The start of a new year is a good time to reflect on the past 12 months, take stock of the current state of the business, and plan strategies for the coming year. The winds of change are continually leading to shifts in the marketplace that affect contractors’ businesses. Staying alert to subtle changes in customers’ buying behaviors can help contractors adapt their marketing models as market conditions change.
This year is no exception. Resolving to address the headwinds and tailwinds we’re seeing in today’s business climate can help HVAC contractors adapt their customer acquisition strategy, differentiate their business from competitors, and achieve growth goals.
Let’s start with the headwinds that contractors are facing in 2023. The pandemic was a historic moment for businesses serving the residential building market. Consumers flush with cash were locked down with plenty of time to think about how to make their homes more comfortable. The result was greater interest in all kinds of home improvements, including HVAC system upgrades. Homebound consumers could easily be reached with some pay-per-click campaigns that supplied many contractors with all the leads they could manage. In 2023, the economic winds have shifted and we are seeing more pocketbook-focused customers who want to fix the problem as opposed to upgrade a system.
This change in customer mindset requires contractors to adapt how they acquire customers. A tell-tale indicator of the need to adapt marketing efforts is that many contractors say their Google search budgets aren’t being spent. The relatively “easy” lead buying strategy that generated sales during the pandemic is not as effective in an environment where customers are focused on repairing equipment instead of replacing or upgrading. Finding customers becomes more than a numbers game and a strong brand becomes essential.
What about the tailwinds that can help drive a contractors’ business? Because customer acquisition is likely to become more difficult this year, contractors that have invested in their brand are likely to benefit from greater name recognition and trust compared to those who did not invest in their brand. The benefits of being the local name homeowners recognize first when they need an issue addressed can be amplified through association with trusted national brands. For example, at Griffin Service, we’ve built a good brand locally, but we can’t be a Carrier, Owens Corning, or Mitsubishi — that’s taking brand awareness to a new level. So we leverage our association with national brands. In the introductory conversation with a homeowner, for example, our technicians will mention that we’re an Owens Corning Air Care contractor, adding that this designation is awarded to a limited group of contractors.
Differentiation is another tailwind that can help contractors drive business growth. Our team has focused on bringing a whole-house, 360-degree approach to the customer experience, allowing us to sell not only equipment but also insulation, ductwork, and attic upgrades. A holistic and consultative approach that goes beyond the equipment switch-out or repair can differentiate a contractor from competitors.
Speaking the customer’s language is another opportunity to differentiate a business. Homeowners don’t want to talk about SEER ratings, CFM, AFUE, or even indoor air quality — those are industry terms. Conversations should focus on what the customer wants. And in today’s market where customers are focused on solving an issue, it’s about saying “We can fix the problem” as opposed to “We can replace your system.”
Listening to the customer’s pain point and responding can differentiate a contractor’s message from competitors’ sales-focused tactics. Once the homeowner feels heard, the contractor can ask what we call the “permission question.” For example, as we’re in the attic, we may notice insufficient insulation or problems with ductwork that can contribute to problems with higher energy bills. Our techs will take photos of the area of concern, advise the customer of the potential issue it may cause, and ask the homeowner if they’d like to discuss it. If the customer isn’t interested, we will simply fix the problem and satisfy the customer’s desire. The consumer is effectively in the driver’s seat, but the technician has an opportunity to steer the conversation by bring up problems that could affect the homeowner’s energy and comfort.
With headwinds and tailwinds in mind, one New Year’s resolution that can help contractors of all sizes is resolving to be more efficient. Simply defined, efficiency comes down to doing more with the same or fewer resources. If a lead-generating strategy that generated 12 leads during the pandemic is now only generating 10, it becomes essential to secure more business and drive more customer value with those 10 leads.
Given that change is constant, when it comes to growing their business, contractors can never set it and forget it. As a new year gets underway, contractors who invest in their brand, differentiate through a whole-home approach, and listen to their customers can optimize efficiency, weather shifts in the business climate, and continue to grow their business in 2023 and beyond.