Marketing Home Performance

September 03, 2009
September/October 2009
A version of this article appears in the September/October 2009 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
Click here to read more articles about Auditing
Marketing complex home performance concepts in ways that sell whole-house solutions—solutions that address energy savings, comfort, health, and safety—is more challenging than selling furnace replacements.  When successful home performance contractors were asked “how do you simplify the home performance marketing message?” during a presentation at the national ACI conference in Kansas City, their unanimous answer was When we make it simple, we decrease our sales close rate.  While marketing home performance is complex, it doesn’t necessarily require a lot of money.  

My survey of 14 of the nation’s leading home performance contractors revealed a mix of low-cost, innovative guerilla marketing tactics, as well as strategic use of paid advertising and direct mail. This article presents the results of that survey, and offers advice that you can immediately put to use. Applying these proven marketing tactics can set your company apart from your competition, set you apart from traditional contractors, and will enable you to increase your profits.

Contractors around the country who used to be HVAC, insulation, or solar installation companies are successfully repositioning themselves to become leading-edge home performance contractors. There is no category for Home Performance in the phone book, yet these “invisible” nontraditional home performance contractors are closing larger installation jobs with increased profit margins.

Getting Across the Home Performance Message

Fishermen go where the fish are, and home performance contractors go where the homeowners with perceived problems are. Few people wake up one day and decide that they need a comprehensive home performance analysis. But lots of people wake up to broken furnaces and air conditioners or decide that they’ve lived long enough with their drafty, out-of-date windows.

For this reason, successful home performance contractors respond to what customers think they need and thus are looking for (that is, a new furnace or new windows) with a home performance message grounded in building science but directly responsive to the customer’s stated needs. Mike Rogers of GreenHomes America tells the story of a GreenHomes home energy advisor (they don’t call them auditors) who arrived at the home of a prospect who wanted new windows, and explained that before he could give the man a quote, he would need to conduct a combustion safety test on his furnace. The homeowner said that the other windows salesmen didn’t pretest to see if replacing the windows might make the home too tight. That, my friends, is the “aha!” moment in home performance selling—when you learn whether your prospect values (and is willing to pay for) your comprehensive whole-house solution or is simply price shopping for a commodity service.

Successful home performance contractors have a focused strategy (they pre- and posttest all installations—even “simple” window installs—as outlined in Building Performance Institute accreditation standards), and they exert the discipline to plan their work and work their plan. Consistently, successful contractors insist that you must have a written marketing and business plan—one that incorporates procedures, forms, and ongoing training for your staff and crew. And they stick to the plan. For example, Matt Golden of Sustainable Spaces says that his company won’t go to a home where it knows that another contractor has already submitted a bid, because its extensive sales lead tracking shows that it rarely wins those bidding wars. But he admits that not every company can afford to turn down a sales opportunity just to stick to a plan.

Consistently, successful contractors insist that you must have a written marketing and business plan—one that incorporates procedures, forms, and ongoing training for your staff and crew. And they stick to the plan.
Home Performance Marketing Tactics from Across the United States

In Pennsylvania, Sean Crane of HomeTown Green, a service provider in the state’s home energy program, lists his three best marketing tactics as networking; optimizing his Web site to be “found” by local homeowners who use search engines to look for home improvement contractors; and maintaining Energy Star affiliation.  Sean holds free workshops on “Efficient and Healthy Homes” and “Carbon Footprint” for the public, and estimates that three of these free workshops have yielded $46,500 in gross sales.

In California, Matt Golden of Sustainable Spaces, has three rules for his staff and crew. They are (1) Treat every home as if it were your own; (2) Sell the truth; and (3) Don’t install anything that doesn’t solve the problem. Matt takes the celebrity audit to new heights, having performed one for Ellen DeGeneres on her syndicated television talk show. Matt is committed to happy customers. If he installed it, he fixes it.

