About Tom

Owner and principal advisor at ATomiK Creative Solutions, LLC, a company established in 2005 that provides marketing services, technical advice, continuing education solutions, and business development assistance to energy companies and support organizations.

Sales process training added to popular PERC program

Sell­ing advanced propane tech­nol­ogy becomes a top priority 

The research & devel­op­ment pipeline at the Propane Edu­ca­tion & Research Coun­cil (PERC) is begin­ning to pro­duce advanced propane tech­nol­ogy prod­ucts at a rate that war­rants stronger empha­sis on com­mer­cial­iza­tion, in other words, sell­ing these prod­ucts in the mar­ket­place.  After an ini­tial fund­ing delay, the sec­ond gen­er­a­tion of tech­nol­ogy train­ing, Mar­keter Tech­nol­ogy and Sales Train­ing (MTST), is being launched.

One of PERC’s first attempts at com­mer­cial­iza­tion was Mar­keter Tech­nol­ogy Train­ing (MTT). PERC has suc­cess­fully trained over 1500 propane mar­keters in the MTT pro­gram to date.  Over 60 ses­sions of the pop­u­lar pro­gram have been con­ducted in 31 of the 38 propane asso­ci­a­tions across the coun­try.  Now PERC is dou­bling down on the train­ing by adding improve­ments that include inte­grated sales process train­ing and expan­sion of the post-classroom expe­ri­ence with webi­nars, enhanced Mar­ket­ing Resource Center

pres­ence, and a “hot line” for quick response to sales chal­lenges.  This expanded and improved pro­gram has been renamed Mar­keter Tech­nol­ogy and Sales Train­ing.  The MTST train­ing pro­gram is designed to help propane mar­keters rec­og­nize new mar­kets as well as max­i­mize exist­ing ones as a way of off­set­ting lost gal­lons and increas­ing over­all propane sales.

Pat Hyland, Direc­tor of Indus­try Pro­gram for PERC, is excited about the sales oppor­tu­ni­ties that the MTST pro­gram will bring to propane mar­keters.  Pat says “The tim­ing is right for the more aggres­sive MTST pro­gram, with propane prices favor­ably posi­tioned in com­par­i­son to other energy sources, an abun­dant propane sup­ply, and a pipeline full of advanced tech­nol­ogy propane prod­ucts spilling into the marketplace.”

For those who attended the old MTT pro­gram, expect lots of changes in MTST.  The half day mod­ules have now been expanded to day-long ses­sions per mod­ule due, in part, to the expanded sales process train­ing included in each one.  Each mod­ule will have cus­tomized learn­ing objec­tives that include:

• Under­stand­ing the mar­ket oppor­tu­nity
• Under­stand­ing the ben­e­fits of propane over com­pet­ing energy sources
• Know­ing the tar­get mar­ket
• Under­stand­ing the sales strate­gies
• Know­ing how to pre­pare for prospect meet­ings
• Cre­at­ing effec­tive call open­ings
• Know­ing the tar­get ques­tions to ask a prospect
• Cre­at­ing a step by step sales action plan
• Under­stand­ing gate­way sales oppor­tu­ni­ties
• Know­ing avail­able resources for use after training

Amy ImparaAmy Impara is the owner of Sales Trans­for­ma­tion Now, Inc., the new PERC part­ner in the devel­op­ment and deliv­ery of the MTST pro­gram.  Amy is excited about the oppor­tu­nity to work with the propane indus­try and says, “Propane mar­keters will learn proven sales tech­niques that focus on best prac­tices used by suc­cess­ful com­pa­nies in real world sit­u­a­tions in many other indus­tries.”  Amy will be per­son­ally han­dling much of the MTST train­ing across the country.


I assisted PERC and its pre­vi­ous part­ner in the devel­op­ment of some of the mod­ules in the old MTT pro­gram and filled in as a trainer.  I recently par­tic­i­pated in a “Teach Back” ses­sion with Sales Trans­for­ma­tion Now to pre­pare myself to teach MTST, if needed, and I will tell you that the improved train­ing is just what the propane indus­try needs.  Inno­v­a­tive propane prod­ucts are here now, and it is time that propane retail­ers take on the chal­lenge of tak­ing them to mar­ket.  If you don’t, who will?  Con­tact your propane asso­ci­a­tion or go to www.propanecouncil.org/MTST today to see when MTST is sched­uled in your area.


