Breakthrough Ideas - Warm Thoughts Communications
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Breakthrough Ideas

By Richard Goldberg

By Richard Goldberg
When we launched our Breakthrough Groups™ seven years ago, I had no idea of the power we were unleashing. More than 60 fuel company owners and managers now participate. Each group is made up owners or managers of similar sized companies who don’t compete. It is inspiring to hear them share their experiences with the intention of helping each other. Likewise, their discussions provide a window into what companies, big and small, are doing to keep pace with an increasingly challenging business.

In this series of articles, I’ll share some of the trends we’re seeing, and some ideas that are emerging that may serve you as well. Nothing I share here is “secret,” or that info would have stayed in the group alone. But I hope it proves useful.

Rethinking your sales approach-
No one disputes that it’s harder to add new customers. Price shopping is rising. The internet is changing how people shop. It’s harder to retain move-ins. New customer offers are getting more outlandish.

In the face of this, improving salesmanship would seem to be a major priority. Yet when we “mystery shop” the companies and listen together, the results are almost universally frustrating. People who answer calls almost always give the price without showing any value. They rarely “sell the company” or give good reasons why they are the best choice. They rarely ask questions that uncover what the customer is really after. They rarely get contact information so they can follow up by phone or email. At best they are order takers, which is a shame, given how much you spend to make the phones ring.

A growing consensus in the groups is that if you are serious about growing (or just staying even) you need to have specialists. Typical CSR’s don’t make good salespeople. They see their job as making customers happy, mostly by giving them what they want. A good salesman thinks people will be happy if he convinces them to buy something. They don’t see a sales call as a distraction, but as an opportunity.

Ideas-

Rethinking delivery efficiency-
Insurance keeps rising by leaps and bounds. Finding good drivers is like a needle in a haystack. There’s a growing divergence between k-factor estimates and reality, especially with more customers using ancillary heat sources. As a result, companies are trying to figure out how to leverage technology to get more trucks off the road and still prevent run outs.

Occasionally we have outside experts join our decisions. Phil Baratz (President of Angus Energy) recently caused lightbulbs to go off. He shared the results of a groundbreaking study of hundreds of thousands of oil and propane deliveries, which led to the development a new delivery algorithm. It purports to reduce delivery costs by up to 25%. Beyond that, we’ve had lots of discussion about tank monitors, routing and fleet management software, inward vs. outward facing cameras, etc.

Some conclusions from our discussions alone and with Phil:

Next time: Rethinking HVAC and service management

Rich Goldberg is President of Warm Thoughts Communications, a marketing firm that has specialized in the oil, propane and HVAC industries for 30 years. You can reach him at rgoldberg@warmthoughts.com

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