I'm fortunate to count as friends some of the top consultants in the industry. These folks stay booked all year, doing individual consults, speaking to packed houses, and getting to “correct” the business sins of the masses. They help draw the “straight line” to success, dodging much pain and misfortune, while collecting worthwhile and hefty fees. They would not be busy unless every dime was worth it.

Over the past few years, some of their wisdom has rubbed off on me. Okay, not really. But I can occasionally act like I know what I’m talking about by writing articles like this one.

One thing I’ve learned is this: no company becomes a failure overnight. Failure takes effort. It takes a series of actions and decisions – most of which could have been avoided.

So, now that I have your attention, let me put the contractor’s “path to failure” into easy-to-follow terms:

Pour most of your marketing money in the Yellow Pages. The YP is a source to millions in consumer traffic and purchases every day, but contractors incorrectly believe that this traffic translates to sales success. It doesn’t. The sad news is that only 13.4% of HVAC sales result from this significant expenditure. Even sadder, nearly 75% of contractors spend over half their marketing budgets in there.

Let your salespeople quote on price. This puts your company in the dangerous position of chasing the lowest prices in town. Success in HVAC sales rests on selling value – not equipment, not price breaks, not even your charming smile. Never present the price apart from presenting the value of doing business with you and your company.

Don’t have a customer retention program. The formula here is also effortless and it goes like this. 1) Get a call. 2) Service it when you feel like it. 3) Submit invoice. 4) End all contact, except to ask them to buy something when you mail to the rest of the known universe. Your customers should be viewed differently and contacted differently. Since they are your very best source of future business from their own purchases, as well as their referrals, don’t they deserve a little extra attention?

Refuse to add a Maintenance Agreement program. After all, offering maintenance agreements can make a dramatic difference in a contracting company’s bottom line – typically adding thousands of dollars of predictable profit. So why would you want to do that? The contractor gets loyal customers who pay for that loyalty, and the customer gets a higher level of service. It’s a win-win situation.

Beware: many of your competitors are headed straight down this path to failure. Don’t follow them. Don’t imitate them right out of business. Instead, do the opposite and watch your business take off in the other direction.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a creative marketing firm for contractors. Call 800/489-9099 to ask about the new Service and Maintenance Agreement Power Pack, a turnkey product that provides all the tools contractors need to create their own maintenance agreement. For a free marketing newsletter, contractors can fax their letterhead with the request to 334/262-1115 or check out www.hudsonink.com for other free marketing articles and reports.