Tom Jaenicke is the owner and prin­ci­pal advi­sor at ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, tech­ni­cal advice, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion solu­tions, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance to energy com­pa­nies and sup­port orga­ni­za­tions.  He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or tom@atomikenergysolutions.com.


Switching from Propane to Natural Gas Won’t Save Energy

Focus your cus­tomers on effi­ciency to get desired cost savings

Expect nat­ural gas pub­lic util­i­ties to become increas­ingly aggres­sive in switch­ing home­own­ers from propane to nat­ural gas for the pri­mary energy source for their homes.  Abun­dant sup­plies of nat­ural gas and low pric­ing have forced nat­ural gas com­pa­nies to look for the most prof­itable way to sell the increased pro­duc­tion from shale sources.  Nat­ural gas util­i­ties will be plac­ing extra empha­sis on the res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial uses of nat­ural gas instead of watch­ing all the new gas pro­duc­tion go to fuel new or retro­fit power plants.  It’s all about mar­gin, some­thing the propane indus­try knows very well.

The com­bi­na­tion of low home energy effi­ciency and volatile propane pric­ing can make switch­ing to nat­ural gas an easy deci­sion for the aver­age home owner.  Propane home­own­ers look­ing for a quick fix for their high energy bills will be tempted to switch to nat­ural gas, but doing so will not save energy.  The owner of an older home built to an ear­lier, less aggres­sive build­ing code, and with an orig­i­nal heat­ing sys­tem that has prob­a­bly been de-rated to 60% or less effi­ciency due to age and neglect, will not save energy by switch­ing to nat­ural gas.  Using nat­ural gas instead of propane will still send 40% or more of the pro­duced heat up the vent pipe and leak more through the enve­lope of the home.  All that is not even con­sid­er­ing the energy expended in propane ser­vice dis­con­nect and pip­ing of nat­ural gas to the home­site that energy switch­ing will cause.

If you see energy switch­ing as a chal­lenge in your mar­ket­place, now is the time to engage your cus­tomers in a con­ver­sa­tion about increas­ing the effi­ciency of their homes, includ­ing the enve­lope, heat­ing equip­ment and appli­ances, so they can pocket the sav­ings on their over­all energy bills and not be mis­led by energy switch­ing claims.  Home­own­ers can gain even more effi­ciency and energy cost sav­ings beyond space heat­ing by divert­ing home energy usage from elec­tric­ity to propane for other appli­ca­tions in the home such as water heat­ing, cook­ing, clothes dry­ing, and fire­places.  Your aver­age res­i­den­tial cus­tomer will end up with greatly increased home effi­ciency, lower total energy bills (propane and elec­tric­ity), and a more com­fort­able home.  There are dozens of National, State, and local pro­grams to help home­own­ers pay for home effi­ciency and weath­er­iza­tion improve­ments.  Energy not used is always the cheap­est, and energy not used is always the cleanest.

A next step for you as propane mar­keters can include part­ner­ing with a cer­ti­fied home energy audi­tor or start­ing a home energy audit­ing divi­sion of your own com­pany.  Home per­for­mance audi­tors use equip­ment to per­form tests such as Blower Door (whole-house infil­tra­tion), Duct Blaster (duct leak­age test), and Infrared Scan­ning ((iden­ti­fies invis­i­ble trou­ble spots in insu­la­tion).  Home energy audi­tors use a rec­og­nized per­for­mance stan­dard such as the REZNET (Res­i­den­tial Energy Ser­vices Net­work) -HERS (Home Energy Rat­ing Sys­tem) index, a nation­ally rec­og­nized sys­tem for inspect­ing and cal­cu­lat­ing a home’s energy per­for­mance.  Many new home builders are using the HERS index to effi­ciency rate their new homes to dif­fer­en­ti­ate them from the used home mar­ket.  Find out more about home energy per­for­mance by going to the PERC builder web site, http://www.buildwithpropane.com, and look for train­ing courses and train­ing tools such as the Energy Cost & Car­bon Cal­cu­la­tor.  This tool and sev­eral oth­ers can also be housed on your web­site to help make your com­pany the local energy expert.

