Posted by Charley Cormany, EFCA Executive Director
In my experience, contractors in the home performance field usually try to throw a wide marketing net to reach customers. They set up Google AdWords to target heating and cooling, insulation, and energy audit keywords because those seem like the only options. As Mike Rogers said “Don’t expect the words “home performance” to make your phone ring.”
But it’s hard to compete for leads in this way with single measure shops. While things like Google AdWords do occasionally generate leads,they also pull in a lot of bycatch. It’s really hard to be all things to all customers. But even using these wide nets, contractors still manage to find customers that love them–just not enough of them, and not frequently enough.So, how do you find more of them?
What Can You Learn from Your Good Customers?
Unfortunately, home performance is still small potatoes. Most contractors don’t have the resources to collect a lot of customer data, but that’s ok. (If you are tracking this data in a CRM or in another way, good for you. Some of your work is already done.)
But even without sophisticated tracking, salespeople and crew often know a lot about potential customers. Sit down with them and discuss. Include as many people as feasible. If you’re a small shop, you can do this on your own. Ask questions like, “Who are the easy customers to work with?”, “What types of customers sign off on bigger jobs?”, “What kind of houses make for the most profitable jobs?”, and even,”Who are the worst customers?”, “Are there customers that we are missing?” Write these answers down.
What Types of Information Should You Gather?
Customers come in all shapes and sizes of course, but you’ll probably find some consistencies in the answers. Here are some things to look at.
What type of people are good customers and that you can serve well? Do they have a certain education level? At one company I worked with, we found that college graduates were more inclined to dive deep into the information that helps make the case for a home performance upgrade.
What kind of life events are they going through? A new home buyer might want to do all the work at once before they move in. New parents might be extra concerned with making their home as safe and healthy as possible.
What are their Interests? A techie might be more open to new technologies and home automation. An environmentalist might want to go ZNE with a big job that includes a heat pump and solar.
Anything else about their life? For people who work from home, the issues in their house could be amplified by the amount of time they spend in it.
What do their homes look like? In Northern California, the sweet spot for home performance seems to be to be for homes between 1000 and 2500 square feet. You might find, as one contractor I worked with found, that hillside homes with stand-up crawl spaces or homes with tongue and groove ceilings have problems that can be easily solved.
Where are their homes? Certain cities, or even developments, might have characteristics that make them good candidates. A Sonoma County contractor I worked with found a targeted development where all the houses had either all electric heating, or electric and propane. This made them good candidates for home performance and solar.
There’s are just a few examples. Keep in mind, though, that what makes a good client isn’t just that they have a solvable problem–it’s that you’re the right person to solve it.
Pain Points or Needs
Everyone has a reason why they need or want your services. The classics in home performance are comfort, health, and efficiency. These can be broken down into more specifics. Health might be a specific issue like allergies or mold. Or it could be more general or preemptive, like having a baby in the house. Homeowners might be looking for greater efficiency because they want to lower their bills, or because they are worried about the climate.
And there are others: customers might have moisture issues, they might hate the power company (there were a lot of these in rural Sonoma County), or they might have market-specific issues, like boiler replacement.
Multiple Pain Points Equal Better Customers
In my experience, the more issues a potential customer has with their home, the greater his or her chance of being a good home performance customer. There are many examples of this.
Ironically, homeowners who are only motivated by environmental concerns can often make terrible customers: often they’ll just put a sweater on rather than turn up the heat. But add astronomical heating bills or the fact that they just had a baby, and you might have a good customer.
Multiple pain points don’t have to come from just one person. Often they come from different people who live in the home. One family member might get cold easily, while the other is enraged by the giant utility bill that they open every month.
There are two exceptions to this rule: rebate chasers and families with highly specific health concerns. Both of these customers can be extremely motivated, yet one should be avoided and the other should be served cautiously.
Rebate chasers, as I like to call them, just want the free money. Not all program leads are chasers. But the ones that find their way to you because they simply need an equipment replacement, and not because they have specific comfort, health, or efficiency issues. Plus, because they are motivated by price, it’s hard to convince them to sign off on bigger, more comprehensive upgrades. Without a solid second, or even third pain point, you might want to consider if they are a good option.
When it comes to home health, a specific issue can often be enough to motivate a customer. These concerns can lead to big and rewarding jobs, but contractors should proceed with caution. Jobs like this can be challenging if you fail to meet their high expectations. These types of jobs might become more prevalent as more people learn about the importance of home performance for health. That means, as an industry, we should get better at serving these customers and this type of singular homeowner need could become a great target.
Figuring Out Your Niche
The key word in the title is “your.” Every market is different and every contractor is different. If there happens to be more than one contractor doing home performance in an area, their niches can be different.
Come up with one, two, or a handful of best customer types made up of demographics and pain points that work for you. Pick as many as you can handle and serve well, but don’t be afraid to start small. You can always start with one ideal customer type and then incorporate or try new segments later. Just make sure that the market is big enough for your chosen segment.
Reach Out to Those Specific Customers
Don’t ignore other homeowners, and don’t stop campaigns that are providing results, but prioritize your marketing and sales to target customers in your niche.
Marketing to Your Niche
Online ads can be super targeted, especially if you’re in a bigger market. On Facebook, for instance, a lot of demographics can be used for targeting, including the ones I’ve discussed: housing size and becoming new parents. When creating ads (either online or off), target your message to your specific pain point groups. If your niche happens to be very targeted geographically (like the homes in a specific development), consider going old school and send out some mailers. Whatever you do, think about how to get the specific the customers you just identified.
Selling to Your Niche
Hopefully, your marketing efforts will bring in good leads but don’t stop targeting customers once they reach out to you. Have the person answering the phone ask questions that will help identify the best customers. Prioritize these customers when you have to make a choice about who to call back first or which customer to fit in on a site visit. One of the hardest things to do is learning to say no, but if the person on the other end of the phone doesn’t fit your target and you’re busy, consider not taking the job before you even go out for a site visit or an energy audit.
Keep Working at It
If you’re not already tracking your customers, find a way to. That way you can periodically evaluate what’s working and what’s not. Keep trying new segments and new groups of customers. And if you’re interested in taking this all to another level, try developing personas, or characters of your ideal customers that you can think about when your marketing or selling your services.
So, who do you think your best home performance customers are?
Communications & Marketing
Efficiency First California
Image from iStock.