by Tom McCart

How do most sales people prepare themselves for an upcoming sales interview with a residential replacement prospect?

I ask this question prior to beginning a training session. Typically, the responses range from “nothing,” to “looking the address up on our map” to “checking to see if they are a current customer.”

A few have said they call the customer to chat about the appointment, even after the time and date have been confirmed.

In addition, I consistently hear complaints about “Bubba” low balling price, “Rusty Vann” offering the same job with more warranty or added benefits, and “Skeeter” willing to do the job for “cost plus” so he can cover his payroll. As salespeople, we encounter these challenges every day.

Because you can’t compete in a price game, the only defense you have is to become a better salesperson. I don’t mean some high pressure, suede shoe, arm twister. What I am talking about is capitalizing on your competitive advantages, offering real value, and building solid relationships.

Selling isn’t something you do to a prospect; selling is something you do for your prospect.

I didn’t want to cringe every time someone called my name in a public place because I SOLD him or her something they really didn’t want.

Many years ago someone once said to me “Successful people will do, what unsuccessful people will not.” I started looking within myself to see what it is that I could do that others were not doing.

The Sales Call Begins Before You Leave the Door

When I came into the industry in the 1980s, I needed all the help I could get. Unfortunately, there was no place to go. We received three days of classroom training and a week in the field with the sales manager. Then, I spent 18 years managing large discount retail stores where HVAC was nothing more than a line item expense on the P&L statement.

Help for me had to come from within. I had read that the hardest part of selling is being properly prepared to sell. So, I started a list of ideas of things I could do to make me a better person and salesperson. Sparing you the sanctimonious stuff, my list included learning why my equipment was better, and translating the many features into emotional buying benefits.

The list for my lowest grade equipment offer had more than 36 product features and benefits. The higher the efficiency, the more features and benefits my offer included. My best offer came with over 50 buying benefits.

After I finished with the equipment, I made a list of my company’s competitive advantages and the benefits of doing business with us. Years of retailing taught me the product was only as good as the company behind it.

Next on my list were the benefits of doing business with me, includin my knowledge of the industry and my training. My goal was to sell me and my company because after doing that, my equipment solution would be more credible. This really gave me a leg up on my competition, which included seven other salespeople in my company.

This information became a source of study for me. I committed it to memory and rehearsed and practiced often. It must have worked because I sold three of my family members new systems!

Stay Ahead of the Competition

My next area of selling weakness was a real knowledge of my competition and their offers. I started collecting rejected sales proposals from all my competitors. Most customers were happy to share these with me because they felt the proposals or bids didn’t speak to their needs.

Soon I narrowed the rejected proposals down to three major competitors. I wasn’t concerned so much with the pricing (because we sold from a cookbook), as I was with the perceived value of the proposal.

That experience gave birth to a new legal-size, check-off proposal that had more than 50 check boxes. It was easy to read and understand and became part of the presentation, which
allowed me to get the proposal out and in front of the prospect early in the interview. My challenge then was to learn all I could about different brands and what they did or didn’t offer.

The more you know about your competition the easier it is to sell against them. I also discovered many times it was the small details that won the proposal. Little things like doing a house drawing on graph paper, a Manual J short load calculation, inspecting the entire duct system, and checking the water heater setting to name just a few.

I got plenty of practice on developing my selling system, street level and in the field.
It was scary because we worked on 100% commissions, provided our own vehicle, paid for the gas, and back then, a FM telephone cost 35 cents a minute.

Leads were issued on a rotation basis, and the salesperson with the highest closing average for the month received the first lead every day. The year I wrote more than $1 million in residential replacement sales, I had received 339 company-issued sales leads.

My salvation was that I always asked for referrals and I loved to knock on doors and make cold calls. The source our sales leads was never revealed to the sales staff. This was a great policy because I’m sure many of us would have blown off telemarketing and Yellow Page leads.

Because of this policy we converted a lot of these to sales just to keep our closing average up.

The Next Step

Now that most of the basics have been covered, let’s talk about what you do after you’ve been given a sales lead.

As I mentioned earlier, most sales -people do absolutely nothing until it’s time to leave for the sales call.Then, they usually pick up some brochures and other collateral information.

You have just been given the opportunity to make a professional presentation about your company, your equipment solutions, and yourself. The answer is not to just wing it when you arrive at the prospect’s home.

In the “pre-approach” step of my selling system there is a purpose. As the saying goes, “The better you know someone the easier it is to sell them.”

In great part, that relationship is built on trust. How could you get to know your prospect better before you ever meet him/her? Would it really help to know something about the people you are about to meet? Invest just 10 minutes to discover:

  • Is the prospect a current customer?
  • Has the home ever been serviced by your company?
  • Customer name(s) if a new customer
  • Where employed, position, and company address
  • Have you done work for this company?
  • Estimated income level
  • Estimated age of all in the household
  • Do they own the home or rent?
  • How long they have owned the home
  • Age of home
  • Phone numbers
  • School district (in case you are a school supporter)
  • Customers of yours who live nearby
  • The approximate value of the home
  • Information on neighbors living on the same street for future marketing

What do you do with this information once you have it? Use it to guide your conversation, to develop empathy, establish trust, look for common interests and really get to know the client.

If you are going to the prospects home, why not market the entire street? His or her neighbors are probably in the same shape.

Now when you get in your car for the appointment you have something to really look forward to, with a real competitive advantage.

Tom McCart is passing the “No Secrets Training Systems” torch over to Alan Simpson, the newly appointed director of training and master licensee of No Secrets, Inc. For more information, contact Alan at 520/577-8109, e-mail alan@nosecrets.com, or visit www.nosecrets.com.