Your local net­work­ing should always start with builders, but don’t stop there.  Great net­work­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties also exist with HVAC con­trac­tors, plumbers, home energy audi­tors, home improve­ment con­trac­tors, and oth­ers.  For exam­ple, home energy audi­tors may know a lot about the effi­ciency of a home, but they may not know the impor­tant role that propane and related appli­ca­tions can play in rais­ing home effi­ciency and sav­ing energy.  You can bring them busi­ness, and they can help you pre­serve and grow your cus­tomer base.

PERC has avail­able impor­tant research results, train­ing courses, and a wide array of other up-to-date energy related mate­ri­als for res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial build­ing and remod­el­ing that propane mar­keters should be using to reach out to con­struc­tion and energy pro­fes­sion­als.  PERC also has an inte­grated national out­reach pro­gram that reaches res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial builders and archi­tects, and to a lesser degree, HVAC and plumb­ing con­trac­tors and other influ­encers.  Builders and archi­tects can be reached by PERC with such an inte­grated pro­gram in a cost effi­cient and highly effec­tive man­ner, but propane mar­keters need to be engaged with builders to help them close the sale for propane.  The fur­ther down the influ­encer chain that PERC gets from mar­ket­ing to builders and archi­tects, the more impor­tant it is for local propane mar­keters to be involved.  The HVAC and plumb­ing indus­try is not as eas­ily reached in national or regional mar­ket­ing cam­paigns because of less influ­en­tial national trade orga­ni­za­tions and less media oppor­tu­ni­ties.  This means the most cost effi­cient and effec­tive out­reach to them is local.  Local means propane mar­keters face to face, net­work­ing with builders, trade allies, and energy professionals.

Don’t allow your cus­tomers to be mis­led by energy switch­ing.  Get local with your effi­ciency net­work­ing and allow your cus­tomers to have choices that will save energy, lower their over­all energy bills, pre­serve the envi­ron­ment, and give them a more com­fort­able home.  Increas­ing effi­ciency is where it all starts.


Tom Jaenicke is the owner and prin­ci­pal advi­sor at ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, tech­ni­cal advice, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion solu­tions, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance to energy com­pa­nies and sup­port orga­ni­za­tions.  He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or tom@atomikenergysolutions.com.

PERC Training Courses Reach Construction Professionals

The Same Train­ing is Start­ing to Catch on With Propane Mar­keters too

The Propane Edu­ca­tion & Research Coun­cil (PERC) is its 5th year of build­ing an arse­nal of train­ing courses for con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als.  Orig­i­nally the courses were designed to train archi­tects about propane and the ben­e­fits of related appli­ca­tions.  The propane indus­try had long felt that archi­tects were an impor­tant first step in the res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial con­struc­tion process but had no way to reach this audi­ence.  The aver­age propane mar­keter can be intim­i­dated by the archi­tect com­mu­nity and unsure of the role they play in energy deci­sions.  PERC took the smart approach and did research to qual­ify the archi­tects as energy deci­sion mak­ers and find out the best ways to reach them.  The research showed that archi­tects need con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion to main­tain their State license and are espe­cially recep­tive to online train­ing.  It was also noted that no other energy provider was pro­vid­ing this type of energy related train­ing to archi­tects.  With the door wide open, PERC stepped in the first year with one course on under­ground propane tanks and over 300 archi­tects took the course.  The propane indus­try went from –0– out­reach to reach­ing over 300 archi­tects the first year.

What does the train­ing pro­gram look like now?  The Propane Train­ing Acad­emy has been estab­lished online and cur­rently houses 22 free online courses on a vari­ety of top­ics includ­ing new tech­nol­ogy that PERC grants helped develop.  Last year almost 5,000 con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als, includ­ing res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial archi­tects and builders, remod­el­ers, engi­neers, and HVAC and plumb­ing pro­fes­sion­als signed up for the courses.  Included in those num­bers are 200 propane pro­fes­sion­als who found the train­ing a valu­able resource for con­nect­ing to the con­struc­tion mar­ket and propane end users.

