Adams Hudson

It’s all my teenage children’s fault. Since they collectively utter only five syllables per week, I now use enough words for all of us. Somebody’s got to say something. Plus, since they rank my authority like a dim-witted ATM, but with more nose hair, I find myself wagging a judgmental finger more than ever.

Thus, my articles inThe NEWSare likely to be wordy and demanding. The editors of this formerly fine publication are now asking, “Is it too late to give him back?”

Yet, we’ll learn something here, I promise. You’ll find that I can be sensitive, warm, and caring, but since that’s rarely entertaining, I’ll throw in lots of petty grievances and insults. Keeps the elusive balance.

Balance is equally hard to achieve in marketing. Clients usually contend they want piles of leads, all the time, (you too?) yet fail to realize that keeping customers is of greater importance. It’s less exciting, but more profitable, especially in a declining economy.

Between the extremes of getting and keeping are the marketing variables that dictate image, notoriety, and market position. There’s also a single point of contact at the “getting and keeping” hinge that many contractors miss, discussed in your “to-do” list below.

Balanced marketing will be the focus of these articles. Each marketing message is a particular ad type that’s definable, trustable, and nearly formulaic in application. Contractors know formulas, you know how to build, you know how to measure, so paint-by-number marketing ought to be simple.

Most contractor marketing is rubbish. Before you rush to pen the first hate mail letter, realize it’s not your fault. Not one bit. I ask in seminars, “How many marketing questions were on your license exam?” and the answer is always none. Likewise, I’ve never been to a copywriting course where they asked me how to tune a furnace.

Three ways you may have been brainwashed:

1.Believing the media rep that just happens to be selling ad space in that media.

2.Buying into co-op ads because they’re slick, done, and partly paid for. (Have their marketing people ever even talked to a homeowner? Oops, here comes my first hate mail letter after all! In your letter, please tell me the results of your last campaign and we’ll talk.)

3.Looking to your competition for inspiration … who, by the way, have no idea what they’re doing.

Let this column be your fourth option.

We plan to put your brainwashing on a heavy rinse cycle, coming clean with real results from real contractors. I welcome your comments, questions, inquiries, and even complaints (as long as you offer a constructive counter element too.) This’ll be fun or it’s not worth doing.


Here is a snapshot of where we are as an industry. HVAC sales slipped about 9 percent in 2007, and another 23 percent or so for 2008. Sustaining overheads for staggering dealers will become insurmountable for many in 2009, sending talent to the streets (watch for competitive and job application upswing) and fewer contractor choices for customers right with it. Survivors will be rewarded with a larger share of remaining service work, which will stay steady. The preceding indicates better results for the proactive contractor.

The smart marketing money for the next two quarters will be in street-wise strategies. This means low-cost, high-results marketing; nothing fancy, just shrewd. These methods are exactly how many of our clients had their best years ever in 2008. Here’s a quick, free one you can do today:

Even though most of my work is to generate more phone calls, the quickest area to bump your appointment rate and catch the gold slipping through your fingers is at the phone call.

Sloppy lead-handling for the uncaring or untrained will bode poorly. Leads are too costly to get, more costly to lose, and almost never come back. How much of that can you afford? Most say they don’t have a problem here. That’s what’s most disturbing.

We make about 6,000 calls to HVAC contractors each year and none are cold calls. These calls are requested from the owner/president. The lack of professionalism and sheer rudeness encountered virtually ensures that the poor image of contractors will remain healthy for some time. This is what we found out from the calls:

• 24 percent didn’t ask who was calling, only responding that the requested party was “not there.”

• 41 percent put callers on hold without asking permission (very important step).

• 13 percent put the phone down and spoke audibly in the background. Is this a professional office? Tell me your perception.

• 7 percent said the requested party was busy and asked us to call back. (This may happen to us and not customers, but it is still inefficient and rude. Makes our return call a guess and/or a waste of time.)

• 2 percent used profanity in the background. Regardless of your tolerance level, this is incredibly offensive and perhaps the least professional thing you can do on a call.

There are three sales in every incoming call; two happen on the phone. The first is selling friendly proficiency (how you answer, relate, correspond). The second is securing the appointment (polite firmness to capture the lead.) The third is at the home, but it gets all the attention. Correct the top two and you get more opportunities at the third.

Start with the greeting. Since no one likes an unhappy greeter, learn to smile through the phone. This can be aided by a mirror at the desk of the phone trafficker. You think Disney and Bally’s do this for the heck of it?

I’m not crazy about the wordy, forced greetings running over about 14 words not including company name. End your greeting with a question. You’re a service, remember? Greetings should be the same company wide. Every time, no variance.

Keep the call focused. Script your responses to commonly asked questions. Make sure your phone traffickers know how answers “point” to services or products you offer. This is in stark contrast to the results above. Pitiful.

A script is vastly superior to winging it. Don’t confuse scripts with that robot that called you during dinner last night to sell you a new phone plan. Learn talking points instead of verbatim.

Learn to upsell without changing subjects. Such as, ask all nonagreement customers, “Are you on our agreement program?” If they say yes, they’re predicting the immediate future! If they say no, say, “Once I confirm your appointment I can tell you about it,” or, “Then make sure our tech tells you how today’s service could be heavily discounted.” Both are polite and sell without selling.

Time permitting, ask all callers, “Did you want a free Healthy Air inspection with your service call?” or whatever supplemental additional service you can offer to enhance a dormant revenue stream. Who says no? Not many, and these are free leads.


If you can bump your appointment to call rate by just 10 points, you’ll find more money coming in without spending a dime. If you can bump up selling unobtrusively into every call, results should skyrocket. All free, sitting there, untapped.

Speaking of which, the same principles should follow every service call, sales call, and even unclosed leads. Given the relative slowness of this season, you likely have the overhead in your office, right now, able to tap into this revenue. Referrals do not happen by accident, and the follow-up call generates them easily with few questions. Again, free leads.

Remember, a recession requires some aggression. You can’t be remembered if you forget that. More next month on pro-active, high-performance marketing without the droning build-up of today’s lesson. Thanks for having me.

FREE THING OF THE MONTH:AllNEWSreaders can get a copy of “7 Phone Habits of Contractors That Drive Customers Crazy.” Just ask for “Phone Habits” in a polite e-mail to or on faxed letterhead to 334-262-1115. Include your mailing address since this is a real report.

Publication date:02/23/2009