, year over year. Here are some things to keep in mind when employing a radio campaign:

1. Don’t shortchange the spot – The spot itself is the most important piece of the whole campaign. Invest in a two- or three-voice radio spot that your listeners can identify with. The spot must be compelling, relevant, must resonate with the listener, and MUST have an intriguing offer. Think carefully before you let the station produce the spot for you. A station produced spot where a DJ reads your “ad” on air is risky and may not produce for you.

2. The right station = the right customers – Don’t assume your customers listen to what you listen to. When you are ready to consider radio as part of your mix, be sure to know the demographics of your customer. If you don’t, then every radio station rep you talk to will convince you that their station fits the demographics of your customer. That’s their job. Your job is to know what your customers are like, so you can decide which radio station is right for you, based on the audience they attract.

3. Understand “flights” to stretch your buy – When you set up your campaign, consider establishing “flights” to stretch the radio buy. For example, if you have $12,000 to spend and you could buy 10 spots per day for 2 weeks, use flights to spread out your campaign, instead. Run 25 spots in week 1, 10 spots the next week, 25 spots again the following week, etc. This extends your campaign, avoids over saturation of your target market and is more effective because your campaign can run longer.

4. Leverage the stations to maximize your buy – Radio stations can offer you more than just airtime. Make sure you are fully integrated with other advertising opportunities they have available, either on their website, at home shows, health fairs, charity drives, etc. You’ll want a package that fully promotes your offerings across multiple channels, and most stations are happy to oblige.

Sell more service plans through smart direct mail.

There is a lot to learn from top-notch contractors across the country. I’ve seen great results when contractors are willing to commit to testing and marketing in innovative ways. Here’s another example from one of our clients.

Princeton Air, a progressive HVAC contractor in New Jersey, learned quite a lot from their service plan promotion we helped them coordinate. For several years, Princeton Air sent 70,000 homeowners a letter promoting tune-ups, using a strategy of bringing in new customers with a lower-priced product and then up-selling as many as possible onto a service plan. They expanded their strategy, and at the same time, Princeton committed to testing against their old strategy, which made for fertile learning ground. They found out firsthand how HVAC customers react to a number of variables, and the results were very telling:

1. Offers matter - People chose a 20% discount on the service plan by more than 3.5 times the number who chose a free thermostat.

2. Mail works for service plan sales - You can sell service plans, at a much higher cost than tune-ups, in the mail. Despite the higher cost, 128% more people purchased service plans than tune-ups. And one-third of those people purchased the higher plan.

3. Promotional brochures make a difference - Brochures are critical to the success of the direct mail package. Letters with a brochure pulled a 40% higher response than letters without one.

In the next issue, I’ll share two more proven techniques you can employ to drive greater revenues, this time for your website. In the meantime, have a very happy and healthy Thanksgiving.

Blaine Fox, Vice President of Warm Thoughts Communications, is a recognized expert on the residential mechanical services industry. He is currently working with some of the nation’s leading HVAC contractors to improve their marketing, fine-tune their operations and grow bottom-line profits. Previously, Blaine was general manager of ServiceMark, a $32 million HVAC contractor with more than 25,000 service agreement customers. Blaine oversaw 160 field employees, 30 install crews, 12 sales people and a call center that handled 140,000 calls per year. Blaine is a sought-after speaker, and presented at Comfortech 2009. He is also a frequent contributor to HVAC industry trade publications. He can be reached at bfox@warmthoughts.com.