PERC is able to cap­ture infor­ma­tion dur­ing the train­ing reg­is­tra­tion process and the amaz­ing results point out the true value that this train­ing is bring­ing to the propane indus­try.  An over­whelm­ing 70% of the con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als sign­ing up for the courses plan to build with propane in the next 12 months.  Of the builders with no pre­vi­ous expe­ri­ence in build­ing with propane, over half of them plan to build with propane in the next 12 months.  This points to the effi­ciency and effec­tive­ness of train­ing the con­struc­tion com­mu­nity and will result in incre­men­tal sales and gal­lons when you con­nect with those builders in the field.  All of the con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als train­ing with PERC at trade shows, through Buildwithpropane.com, and the Propane Train­ing Acad­emy are posted as leads on the Propane MaRC.  Find them and cre­ate new gallons.

Train­ing for your­self and your employ­ees can make a dif­fer­ence in the way you approach the chal­lenges before you.  Much of the coun­try had an unusu­ally warm win­ter that is now quickly turn­ing into sum­mer.  Warmer than nor­mal tem­per­a­tures, the con­tin­ued weak econ­omy, accom­pa­ny­ing con­ser­va­tion, and propane prices sig­nif­i­cantly higher than the pre­vi­ous win­ter have brought gal­lon sales down 20 to 40 per­cent for many propane retail­ers.  Some of those gal­lons are likely to come back with a nor­mal win­ter and an improved econ­omy but some gal­lons are gone for­ever.  For some retail­ers it may be time to face the real­ity that it is time to make a choice; down­size my busi­ness or cre­ate new gal­lons.  Cre­at­ing new gal­lons means cre­at­ing new users and increas­ing the num­ber of propane appli­ca­tions with cur­rent users.  That is true propane mar­ket expan­sion in the energy sec­tor, ver­sus steal­ing cus­tomers from your weaker propane com­peti­tor.  Cre­at­ing new propane users is a strat­egy while steal­ing cur­rent users is a tac­tic. While you may have oppor­tu­ni­ties in your mar­ket­place to use that tac­tic, it shouldn’t be your only one.  Add train­ing for your­self and your employ­ees to your tac­tics list.  The train­ing avail­able at the Propane Train­ing Acad­emy should be incor­po­rated into your slower deliv­ery sea­son, if cre­at­ing new and expanded res­i­den­tial propane users is part of your strategy.

Make spring­time learn­ing time, not down time at your propane busi­ness.  The train­ing avail­able at www.buildwithpropane.com/training will make propane retail­ers bet­ter pre­pared to sell to the con­struc­tion com­mu­nity and to end users.


Tom Jaenicke is the owner and prin­ci­pal advi­sor at ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, tech­ni­cal advice, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion solu­tions, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance to energy com­pa­nies and sup­port orga­ni­za­tions.  He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or tom@atomikenergysolutions.com.

Home Builders Find Propane a Favorable Energy Source

Builders were propane buy­ers at the Inter­na­tional Builders Show

The 2012 Inter­na­tional Builders Show (IBS) held in Orlando, FL last month showed a mod­est increase in atten­dance.  Over 50,000 atten­dees and 900 exhibits still makes this one of the largest trade events in the coun­try, in spite of the down­turn in the build­ing indus­try.  Propane was well rep­re­sented in the gas indus­tries exhibit with the Propane Edu­ca­tion & Research Coun­cil (PERC) part­ner­ing with the Amer­i­can Gas Asso­ci­a­tion and over a dozen gas prod­ucts man­u­fac­tur­ers.  These equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­ers included Gen­erac and Marathon Engine Sys­tems show­ing off new gen­er­a­tor and com­bined heat and power (CHP) tech­nol­ogy devel­oped through PERC grants.

The gas exhibit had lots of traf­fic with nearly 1500 builders vis­it­ing the exhibit and reg­is­ter­ing for more infor­ma­tion about propane and related prod­ucts. Total builder leads from PERC activ­i­ties at IBS should total over 18,000.  Expect to see them posted on the Propane MaRC in the com­ing weeks.  Propane indus­try sup­port from the field to pro­vide vol­un­teers for the exhibit was weak for this event with sev­eral com­pa­nies pulling out at the last minute.  We should all thank Fer­rell­gas and Lib­erty Propane for pro­vid­ing great vol­un­teers to work with builders vis­it­ing the exhibit.  They were kept very busy.

