How many times has an inspiration hit you over the head, making it almost impossible to ignore it? That happened to me one morning as I was having my coffee and finishing up my daughter's leftover McDonald's pancake breakfast. I was reading an article inBusiness 2.0, which involved "seeding" a market for hit products. As I looked outside a number of birds were flying around our bird feeder, fighting for the precious seeds inside.

Hmmmm - seeding and seeds - some sort of a sign?

The article talked about company managers and other key executives who set up an internal Website where they bet on memory chip prices. Each person got 100 tickets to bet on various price ranges and at the end of each quarter, winners who made the most accurate bets, i.e., price predictions, won a cash prize.

The article also suggested a way to seed a market using this model. The first thing to do is to set up a Website where researchers and others can pitch product ideas, which are treated as stocks. "Players" then buy stock in their favorite ideas and then trading starts, with prices moving based on the players' opinions of the ideas. After a set period of time, the idea with the highest stock price is declared the winner.

Very cool.


Now let's say that you have a tip on a hot product or technology that is soon to hit the HVAC market. Make sure you find some things that appear to offer true benefits to your customers, e.g., energy savings, greater comfort, security, etc. People are tuned in to products that include these types of phrases or catchwords.

Now keep in mind that you already plan to add this technology to your product mix but you need to get a feel for what exactly your customer is looking for - by seed planting.

I have a scenario where you may find the most fertile ground. Let's say you plan to push the importance of variable-speed motors to your customers. As a rule, HVAC contractors know the benefits of variable speed, but how much do their customers know? The best way to find out is by planting seeds.

The next time you do a direct mail piece or change a feature on your Website, save room for a multiple-choice question. Ask your customers or prospects what they want most in a home HVAC system and give them choices which include electrical efficiency, cooling efficiency, zoning, air quality, and humidity control (but not necessarily in that order). By the way, I pulled those words from some homeowner FAQs (frequently asked questions) at the Lennox Website.

Notice that each choice is directly affected by variable-speed motor operation. You really aren't looking for the best answer; you are merely planting a seed for the benefits of variable-speed motors by showing all of the benefits up front. You are getting feedback, which is as tough as pulling teeth, and maybe a few e-mail/snail mail addresses in the process.


With the seeds producing a fine yield of crops, a.k.a. customers, it is time to harvest the crop and start bringing in the sales of HVAC equipment that utilize variable-speed motors. You have done all of the right things and developed a database of people who want this technology in their homes and businesses.

Don't sit on the harvest. You have a wealth of information. Bundle it up in a nice presentation piece, showing that people want and ask for the many benefits of variable-speed motors. You have the data from your seed planting. Arm your salespeople and service techs with the answers from your multiple-choice question. Make it snappy, either using a one- or two-sided heavy bond sheet of paper (laminated would be nice) and use a catchy headline like "All Answers Leed to Variable Speed."

Leave it with each customer. Follow up soon after with a phone call or e-mail message. The message works much better after the seed has been planted and your customers know what you are talking about.

Publication date: 09/11/2006