When it comes to marketing, market yourself, not what you sell.

In order to be a success, some say you need to get the "best" brand name. They say you need to have the most respected and best-known company's products.

But there is another way: make yourself the best indoor comfort specialist in town. Make the brand you carry secondary to your status as the best indoor-comfort consultant. Make yourself the expert and others will believe in you and the products you install.

Compare the way these two contractors marketed themselves and their services:

A contractor has acquired the "best" HVAC equipment line. Let's call it "International Heating & Air Conditioning." This contractor uses this manufacturer's name in all its ads and pushes the name as often as it can. The manufacturer's logo is in the company's Yellow Pages ad, reinforcing that this contractor is an International dealer.

The exterior signs on the shop and the window displays have the International name displayed. The dealer's name, Bob's H&C Inc., is included where there's room. Bob gave up some name recognition to get this product line, but the company believes it will be worth it.

Another contractor, Tru-Temp Indoor Comfort Ltd., has no affiliation with any manufacturer, but over the years has established the company as employing people who produce what they promise. They sell only what the owners believe is the best product for its customers. The brand does not make any difference to them. They have been in business for more than 10 years and have become well known in the area.

Active in the community

Jessy, the owner, writes a Sunday column for the local newspaper on indoor comfort and four or five times a year puts on a free seminar for local people interested. Jessy has become the local expert on HVAC products and their application.

These two companies are equal in their ability to install a quality job and staffers at both possess the same educational training. They are equal except in their marketing approach and the way they sell their systems.

Tru-Temp operates as an "independent" contractor, while Bob's is a brand-specific "dealer."

When considering how to market your business, ask yourself:

Whom do you think will be affected more, the independent contractor or the dealer, when market share doesn't meet expectations? Both can be affected, but the dealer has everything tied up in a brand name. The company could lose the line or have more competition in their market, forcing the owners to reduce prices.

One of the most frequently asked questions at my selling workshops is how can you make a profit when you have to compete with the people who perform HVAC work on the side or similar low-end tactics? My answer is always the same: you don't have to match their prices, but you do have to sell you and your company.

This is where the independent contractor has an advantage on the brand-oriented dealer. When you make a brand the focus of your presentation, you become lazy. You feel that prospects will want your brand name regardless of who you are or what your company represents. You don't try to sell yourself as the "expert," there to help. Nor do you really try to sell prospects on your company and how it is different from all others. Prospects see very little difference - except perhaps in price.

But without selling the brand name, Tru-Temp sells itself. Prospects see the difference in quality and installation. They see that equipment is no better than how it is installed. They are shown value and are willing to pay more. They bought the "brand name" of the installing company.

(Dave Gleason has more than 40 years of experience in contracting, engineering and wholesaling. He has put these experiences into a comprehensive consultation and training company called Systematic Selling Inc., which offers customized sales seminars and workshops. Contact him at 1165 Antioch Campground Road, Gainesville, GA 30506; phone (800) 447-7355; fax (717) 698-6555.)