All of the builders stop­ping by seemed favor­able toward propane and had great ques­tions regard­ing a project or two of which they were work­ing and how propane could fit into them.  Two broth­ers who are HVAC con­trac­tors in propane coun­try near Louisville spent over an hour with the Marathon rep­re­sen­ta­tives dis­cussing how CHP could fit into their projects instead of geot­her­mal.  I talked with Jim from Arkansas who wanted to know if propane rather than elec­tric­ity could ful­fill his energy needs in his soon to be con­structed 2,800 sq. ft. hunt­ing lodge.  By the time we were done talk­ing, I walked him over to the Ther­mador sec­tion of the exhibit and he was pick­ing out his gas range.  And there was Bill from Idaho who wanted to know about propane tan­k­less water heaters for a ski lodge project on which he is bid­ding.  Don from Ohio was inter­ested in learn­ing about propane tanks that can be installed under­ground on some of his cus­tom home projects.  Matt from Penn­syl­va­nia has been build­ing about 15 homes a year on propane and wanted to know more about being able to offer standby gen­er­a­tors as an option for his clients.  There were 4 dif­fer­ent builders or devel­op­ers who were look­ing for more infor­ma­tion on com­mu­nity propane sys­tems for projects they will start in the spring.  Robert stopped by and was hav­ing prob­lems get­ting a propane com­pany to per­form a site visit to deter­mine tank loca­tion and pip­ing needs for a cus­tom home he is build­ing for a client in South­ern Florida.  The home will be 18,000 sq. ft. in size and will have 5 propane tan­k­less water heaters and numer­ous other propane appli­ca­tions through­out the home and back­yard.  And then there was the woman builder from New Mex­ico who attended a PERC spon­sored “Meet the Experts” ses­sion who planned the pur­chase of 4 propane standby gen­er­a­tors for projects on which she is work­ing.
These are just a few exam­ples of the high qual­ity of the builder traf­fic stop­ping by the exhibit.  It helped to have the high qual­ity hand­out mate­ri­als that PERC pro­vided, such as the new Propane Tech­ni­cal Pocket Guide that gives com­par­isons between propane, nat­ural gas, heat­ing oil, and elec­tric­ity.  The Pocket Guide pro­vides con­tainer loca­tion infor­ma­tion, pipe siz­ing charts, and other tech­ni­cal infor­ma­tion a builder may need to access on the job site.  Another pop­u­lar part on the propane exhibit was a big screen mon­i­tor that had the PERC con­struc­tion pro­fes­sional web site online so builders could try out sev­eral online tools such as the Energy Cost and Car­bon Cal­cu­la­tor.

Builder atti­tudes at IBS were guard­edly opti­mistic about build­ing activ­ity in 2012 based on the pos­i­tive response they are get­ting from prospec­tive home buy­ers.  Cus­tom home buy­ers seem to be lead­ing the shift in sen­ti­ment and direc­tion, and that is good news for the propane indus­try.  Large cus­tom homes in propane coun­try have always been our sweet spot for new busi­ness.  Don’t expect dra­matic changes this year, but it is def­i­nitely time to con­nect with builders and remod­el­ers in your area and turn favor­a­bil­ity into propane sales.

If you want to inter­act with trade pro­fes­sion­als, you should vol­un­teer to work at the JLC Live res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion show in Prov­i­dence, RI on March 21–24.  PERC will share exhibit space with the Propane Gas Asso­ci­a­tion of New Eng­land and sev­eral prod­ucts man­u­fac­tur­ers at the Rhode Island Con­ven­tion Cen­ter.  You can find more details at www.newengland.jlclive.com.


Tom Jaenicke is the owner and prin­ci­pal advi­sor at ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, tech­ni­cal advice, con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion solu­tions, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance to energy com­pa­nies and sup­port orga­ni­za­tions.  He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or tom@atomikenergysolutions.com.  Con­nect on Face­book and LinkedIn 


Taking Propane to the House

Time to con­nect with the res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion industry

Ignor­ing your res­i­den­tial propane busi­ness and pre­tend­ing it will get bet­ter some day with­out your help is no longer an option, unless you are only in your busi­ness for the short term.  Charg­ing higher mar­gins and other oner­ous penal­ties (in your customer’s eyes) like tank rent and deliv­ery fees to make up for short gal­lon through­put per cus­tomer will only carry you so far before you run out of excuses for your banker or your Board of Directors.

