At the beginning of this year, Jimmie Johnson decided to test how online advertising affects his HVAC business.
“I wanted to know if we were spending too much on advertising. From January to April, I did no online advertising,” reports the owner of Jimmie Johnson Air & Heat in Roaring River, North Carolina. “By the end of April, we had limited work. In May, we started advertising again, and we have been busy ever since. That’s a real good indicator of how online advertising keeps your name out there.”
Johnson typically advertises on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. “They seem to get me the best results as far as reaching customers,” he says. “Everybody is on social media. It gets my name in front of folks when they are looking for heating and cooling needs and products.”
He rates Facebook as a favorite because “folks on Facebook will ask other people whom they use, and it’s very specific to our area. It seems like every dollar we spend on Facebook, we get back. On Google, I don’t think I get as much return on my investment. On Facebook, I feel you get your money’s worth.”
In business seven years, the company has eight full-time employees and specializes in residential work, with limited new construction and light commercial. Total sales average $840,000 annually.
To differentiate his company from competitors, he uses Adobe Spark pages and different kinds of videos that he creates himself with Photoshop and Premiere Pro. He then uploads the videos to YouTube and shares them to Facebook. “I try to make them entertaining and informative about who we are and why we offer the products we do. Videos are the next direction.”
Johnson maintains that most of his company’s online reviews have been fairly positive. “Occasionally, you’ll get a customer who will make a negative comment,” he explains. “I just apologize for their bad experience, and if they have anything we can do to make it better for them, we will. Other than that, I let it be. It’s water under the bridge.”
Hire the Right Experts
Dean Ayotte, president, Ayotte Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning, North Chelmsford, Massachusetts, believes the secret to owning the online marketplace is hiring the right experts.
“We hire people who understand both the marketing side and the industry,” he says. “They’ve helped us with steady growth over the last five to seven years. We look for their professional opinion on how to create an online presence and then maintain it. We monitor what they do and keep our online presence up to date. We try not to let it linger too long, or it looks stale. You can’t set it and forget it. When you create that modern appearance, people will see it and feel comfortable.”
When posting comments on Facebook and Twitter, Ayotte prefers the soft sell to the hard sell. “We like to see informational posts,” he says. “A typical one might be, ‘Winter is coming. Let’s make sure your furnace and boiler are clean and ready for the cold.’”
Another post might take the form of a question, such as, “Is your AC working right?” or “Do you have other options for thermostats?” or “What should you do in the warm weather when it gets really hot. How do you protect yourself?”
He indicates that an online form on his company’s website is a major source of leads. “Every day we get one to three people who fill out the form online and ask for an estimate, ask when we can do work, or ask for advice,” he says. “Having that online presence is a confirmation we’re competent to do the work. If a neighbor recommends us, people go online, look at our website, and think, “Ok, they’re legit. They’ve been around a long time.”
The company, which is in its 47th year, employs 15 people and concentrates on installation and service for residential customers. Only 15 percent of the work involves light commercial.
Ayotte remembers an instance when a customer wrote a negative review online, and he responded immediately both online and in person. “There was a miscommunication, and we messed up,” he explains. “We admitted it, and we were able to solve the issue. They were very pleased and wrote another positive review.”
Using the Sniper Rifle Approach
While some companies may take the shotgun approach to demand service campaigns, Magic Touch Mechanical in Mesa, Arizona, uses the sniper rifle approach, says Rich Morgan, president.
“Our goal is to make sure our message is reaching a very specific group of online prospects at the right times in the buying cycle, which will lead to the highest conversion rates,” he says. “Depending on our goal for each campaign, we determine the best platform, message, and budget for each campaign—much in the same way we approach traditional offline marketing and advertising campaigns. Quite often, we will commingle both online and offline marketing campaigns to target the same group of people using several forms of media.”
Morgan attributes his success with online marketing to longevity and persistence. He points out that his 20-year-old company, which employs 20 people, was an early adopter of pay-per-click, social media, and online review sites and was running multiple websites back when many contractors didn’t yet have one.
“Through trial and error over the years, we have learned what efforts produce the highest conversion rates and closing rates and can focus our resources on them until someone moves the cheese—and someone is ALWAYS moving the cheese,” he insists.
Because of the frequent changes to search engine optimization and social media marketing, Morgan spends a good portion of his time reading, researching, and attending seminars to stay ahead of the technology. “I personally write and reply to all the comments of our social media posts and our blog posts,” he says. “I also personally respond to all of our online reviews.”
He thinks negative reviews are unavoidable, but not necessarily a bad thing. “It’s a numbers game, and the name of the game is to get as many positive reviews as you can so the majority of people are posting positive reviews to suppress the negative reviews,” he emphasizes. “We all know there are some people you can never satisfy, a small group of people who are manipulative and extortionists….I think most people know all of this, so a few negative reviews mixed in with lots of positive reviews comes across as real to consumers.”
To keep the negative reviews to a minimum, Morgan employs a few strategic techniques. For example, the application program interface on the company website allows a customer to first send a message prior to writing a negative review. “We try to respond very quickly so they know it matters to us and their voice is being heard,” he explains.
In addition, he has instituted a process to request reviews via a text-message or e-mail while visiting with a customer. “Before we complete a job, we ask the client, ‘Are you completely satisfied with our service today? and ‘Would you consider the service we delivered today worthy of a 5-star review?’ When we get hesitation in answer to that question, we have an opportunity to make corrections before finding out the hard way they are not completely satisfied.”
According to Morgan, HVAC companies should ensure their online reviews are spread among many sources, not just one or two. “I see a lot of companies that have hundreds of great reviews, but they all appear on one site and are virtually nonexistent on others,” he says. “I think your online presence and reviews have to be multifaceted. When you take the time to really drill into your website analytics, you will find that people are being directed to your site from hundreds of different sources. While reviews are definitely a numbers game, and you need as many positive reviews as you can get, they need to be across many sites.