How do HVAC preventive maintenance plans fit into your overall sales strategy ? They should be a priority, a service that you market aggressively. Maintenance agreements, which some HVAC contractors sell as memberships in a "care club" or "comfort club" can be an easy sell -- especially when you use social media to extol their benefits.

Typically, these service agreements cover your customers' regular maintenance needs, repair needs and sometimes replacement needs, offering your clientele peace of mind -- and making their annual costs more predictable. Many contractors offer a range of plans at a variety of price points.

Most plans include two annual system tune-ups -- one in the fall, for heating equipment, and one in the spring, for cooling equipment. Many contractors also offer discounts on repairs as well as other perks for customers with maintenance agreements.

HVAC preventive maintenance agreements can accelerate your cash flow as customers pay the plan fees. They also boost profits by opening the door for opportunities, for example, to replace worn-out parts or systems.

You can increase your visibility dramatically by incorporating a blog and other social media into your HVAC preventive maintenance sales strategy. But no matter the medium, you should be conveying your maintenance plans' key advantages to customers.

Not sure how? Consider these approaches as you develop your sales and marketing strategy:

• HVAC preventive maintenance plans ensure customers' heating, cooling and ventilation equipment remains in good repair. By inspecting their systems regularly, your technicians will catch minor problems before they grow into major ones.

• Maintenance plans save customers money by improving the energy efficiency of their equipment. You know that leaky old equipment wastes money. Make sure your customers know that, too.

• They eliminate surprises. A customer with a maintenance plan rarely gets hit with a sudden midwinter heating system replacement. If their equipment is failing, your technicians will be able to repair it during a tune-up -- or at least warn them of what lies ahead and help them explore their options.

• They are convenient. HVAC preventive maintenance agreements eliminate hassle for customers. You contact them when it's time for a checkup. And when your customers do need repairs or immediate service, they know whom to call.

• They are cost-effective for customers. Do the math with your prospects, illustrating the differences in energy use -- and costs -- between a cared-for system and a neglected one.

Social media should be a prominent vehicle for delivering your message. You should be using social media to offer existing -- and potential -- customers a real benefit.

So, when you are covering preventive maintenance plans on your blog, on Facebook or on Twitter, do more than make a sales pitch. Share your expertise. Explain the "why" and some of the "how," but do it in understandable language without using unfamiliar jargon. The less "salesy" your tone and the more informative, the more likely you are to keep your customers reading. Tell your audience what you do, and why you're the one they should call.

Some ways to use social media to sell your HVAC preventive maintenance plans include:

Using your blog or Facebook posts to offer maintenance tips for tasks that homeowners or building maintenance crews can do themselves, like changing air filters and covering outside equipment to protect it from ice and snow. But emphasize that more complicated maintenance should be left to the professionals. Give some examples of tasks your technicians will do during a tune-up (and why they're important), and provide a link to your comfort club web page. Don't be afraid to give away that secret sauce. If you can communicate your expertise in, say, a blog post, most consumers will realize that they need professional help and choose you, the information expert, to get the job done for them.

Using social media to listen to your customers -- and to improve your product. Create a Facebook poll about what customers want most from a preventive maintenance agreement. Each customer who participates makes a connection with you, and you gain information about your customers' priorities. When a customer posts a maintenance question on your company's Facebook wall, respond promptly and thoughtfully. Then turn that question and answer into a blog post -- and provide that link to your website.

Using social media to extend bonus benefits to your customers. Facing a slow week? Send out a tweet offering a deal on programmable thermostats for members of your maintenance club -- and a link. Post Today Only! discounts for club members on Facebook.

These bonus benefits don't always have to be monetary. Offer "first-in-line" repair status to club members. Offer them emergency repair service -- with no overtime charges -- on holidays and weekends. Then write a blog entry titled, Join Our Maintenance Plan And Enjoy These 10 Perks.

NOTE: All these things are possible, but the biggest issue is that most contractors don't have fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter or blog subscribers to get any attention. Doing that is a long-term strategy. Invest the time by creating high-quality content to make this happen. This is the new yellow pages folks...it's important to starting thinking about this for 2012.

Your goal is to position yourself as your community's go-to contractor when it comes to preventive maintenance. That means understanding your customers' needs and sharing your expertise. It means staying in touch with your existing customers and reaching out to new ones. You know your customers are online -- social media should be a key tool for reaching them.

Joe Pulizzi is CEO for SocialTract, the leading blogging/social media service for HVACR Contractors. Joe’s new book, Managing Content Marketing, is now available on Amazon and Kindle. Joe can be reached on Twitter @juntajoe or by email joe@socialtract.com.