3 Barriers to Digital Adoption for HVAC Distributors


Digital, Roles and Communication

Decision-makers in the HVAC industry are working urgently to balance dozens of critical priorities each day. These range from human to operational … not to mention a pandemic and record-setting weather events.

Change and even crisis can represent an important opportunity to start or accelerate organizational shifts. Here are 3 critical areas to consider as your organization looks toward the future:

  1. Digital: pre-and post-COVID, the purpose of your online presence has changed.
  2. Roles: from sellers to the governance structure, incentives and training need to adapt.
  3. Customer Communication and Marketing: frequent and context-sensitive communication will be a differentiator.

At the end of each section, there are concrete examples of what other HVAC distributors are doing and/or reflection questions.



Before COVID, eCommerce was about improving customer service and relieving pressure at counters and on staff. Now, eCommerce is about self-service, allowing distributors to:

  • Shop and order products online with less hand-holding from your team
  • View real-time pricing and inventory
  • Use a parts # finder and equipment parts lists
  • Download and pay invoices
  • Get relevant information on promotions, training opportunities and company news.


Ideas for getting more out of your online presence:

  1. Offer incentives, like streamlining factory-offered co-op funding for customers who make payments online. By encouraging online payments, you’ll encourage faster turnaround on cash flow.
  2. Use product cross-sell carousels on your site to increase sales in higher margin supplies like masks, gloves, carpet runners and/or in-home booties.
  3. Use your online platform to set up suggested wishlists for customers. For example: send reminders about stocking up on replacement filters of air purifying products.



A Changing Sales Environment

According to Forrester, these are the biggest trends in digital B2B selling:

  • CRM systems now automatically capture and upload buyer and seller engagement activity, which means less data entry for sales resources.
  • Deeper, data-driven customer research, creating more meaningful interactions with buyers.
  • Remote selling with the help of pre-recorded video that goes beyond email, phone calls and screen-sharing.
  • B2B marketplaces adding more value and functionality to their platforms - a threat for distributors.
  • Larger client-side buying groups.

At Absolunet, another HVAC trend we see is increased competition as both distributors and manufacturers offer stronger resources to support installers and people working in the field. This includes websites that are intuitive and easy to use on mobile and the ability to text with branches in order to quickly check inventory, request a product quote, place an order, schedule a pickup or delivery and even troubleshoot problems by texting pictures.

How distributors are adapting roles to respond to the changing environment:

  • Role Reallocation. Shift the focus of in-store operators, phone-based customer service reps and sales reps to online customer service. With training they can:
    • More consistently and more rapidly answer questions about your products.
    • Answer questions about your company’s COVID19 situation and any changes to your traditional operations.
    • Demo the website and offer to do screen-share walkthroughs with customers who have been reticent to use your online platform.
  • Speaking of training, “Today’s Business Buyers Crave Digital Interactions And Human Connections”. This means you need sales resources who are:
    • Digitally adept with a range of tools, calculators, estimators, content and social platforms.
    • Collaborative - able to deal with those expanding buying committees and internal changes.
    • Optimistic - the selling environment right now is highly challenging. Successful sellers will be psychologically resilient.
    • Empathetic - creating a feeling of trust virtually via collaboration tools.
  • Incentives for sales reps: eCommerce should be mission-critical for sales reps. Does your sales incentive plan include metrics on website adoption?

Digital-focused roles. Do you have these roles on your team?

An eCommerce Manager to:

  • Own the eCommerce platform implementation and evolution
  • Develop the eCommerce strategy
  • Manage the user experience on the website
  • Implement digital marketing initiatives
  • Report on website performance

A Product Information Manager to:

  • Own product information
  • Gather and manage product assets
  • Manage product pages on the website
  • Update existing product information and create new products
  • Build and deploy digital content that is meaningful to channel partners

A Digital Customer Service Operator to:

  • Manage calls to provide support for the website
  • Manage live chat interactions

In order to monitor your digital activity and prioritize the next steps, you need to closely monitor your eCommerce performance. If it is important, measure it.

The governance structure needs to reflect and support new roles and missions:

A growth committee that meets monthly to:

  • Review KPIs for the month and opportunities for interpretation and evolution.
  • Review marketing calendar (past and upcoming months).
  • Review short term opportunities and “quick wins”.
  • Make adjustments quickly and rapidly based on analytic feedback.


A steering committee that meets quarterly to:

  • Review and analyze quarterly performance.
  • Confirms eCommerce strategy is still aligned with global objectives.
  • Review platform evolution.
  • Update priorities and validate which features to launch in the medium term.
  • Discuss logistic and operational needs.

Have you allocated financial resources, communicated top-down team responsibilities and ensured everyone understands every action needed to carry out the organization’s plan for the future?

The takeaway: business as usual is not an option.




Examples of Adaptation: Communication
  • Reassure customers. It is okay to express uncertainty in this changing environment but do highlight your team’s proactiveness and readiness to adapt. One of our customers did a phenomenal job by:
    • Communicating info and resources on tax benefit acts and relief programs in their area
    • Providing a personalized message from the President
    • Highlighting their eCom tools and traditional channels
    • Offering a download of Health and Safety posters
    • Selling face masks

  • Ask your customers where they could use help in your transaction stream - this does not always mean a new rebuild - it can be as simple as 30 minutes of training. There’s no more valuable input than that from a customer who is willing to suggest improvements. Listen and then select the items that improve your strategies.


Examples of Adaptation: Marketing

  • Adjust your promotional tone - it is not one message to everyone but slight alterations of the same message to different customer segments.
  • Segment your database - analyze client purchase behavior, create new segments or subsegments. Example: Customers new to online capacity that need coaching as first time users.
  • Promote Replacement Parts - In this economic context, your customers are likely to opt for the replacement vs. the larger device - how can you make it even easier to find replacement parts than before?
  • Review Your Automated Programs - Audit automated workflows and pause programs that are not relevant - or must be replaced by new rules.
  • Get Creative - Events have been canceled, in-person training is called off. Try moving training, networking, sales, fulfillment, support, etc. activities online.

Whether you are adopting or adapting, take a look at Absolunet's HVAC experience. Or contact us to speak with our HVAC sectorial lead to find out what has worked and why for some of the biggest names in HVAC:

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