Congratulations! You just made a sale! Now what? Some sales people might think the work is done, that they've completed their part by getting the customer to say "yes" and sign the agreement. Well, if the sales person's goal is to get the sale and move on to the next prospect, they could be right.

But if the sales person wants customers for life, then there is more to be done.

Imagine you're the homeowner who has just made a big purchasing decision, one you're a little unsure about. You don't know much about the product you bought, how it needs to be designed and installed, the materials necessary, or the contractor you are hiring. You also don't know anything about all the contractor's employees who might be involved in your job. Even the sales person is a stranger. What would you want to happen next?

Let's start by seeing ourselves, and our customers, as consumers. As consumers, we're conditioned by an almost endless number of retailers who all vye for our attention and money. Retailers are very competent at attracting us, and our money, or they wouldn't still be in business. Most retailers know it's very expensive to convince us to buy from them, and don't want to spend more money to convince us again. So to save money and grow their businesses with people who want to do business with them, they spend a little more after the sale to keep us as customers. Makes sense, doesn't it?

My father is an accountant and, at 82, still runs a small business with 40 clients. I grew up hearing about clients, but didn't put it together until recently. I got the point when one of my seminar participants suggested that a customer was "someone we've sold something to, putting them in the past" and that a client was "someone we continue to sell something to, putting them in the present and future". (I finally got it, Dad!) We want clients!

Okay, so we've established that we want to keep customers, that we can take lessons from retailers, and that our customers-for-life can be called clients. How can we make sure this happens?

Creating Clients
Retailers know about something called Buyer's Remorse. You've heard of it, I'm sure, and have likely felt it yourself. It's that uncomfortable feeling we have, that " doubt" we feel, right after we say "yes."

Researchers know that the actual decision to buy is mostly an emotional one, and we later start justifying it with facts and rationalization. This is an awkward time for the buyer, and it can be for the seller too.

However, certain things can be said and done to make this a positive part of the experience, putting positive closure on the buyer's decision, and beginning a new lifetime relationship with your client.

Let's take this one step a time:

The client just said "yes" and signed the agreement. You'll want to say something reassuring, such as, "Thank you, you've made a good decision, one that you and your family will all appreciate."

KISS applies here. I suggest you Keep It Short and Simple.

They will want to know what's going to happen next. "Here's what will happen next. Brenda will call you tomorrow before noon to confirm an installation date. She will talk to you about when the installers will arrive, tell you who they will be and who is in charge, and how long they will likely be here. If you have any questions she can answer them. And, of course, you can call me anytime if you have questions for me. Does that sound all right so far?"

The clients are feeling better. "Good. You'll like our installers. They have been with us a long time and are excellent craftsmen who take a lot of pride in what they do. You'll see them paying attention to all the details including putting down drop cloths and wearing boot covers to protect your home. When they're done, they'll go over everything with you on a quality checklist they use, and make sure all your questions are answered. Does all that sound okay too?"

They are breathing again. "Great. When the job is complete and the checklist is gone over and your questions are all answered, the lead installer will ask for a check or credit card for the remaining balance due. Will that be okay with you?"

They feel good about not paying until they are satisfied. "Terrific. I'll give you a call to arrange to come by again after you've had the system running for a week or two and see if you have any more questions. In the meantime please call me anytime you want. Sound good?"

Don't forget the yard sign: "Would it be okay if I left one of our company yard signs out front? Some of your neighbors may be interested in what we offer and it helps us grow our business. I'd appreciate it."

Time for Marketing 101: Creating Clients-For-Life
Okay, you left the clients feeling as good as possible about the decision and now it's up to the rest of your company team members to do their part. Let's assume they do and now you have made arrangements to revisit the new clients a week or two after the installation. Since you are building a personal as well as a company relationship with the clients, a personal visit is best.

Make sure they are happy, or find out if they are not, by asking questions:

"So folks, how do you like your new comfort system?"

Listen. Listen. Listen. Be prepared to write down any issues or concerns. If there are any, show your concern and address them immediately, resolving what you can, and committing to following up personally to resolve any others. Make sure you personally follow up and, if at all possible, revisit the clients and ask again if they are then happy.

When your clients tell you they are happy:

Find out what they are happy about, "Terrific, can you tell me what you like the most about your new system?"

Listen! Then take out a blank sheet of nice quality paper and a nice pen and hand it toward them and ask, "Would you mind doing me a favor and writing down just a few sentences including what you just said? I'd like to share that with other folks

who are looking for a system like yours."

You will get a written testimonial every time. This goes in a separate binder with 20 or so pages of photos of your nice work in the front section and an additional 20 handwritten testimonials you've received from other very satisfied customers.

This binder (I like to call it the Iceberg Binder since it shows your hidden value) is given to the clients during the sales call to look at while you're at the kitchen table preparing your proposal.

As they turn the pages you can imagine them concluding that you and your company are the right choice for them!

Now for the Referral
Once the client has given you a testimonial it is time for you to ask for the best of all leads: the referral.

"Thank you for this (taking the Testimonial from them). One last thing. Would you happen to know anyone, friends, coworkers, neighbors, family, who might also be looking to solve the kind of problems you had? I'd appreciate anyone you might refer me to."

Now wait for them to reply!

As a consumer, have you ever received a thank you card? How did you feel?

I'm sure you have, and you felt good about getting it, and felt good about those who sent it. Make a commitment to personally send one to every client after a sale. Personally means that you hand write a message and sign the card and you hand write the names and address on the envelope. Use a stamp, not metered postage — it's more personal that way.

And include another request for referrals in your thank you note. Many salespeople have a referral offer of $50 on the back of their business cards. I often hear this consistently works well. Give it a try. (Hint: Don't offer more than $50 — that's enough for people who like you and wouldn't mind getting a few bucks for their trouble. Even better, give $25 to the client who is providing the referral, and $25 credit to the new client.)

What's Next?
Now Marketing 201 kicks in. You've earned a relationship with a client who has chosen you to be their HVAC contractor, and you must keep telling them that you value that relationship. Here's a partial list of good things to do to keep clients-for-life:

Quarterly company newsletters with general HVAC information and new product and service offers

Monthly postcards with offers

Annual birthday cards for the system on their installation date

Technician conversations with clients about new products and services on planned maintenance agreement calls

Send a personal letter (from the salesperson) annually announcing new products and asking for a referral.

After the Sale: Creating Very Satisfied Clients
Research has shown that creating a very satisfied customer will result in them telling nine of their friends about the experience, turning some of them in to future customers, who will in turn do the same and on and on. When you follow the guidelines we've discussed, coupled with your everyday excellence in designing and installing top quality HVAC systems, you will indeed create your own business future, you will create clients for life.

What is Total Comfort?
Contracting Business
has prepared a list of 12 actions your sales people can take to ensure your customers receive total comfort. Just go to the following web address: www.contractingbusiness.com/12actions.htmll.

Download the entire T.R.U.S.T. ® series published in Contracting Business at www.contractingbusiness.com/piscitelli.html

Tom Piscitelli is president of Applied Learning Associates, Inc. He can be reached by telephone at 425/985-4534 or by e-mail at tpiscitelli@msn.com. You can also learn more about T.R.U.S.T. selling by visiting his website at www.alainc.com. The entire System Selling with T.R.U.S.T. sales training can be viewed online at hvacchannel.tv on a pay-per-view basis. Go to www.hvacchannel.tv, click on Program Library, then on System Selling Sales Bytes, and check it out.