Ron's Ramblings

My Neighbors: A Tough Sell

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Like many consumers, my neighbors' knowledge of HVAC is limited. They have a 20-year-old system and could benefit from an upgrade, yet would still be a tough sell. Here's what they know, what they don't know, what they like, and what they don't like. Could you sell them?

 

My neighbors just might represent everything that’s difficult about selling comfort systems.

Let me set the scene. Nancy and “Ziggy” are great. They’re in their 70s but they’re young 70-year-olds. They’re sharp, funny, generous . . . just great neighbors.

The community (attached and detached cluster homes, some on slabs, some with basements) was built in the mid-1990s, and many of the units undoubtedly still have their original furnaces and air conditioners. Ours did when we bought it in 2010. So it’s a community with a lot of business potential, with many units approaching 20 years old.

The units are architecturally striking, with high ceilings, and frankly the community would have been much better served with radiant heating rather than forced air. But, as they say, that train has sailed: it’s forced air throughout.

I had the opportunity to visit with Nancy and Ziggy the other day and conducted some clandestine research. Strictly for the benefit of the industry, of course. I can tell by their outdoor unit that their air conditioner is original, and they told me their furnace is, too. Here’s what they know/want when it comes to their home comfort system:

They know efficiencies on new equipment are much higher, but wonder how much that actually translates into savings and better comfort.

They don’t want gadgets/complications. They recently leased a new Nissan Altima to replace their late 1990s Toyota Camry, and they hate features like the keyless ignition fob and the complicated radio controls. “I don’t want to have to spend a week with the owner’s manual to learn how to use the damn radio,” Ziggy said.

NATE’s battle for a spot in the public consciousness apparently continues: They have never heard of NATE. When I explained it was a certification organization similar to the automobile industry’s ASE, they immediately acknowledged they had heard of ASE.

They don’t have a service agreement. When they need service they call the company that put a sticker on their furnace.

Nancy said something I found very interesting. If they were going to search for a contractor, they would search in Cleveland or one of the “blue collar” inner-ring suburbs. They don’t want a contractor from an affluent suburb who’s “going to try to sell them everything.”

It has been said that women make 70% of the buying decisions related to the home, and that would be the case here. “If we need a new furnace and air conditioner, I’ll take care of it,” Nancy said. “If you try to involve both spouses it just leads to arguments.” Ziggy was OK with this and just shrugged.

A clean, neat service technician is very important to Nancy.

She also said she likes it when people take the time to explain things to her — for example, why certain features would be worth investing in. However, when your intrepid Contracting Business editor explained UV lights and variable-speed operation, Nancy still hesitated to commit to the possibility of making the extra investment for such technology.

She closed by offering some advice to HVAC salespeople: “Remember that all your customers are different. You can’t treat them all the same way.”

So there you have some unbiased, real-world insights straight from a pair of homeowners who could clearly benefit from a new system. Think you could sell one to them?

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What's Ron's Ramblings?

Contracting Business Senior Editor Ron Rajecki’s take on the issues facing HVAC contractors today.

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