Just months after we made the investment in a software platform to manage all of our company’s sales activity, a strange and unexplained illness attacked me. I lost the ability to speak for short periods and found it difficult to concentrate.

But while I was struggling with this — spending much of my time in the hospital, and going through strenuous testing — my staff compensated for my absence by increasing their dependence on the software’s capabilities. Little did I know that I had made such an important step and at a critical time.

When I would come in to work, I was amazed each time at how well things were going. Sales were up, and there was a new efficiency to our operations, all of which tied to the software we implemented.

Physicians diagnosed my problem as AVM, short for arteriovenous malformations, which are masses of abnormal blood vessels that grow in the brain. The vessels form a tangled snarl which can hemorrhage, and though they don’t usually cause strokes, they can be deadly. Thanks to a new, non-invasive procedure known as gamma knife radiosurgery — bombarding the AVM clusters with hundreds of cobalt beams — I'm now entering my third year of remission.

As this technology was saving my life, advanced technology of a much different variety was breathing new life into my business, Griffis Heating, Inc. The software platform that we invested in, and now attribute much of our growth to — with a 150% revenue jump in the first year — is Opportunity Manager, an HVAC contracting management and sales presentation software package offered by Opportunity Interactive.

Opportunity Manager is a computerized selling platform that greatly improves and simplifies sales presentations, while making them look sharp and sophisticated. And I can say so with some experience: I spent months looking into many different software programs and had even made some headway in designing my own software for management of the company’s sales activity, and to enhance other facets of company operations.

But when we looked into HVAC management software packages, we found that Opportunity Manager was exactly what we needed, and more. It exceeded our expectations by a long shot. We recouped our investment in the software on the very first sale — a substantial residential job with high-efficiency equipment. The customer told us that it was the thorough, laptop-driven sales presentation at the end of our initial visit that won the job, and it was entirely based on the software’s capabilities. That’s a comment we now hear frequently.

At its essence, Opportunity Manager streamlines the process of tracking prospects and closing sales with a flat-rate pricing system based on equipment and labor rates set by the contractor. Its streamlined process takes the burden out of converting a sales call to an installation.

During the initial sales visit, the software leads a salesperson through a Manual J-based load calculation, adds HVAC equipment and capabilities based on the customer’s desires, calculates labor time and rates, and imports photos from the home to personalize the presentation, availing it all for immediate use, and even for electronic transport back to the home office for review prior to quotation..

My company is a 12-person, non-union mechanical contracting firm, founded in 1983. We focus chiefly on residential repair service and installation work. In round numbers, we do 60% heating, and 40% cooling work. I spent several years in the HVAC industry, first as a technician, then as a service manager for other firms. Today, our key staff employees include Mary Jackson, office coordinator; Maria Blanchard, dispatcher; Tony Roberts and Kurt Keepfer, customer consultants; and Joe Baker and Jamin Widener, both dedicated to Home Depot sales. And all of them use Opportunity Manager as the backbone of their sales activity.

The company that developed the software, Opportunity Interactive, spent four days with us to introduce our staff members to the software, a service that comes as part of the purchase. Maria feels that we could have done it in less time, but she and some of the others really wanted to dive into its use deeply while the “OI” guys were here, and they were eager to help. Most of us were trained in its use, but the sales staff has become especially proficient with it. When our salespeople go out on a call, their use of the software has become our key point of differentiation.

Tony and Kurt say that the sales presentations are like an art form, including complete data on the building or home, good-better-best equipment options, a complete cost quote, and photos of old and new equipment. Customers get detail, care, and sophistication, all in a presentation they can readily see and understand.

Another module in the Opportunity Manager is the Cyber Showroom. It graphically presents to the customer how different products work. For example, using sounds and animations, it demonstrates how loud standard units are compared to variable-speed equipment. Kurt says that it's not us just telling the customer what they get, but allowing them to see and hear it, too.

And by being able to demonstrate these product benefits with animations and video, our upsell equipment sales have risen from 40% to 80%. We’ve also found it easy to communicate effectively to homeowners the importance of having programmable t-stats, air cleaners, and upgraded floor registers. Our closing ratios with all of these products have risen remarkably.

The program’s “Instant Job Packet” includes the instruction sheet, pull sheet, load calculations, details, and photos of the existing installation, and information for the installer on the homeowner’s comfort concerns.

The proposals have added greatly to the professionalism of our work. We leave behind a color printed proposal with pictures, equipment descriptions, inclusions and exclusion of work, options, discounts, and a bottom line price . . . not a hand-written bid on a piece of paper. The difference between how we presented bids three or four years ago, and how we do them now, is like comparing an Amish buggy with the Starship Enterprise.

Well, we’ve come a long way since our early start in my garage. For four years, Griffis Heating, Inc. has won recognition as a Trane Comfort Specialist dealership, linked to Home Depot business.

We do a lot of Home Depot work. In 2005, we did about one-third of our revenue — about $600,000 worth of work — through our association with Home Depot. We use their credit program, a same-as-cash plan for high efficiency systems. We’ve worked consistently for one store. But in a move that affirms the superb job we're doing at their store — measured by customer satisfaction, and improved sales — Home Depot just gave us a second store to do business in.

We’re in the top 25% of sales. We generated an average of $1,250 in sales on every lead we went out on for HD. That’s something of which we’re very proud.

Opportunity Manager even comes with a ‘Home Depot Module,’ designed to improve a contractor’s Home Depot sales. The module can create and print all of the required Home Depot paperwork, completely and properly filled-out and ready for signatures.

Our salespeople focus much of their attention on the sale of high-efficiency hybrid systems, coupling a 14 SEER or better heat pump with a 90+ variable speed furnace. The equipment is well-matched to the area and our weather conditions. But it all comes back to our ability to present it well, and sell it successfully.

Opportunity Manager has brought us more sales, larger sales, happier customers, and happier salespeople than we had before. Our revenue and profitability have gone up dramatically. And we moved into a new building since we started with the program. It’s been a win-win opportunity all the way.

Brian Griffis is the owner of Griffis Heating, Inc., a heating and air conditiontioning contracting company in Auburn, WA. For additional information on Opportunity Manager, visit www.opactive.com.