In Texas, Larry Taylor of AirRite is not involved with an Energy Star-sponsored program, but he is committed to providing whole-house services, and he is a founding member of Texas Home Energy Rating Organization, a not-for-profit professional organization that promotes the benefits of energy conservation initiatives and monetary incentives to homeowners, homebuilders, and businesses. Larry emphasizes trust and solutions; he provides ongoing service agreements and a guarantee that makes customers comfortable to ask him back for additional work. He utilizes tried-and-true marketing techniques, including talking yard signs, flowers or chocolates delivered to the customer’s workplace when the job is complete, and prizes (free housecleaning) to customers who provide at least ten referrals.

Become Your Community’s Home Performance Expert

A key success strategy, according to the contractors I interviewed, is to become a home performance expert in your community. Position yourself as
  • a local or regional subject matter expert on energy, comfort, health, safety, and whole-house improvement;
  • an efficiency expert on ways to save money, energy, and time;
  • a green or hybrid homes expert; or
  • any combination of the first three.

Look for nontraditional, free opportunities to market yourself in the media. These might include writing newspaper or magazine articles, appearing on radio or TV talk shows, and hosting workshops and seminars for homeowners. Workshops can range in time and scope. Start small, with 20-to-45-minute lunchtime presentations on topics such as Ten Tips to Save Money, Be More Comfortable, and Make Your Home More Earth-Friendly. More-demanding and broader-based seminars could be held in conjunction with other events, such as trade shows. These seminars might run for one or two hours and be held on such topics as Whole-House Improvements: How to Do It Yourself and/or Manage Your Contractors. For the truly ambitious, or those who are affiliated with utility efficiency programs, a full-day Home Energy Makeover Workshop with 15-minute presentations on energy efficiency educates consumers and connects them to the contractors who can best help them.

The following organizations may sponsor your workshop in one of their weekly or monthly meetings: the local Rotary Club and other civic organizations; home shows; homeowners associations; chambers of commerce; adult learning centers; realtor, code official, and other business and trade groups.

Organize a seminar by first drafting a brief description and flyer for the group to use to promote your appearance. Recommend RSVPs and/or charge a modest registration fee to demonstrate value. Script your presentation with plenty of customer stories. Gather attendee information through sign-up sheets, evaluation forms, and door prizes. (You can use these later as leads!)

A key success strategy, according to the contractors I interviewed, is to become a home performance expert in your community.
Free media coverage is better and more believable than ads, and it’s easy to get. Provide reporters and show producers with stories that sell. People stories and analyses on celebrities’ homes, homeowner testimonials, slice-of-life ride alongs on interesting jobs and today’s local events—immediacy and proximity make it news.

High-cost marketing tactics to avoid include newspaper and magazine ads that don’t include a direct customer testimonial or a “call to action,” and telephone directory ads. The Yellow Pages are the last bastion of companies that rely on fresh-meat customers, rather than on testimonials from past customers.

Traditional marketing tactics have their place. Home shows are a prime showcase, if you prepare customer testimonials and article reprints; a clipboard with lead sheets; video clips of you working and interviews with satisfied customers; and clips of live radio interviews. Don’t forget to bring your appointment book! Team up with the contractors you use as subs to maximize cross-telling and cross-selling (Solar? Home Performance is the First Step.) Bring your Home Page up on your laptop for people to browse. A well-designed Web site educates the consumer, and highly visible digitally printed vehicle wrap or “car skins” give brand recognition.

In the midst of the meltdown on Wall Street, you wouldn’t expect the winners of a home energy makeover contest to make headlines in Southern California. But the Anaheim Public Utilities program got coverage on all major television channels with the story of homeowners who won an efficiency contest sponsored by the Electric & Gas Industries Association. The young couple had bought a starter home, planning to keep it a few years and then move up. Thanks to the energy makeover, they are now so comfortable that they plan to retire there.

Ed Thomas has over twenty years of energy utility industry experience in sales and marketing management in many segments of the energy services industry. Ed authored an industry report on Home Energy Audits, coauthored a report on Load Management Programs, and published reports on Home Energy Loans and Geo Heat Pumps.

For more information:
See the TV news clip about the Southern California homeowners who won the efficiency contest at

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