Let’s look at some other rea­sons why your res­i­den­tial cus­tomers are not using as much propane as you want them to use.  The res­i­den­tial propane busi­ness has been under down­ward pres­sure from sev­eral dif­fer­ent fronts includ­ing con­sumer con­ser­va­tion due in part to a weak econ­omy, energy switch­ing (to elec­tric­ity, renew­ables), adop­tion of stricter build­ing codes, higher effi­ciency heat­ing equip­ment and appli­ances, a weak home build­ing mar­ket, and a dis­tinct com­mu­ni­ca­tions gap between propane mar­keters and con­struc­tion professionals.

The future is not going to get any eas­ier as both energy codes and heat­ing sys­tem effi­ciency stan­dards undergo his­toric changes in 2012–13.  The spread­ing adop­tion of energy codes which are 30%+ more strin­gent than even 2006 codes and a new fed­eral reg­u­la­tion that will man­date high effi­ciency fur­naces and heat pumps in all US mixed and cold cli­mates will bring impli­ca­tions for propane that include:

• Smaller capac­ity heat­ing sys­tems
• Lower propane con­sump­tion rates for heat­ing due to equip­ment effi­ciency and enve­lope improve­ments
• Increased impor­tance of water heaters as an anchor appli­ca­tion in the home
• Increased impor­tance of smaller propane appli­ca­tions in the home
• Oppor­tu­ni­ties to gain mar­ket from heat­ing oil fur­naces, which also face effi­ciency hikes
• Increased chal­lenges from elec­tric heat pump sys­tems (air-source, ground source, mini-split), in both new and exist­ing applications

Add to these chal­lenges the fact that the aver­age home with propane as a pri­mary energy source is already down to less than 2 propane appli­ca­tions of the 5 indoor appli­ca­tions avail­able.  Over half of those homes have an elec­tric water heater.

This long list of chal­lenges sum­ma­rizes the need to re-energize your rela­tion­ship with con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als.  This means devel­op­ing or strength­en­ing rela­tion­ships with builders, remod­el­ers, heat­ing & cool­ing con­trac­tors, and plumbers serv­ing your propane mar­ket.  While it may be sev­eral more years before the hous­ing mar­ket and the econ­omy return to nor­mal lev­els, con­struc­tion activ­ity has started to come back in pock­ets across the coun­try. This is doc­u­mented by the NAHB/First Amer­i­can Improv­ing Hous­ing Index pub­lished monthly by the National Asso­ci­a­tion of Home Builders (NAHB) and other sources.

There is no bet­ter time to let con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als know all the rea­sons why propane should be their pre­ferred energy choice when build­ing, remod­el­ing, or per­form­ing effi­ciency upgrades for their clients.  The Propane Edu­ca­tion & Research Coun­cil (PERC) has pro­vided propane mar­keters with a great vari­ety of mar­ket­ing mate­ri­als and tools geared toward the build­ing com­mu­nity.  There are research reports, train­ing courses, fact sheets and more that can pro­vide energy answers for you and the con­struc­tion pro­fes­sion­als with whom you work.  Join and become active in your local Home Builders Asso­ci­a­tion and make sure your State or Regional propane asso­ci­a­tion is doing its part in clos­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion gap with the con­struc­tion com­mu­nity.  A good place to get the big pic­ture is by attend­ing the NAHB Inter­na­tional Builders Show in Orlando, FL on Feb­ru­ary 8–11, 2012.  Con­tact Aisha Parker at the PERC office and sign up to spend some time in the gas indus­tries booth that the propane indus­try shares with the Amer­i­can Gas Asso­ci­a­tion and gas prod­ucts man­u­fac­turer partners.

Expect PERC to put a big push on Tak­ing Propane to the House in 2012 to fos­ter direct engage­ment between you and your con­struc­tion pro­fes­sional clients.  With approx­i­mately 70% of all retail propane sales being used in build­ing struc­tures you could say that you are not in the propane busi­ness – you are in the build­ing busi­ness.  It is time to pay more atten­tion to it…..unless you are just in it for the short term.


