Last month, I described a commercial service agreement that would allow you to provide full parts and labor coverage on equipment of any age or condition that could, at your discretion, also include replacement equipment (see “Pricing and Selling Commercial Service Agreements,” CB, December 2004, p. 52).

This month, I'll share with you my procedure on prospecting for accounts. By the way, you can use this procedure to acquire new commercial accounts, whether or not you use the type of agreement described in December.

This six-step process consists of:

  • Locating prospects
  • Getting in the door
  • Establishing your credibility
  • Establishing the prospect's need
  • Landing them on maintenance
  • Pitching the agreement.
  • Locating Prospects

Your easiest prospects are commercial customers for whom your company has already provided service. With a little pre-call planning, you can whittle things down to the point where you're visiting your best prospects first.

Start by asking your techs which commercial service customers could benefit most by owning service agreements or replacing their equipment, and why. Your techs will usually provide insight that will make the initial conversation with the potential customer easier.

Once your techs understand what you're doing, they'll become more aware of the potential and will probably supply you with enough leads to keep you busy from now on.

In the unlikely event you run out of tech leads, check your files for customers who:

  • Own older equipment
  • Are responsible for the upkeep and eventual replacement of their equipment
  • Have a history of repeated breakdowns.

Getting in the Door

Don't call in advance and pitch the idea of a service agreement over the phone. Prior to ever making any recommendations of any sort, you must first establish the need. It's unrealistic to expect that you can establish a customer’s very specific need for maintenance and a service plan without having personally familiarized yourself with their situation.

I don’t recommend calling to set an appointment. However, if you insist on calling first, follow this phone script word-for-word: "Hello, Mr. Smith? This is (state your name), with (the name of your company). Will you be there for the next 45 minutes or so? Great! I'll be right over." That's it. No more, no less.

Don't arrive looking like a salesman. Dress in an "upgraded service tech uniform," which consists of a polo shirt with your company logo on it, loose-fitting, pleated pants, and high-quality, polished walking or work shoes. Wear a flashlight on one hip and a combination-type tool on the other. Carry a clipboard and a 6-in-1 tool.

At a small commercial account, you'll want to speak directly with the owner. At a large commercial account, you'll want to speak with the person in charge of maintenance. Try to avoid having to go through the receptionist at the front desk.

I usually do what service techs who arrive for service work do: go to a back entrance and ask for the person I want to speak with by name.

Smile, say "Hello," and explain that you're just stopping by to check over your previous work and to ask if they needed anything or have any questions at all about their HVAC equipment. Be very calm, relaxed and matter-of-fact about the visit.

I've done this a number of times and have always been amazed at how well I am received. On rare occasions they may have their guard up at first, wondering I'm up to. This is fine.

Establishing Your Own Credibility

Don't just jump right in and start pitching a service/replacement plan. It’s essential to establish your credibility prior to making any recommendations.

Use your small hand tools to remove a panel or two from some of their equipment. If they're watching, at that point, you convert, in their eyes, from a salesman with an agenda into a service tech.

Leave the panels off the equipment for the time being. Later in the conversation, after making your initial recommendation that service be performed, they’ll likely tell you they need to think it over. You'll say, "Of course you do. And I need to put your equipment back together." That little 10-minute break is frequently all the time they need.

Often, a few minutes into things, customers start asking questions about what they could do to improve such things as filtration or comfort. It's not unusual for them to ask about replacement equipment, or if you'd be willing to look over the equipment in an entirely separate business they own.

It's okay if they don't accompany you during this cursory inspection. That gives you some time to examine the condition of most of their equipment. Make certain you eyeball both the indoor and the outdoor components. Determine how much equipment they have and get a feel for what would be involved in one routine maintenance call.

Prepare yourself to quote a package price to perform one outine maintenance service. Make certain to explain that the price includes only doing those things that need to be done every single year, and doesn’t include doing anything that isn’t routine in nature, such as cleaning indoor coils, pulling and cleaning indoor blowers, etc.

Establishing the Need

Don't make generalized statements like, "Mr. Smith, I always recommend regular maintenance."

Address your recommendations to customers’ very specific and personal needs. Say, "Mr. Smith. I've surveyed your equipment. Do you realize it has a condition (partially blocked coils) that is the primary cause of compressor failure and overpayments to the power company?"

Ask leading questions:

  • "Has no one ever consulted with you on the required maintenance of your HVAC equipment?"
  • "If there were a way to reduce your maintenance and repair costs, would you want to know more about it?"
  • "If there were a way to write the same size check every month and keep your air conditioning and heating running, would you want to know more about it?"
  • "If there were a way to increase comfort and make your heating and air conditioning last longer, without spending a dime, would you want to know more about it?"

Obviously, they're going to spend money. But when you clean up a bunch of partially blocked coils, they might just save enough money in utilities to pay for the maintenance. Additionally, they'll have reduced breakdowns and extended equipment life.

Maintenance doesn't cost money. It costs money to not maintain HVAC equipment. Another way of wording it is, you're paying for maintenance, whether you buy it or not.

Landing Them on Maintenance

At this point, your goal isn’t to pitch a service agreement. Your goal is to close them on one maintenance call. If they don't bring up a service agreement when I recommend the initial maintenance service call, I don't either.

Once you establish the need for the maintenance, they very frequently do inquire about a service agreement. Believe it or not, at this point, you don't want to appear too anxious. Explain that, prior to taking on any new service agreements, one of your techs performs an initial inspection, a needs analysis, and routine service on their equipment.

That way your tech can go over the equipment with a fine-tooth comb and write up a full report on the condition of everything they own that you would service. This is so you know what you're getting yourself into. The business owner will also receive a copy of that report, as well as a face-to-face consultation with you, as part of the service.

Pitching the Agreement

Meet with the tech who performed the initial service inspection, and get a full equipment report. Then, map out and price an action plan that would be in the customer's best interest to accept.

Call the customer and set up an appointment to go over the tech's findings and explain your recommendations. If asked for details, explain that you'll need to re-visit the job again prior to making any statements.

Once you sit down with the prospect, stress the benefits of the agreement, act confident, assume you've got credibility, make eye contact, and let them buy.