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 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


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,, 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

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, 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 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

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


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  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,, 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.