Propane marketers are tuning up their websites

A major shift away from Yel­low Pages adver­tis­ing is tak­ing place

When is the last time you picked up the phone book to look up a busi­ness in the yel­low pages?  Even in small town Amer­ica, it is just too easy to use your favorite search engine to search online with your com­puter or smart phone.  Propane mar­keters have been slow to shift from Yel­low Pages adver­tis­ing.  For decades Yel­low Pages has been what made the phone ring in propane offices across the coun­try.  Most mar­keters did post an oblig­a­tory web site a few years back when it seemed to be the thing to do to keep up with com­peti­tors, but most looked at it as an addi­tional mar­ket­ing expense rather than an even­tual replace­ment for their time hon­ored friend, the Yel­low Pages.

My, how times have changed.  Many propane mar­keters are now cut­ting Yel­low Pages back to min­i­mum lev­els or doing away with that form of adver­tis­ing alto­gether.  They are invest­ing some of those sav­ings into updat­ing their web sites because more leads and con­tacts are being gen­er­ated from that source, includ­ing the phone calls that Yel­low Pages used to attract.

In my work with the National Propane Gas Asso­ci­a­tion (NPGA) Bench­mark­ing Coun­cil, I am a facil­i­ta­tor for one of the 9 groups of mar­keter mem­bers. My group of 13 mem­bers had decided to bench­mark their com­pa­nies’ web sites and learn more about social media.  Ben Gutkin from Warm Thoughts Com­mu­ni­ca­tions, www.warmthoughts.com, was brought in to put on a one-and-a-half day web site eval­u­a­tion work­shop for our mem­bers.  Each mem­ber reviewed their own web site and stud­ied other mem­bers’ web sites prior to the meet­ing so all could be active par­tic­i­pants in the eval­u­a­tions.  Ben per­formed an excel­lent and insight­ful eval­u­a­tion of each web site with the mem­bers pro­vid­ing input along the way.  The eval­u­a­tions were inter­est­ing, edu­ca­tional, and some­times bru­tally honest.

The review included the home­page, over­all design, con­tent, and archi­tec­ture.  Ana­lyt­ics or mea­sure­ments of effec­tive­ness were reviewed with mem­bers who were sub­scribed to such ser­vices (highly rec­om­mended).  The home­page is the most crit­i­cal com­po­nent of the web site.  You have an aver­age of 3 sec­onds to make the right impres­sion on vis­i­tors or they will switch their search to your com­peti­tors’ sites.  Some of the more impor­tant ques­tions that need to be answered on your home­page are:
• Does the site have the prod­ucts and ser­vices I’m look­ing for?
• Does the com­pany ser­vice my area?
• Are they some­one I want to do busi­ness with?
• How do I con­tact them?

In other words, do the vis­i­tors know what you want them to do, and have you given them a rea­son to do it?

Your phone num­ber needs to be promi­nent on your home­page.  For those propane com­pa­nies that have call cen­ters answer­ing most cus­tomer and prospect calls, it is more impor­tant to have added fea­tures on your web site such as new cus­tomer sign up and auto­mated bill pay­ing.  These fea­tures help to make up for the per­ceived short­com­ings of call cen­ter performance.

Those com­pa­nies that have local field offices answer­ing the calls find that extra fea­tures on the web site are use­ful but not as impor­tant as a friendly knowl­edge­able local voice walk­ing the caller through the process or invit­ing them in to han­dle in person.

In either case, the phone num­ber is a crit­i­cal part of your web site home­page.  It is impor­tant to pro­mote your web site to draw vis­i­tors.  Your web site is an afford­able way to give vis­i­tors rea­sons to call you. That is why web sites are replac­ing Yel­low Pages in mak­ing the phone ring in your office.

The work­shop also included an update on how social media can fit into a propane retailer’s mar­ket­ing plans.  The mes­sage here is that social media will become an impor­tant fac­tor in propane mar­ket­ing in the future but don’t go there until your web site is oper­at­ing at peak per­for­mance and you have a plan to keep it that way.  Social media is to web sites what web sites were to Yel­low Pages five years ago.  The mar­ket­ing change cycles are get­ting shorter as elec­tronic media inno­va­tion leaps for­ward.  Make sure your 2012 mar­ket­ing plan is not look­ing too “Yel­low” around the edges.

Tom Jaenicke is the owner of ATomiK Cre­ative Solu­tions, LLC, a com­pany that pro­vides mar­ket­ing ser­vices, train­ing, tech­ni­cal advice, and busi­ness devel­op­ment assis­tance, pri­mar­ily to the propane indus­try.
He can be reached at 810 252‑7855 or Con­tact Tom.