Why the Free Audit Doesn’t Work
Many efficiency businesses offer free audits as a thin edge of the wedge to open conversations with new prospects. Free audits seem great in theory, but in practice, they don’t work for at least a couple of reasons:
- If the customer doesn’t have enough money to pay for an audit, he or she is not likely to have enough money to pay for your other services.
- Free audits are very easy to approve—who would say no to that? The problem is that in many cases, the person approving the audit doesn’t talk to the real decision-makers before accepting the free audit because there is no money involved in the transaction. If the prospect doesn’t have to ask for even $500 to pay for the audit, it means you’ve never gotten his or her manager’s approval to do the audit (which means that you don’t necessarily have that manager’s approval to do any improvements that come out of the audit). Are you really going to dedicate all this time and money to do an audit and not even have the buy-in of your prospect’s boss?
On a related note, there is added benefit in getting yourself into the payable system of the organization from the very start. This makes your prospect less inclined to take your audit and then hire someone else to do the job because they already went through the effort of adding you to the system.
Assuming you agree that the free audit is fraught with peril, what might you offer a prospect instead? I recommend that you seriously consider offering free ENERGY STAR® benchmarking exercises. There are several benefits to using this approach to get your foot in the door:
- It takes a lot less time to benchmark a building using the EPA’s ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® software than to audit it.
- The report is automatically produced by the benchmarking tool, saving you countless hours preparing your audit report.
- Your prospect can’t “shop” your benchmarking report, a common problem you run into as unscrupulous prospects simply hand your document to their incumbent contractor, relative, or friend to see how inexpensively they could do the work without your involvement.
- The Portfolio Manager® offers a 1-100 rating on nearly two dozen space types, and buildings that receive a rating of 75 or higher can qualify for the prestigious ENERGY STAR® label.
- If your benchmarking report winds up finding the building to be ENERGY STAR® label-worthy, you’ve created an “award” that the building owner didn’t even know about until you arrived on the scene. That generates “psychic debt” in your favor.
- If the score proves that the building owner was overly sanguine about his building’s present level of efficiency, you can dispel the complacency using an authoritative, unbiased, governmental source to break the news to your prospect that the building needs your help.
- Assuming you secure some retrofit work in the wake of doing the initial benchmarking exercise, you can continue to use Portfolio Manager to track the building’s efficiency gains on a normalized basis. That means that even if the utility bill goes up in the wake of your retrofit, you can prove that it was perhaps due to a change in use (e.g., additional data center space) or a change in the cost per kilowatt-hour of electricity, rather than your retrofit failing to deliver the efficiency gains that you promised. Many decision-makers reluctantly approve capital for efficiency-related upgrades, hoping to see some evidence that they made the right decision prior to authorizing additional dollars for further efficiency initiatives. Seeing the ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager® score jump in the wake of a retrofit provides evidence that can be leveraged to build confidence for additional retrofit activity.
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