Jason, a contractor who runs his own replacement sales calls, writes:

Following up is not a strong point of mine. My confidence is low after being shut down on sales calls. The customer wants me to give information over the phone and is avoiding meeting me in person.

I often feel that the customer is just feeding my suggestions to the low-bid guy trying to get what I had recommended. In the winter I had a guy say to me, “I decided to go with (Company X). They gave me a better price, but I’m very impressed with your presentation and will recommend you to my family and friends.” That doesn’t make sense to me, but I believe he was sincere. This happens to me a lot.

I’m competing with larger companies that give their product away because they receive sales quota rewards from manufacturers. In the customers’ mind, they are a big company with lots of employees, so they must be good. How can I overcome these problems? Thanks for your input.

Following up
Follow-up needs to become a strong point. The 2006 Comfortech Idol, John Cameron, Jr., says it’s the reason for his high closing ration. He says, “Relentless follow-up is definitely my strong suit. I’ll start by following up in the mail with a thank you card. I also include an interesting third-party article about something off-topic pertaining to their personal interests, like electric trains, their beer can collection, or one of their other hobbies. That shows I’ve taken an interest in them as a person.”

You also stated that the customer wants to give you the information over the phone to avoid meeting with you. Of course they do. There are two ways to avoid this, one is to tell them you want to take a look at the job, to make certain your memory serves you correctly.

Say “I’ve been thinking about your job, and believe I’ve got a few ideas on a really nice installation I could do for you that would definitely save you money, but I don’t want to say anything without taking another quick look at your home to make certain my memory is accurate. Then, I may be able to make you an offer. Are you going to be around for the next 45 minutes or so?”

The other way is to not call at all. For example, John prefers to drive by the house and just show up as opposed to calling and trying to close them over the phone.

Don’t Act Guarded
I don’t worry about prospects sharing my ideas with the competition or showing them my proposal. I don’t worry about working as an unpaid consultant.

You’re only working as an unpaid consultant when you’re not a good closer.

When you act all guarded with your information, you’re projecting to your prospects that you don’t expect to make the sale if they talk to other contractors, which is about as negative of a message as you can send.

Reducing your offer
In the example you sent me, your bid was $6,000 higher than the others and included a different brand name of equipment, significant improvements to the air distribution system, and Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) products. You stated the customer ignored all the differences in the offers with the exception of the difference in their prices.

Why didn’t you just back down and offer him the equipment with minimal or no duct modifications and IAQ and/or lower-priced equipment? Take a key from the “Boy Scout Motto,” which is “be prepared.” A good salesman doesn’t start quoting prices and closing without already having some lower-priced option already in mind and ready to go.

You can make the duct renovations part of your “comfort guarantee.” When the customer allows you to do the job to your specifications, you can guarantee their satisfaction in writing.

When they don’t want to go for the whole enchilada, say, “Even without the duct improvements, you’ll still see an increase in comfort and a reduction in your operating costs. The improvements to the air distribution system will protect your investment in new equipment and provide you with a lower overall cost of ownership. There is a cost savings to doing this as part of the equipment installation, but this can also always be done in the future. Do you want to just put the duct improvements off for the time being and see how you like it with just the new equipment?”

I can’t help but feel that this approach would have kept you in the ballgame. If you’d have gotten that commitment, you might even have eventually wound up with the whole enchilada.

Selling brand name
While I still believe that they need to be sold on you before they decide to buy the equipment you sell, if selling yourself as the brand isn’t working, you can also try selling the brand name.

There is a strategy to it. You should know your competition. I’d like to think that there are one or two of them who you are consistently beating in the market. Start carrying the brand name they carry.

Getting your prospects totally enthused about a particular make and model, to the point that it’s the only model they’ll buy, narrows their choice in contractors – the ones you know you can outsell.

If you’re down-selling, where you’re recommending a cheaper grade of equipment, don’t make the customer feel bad about downgrading their equipment.

Bigger companies
You’re complaining that the bigger companies in your area “give their product away.” That’s the exact opposite of what smaller companies usually say to me.

Usually, the smaller companies say they can’t charge as much as the larger companies do.

Regardless of the difference in price, as the small company who is doing the job right, you have some advantages.

For example, I just had the entryway to my home re-done. I got three quotes. One of the quotes was twice the amount of the two lower quotes. I chose the highest of the three because:

1. His installation took extra steps that the other companies didn’t. I could have asked the lower-priced companies how much they would charge to take these extra steps, but I didn’t see the point in that. It seemed obvious to me that if they were quality-minded and did their installations to a higher level, the extra steps would be part of their standard procedure.

2. The owner himself would be actively involved in the installation. This company was considerably smaller than the other two bidders, but higher priced. I actually felt that, in a way, they were the cheapest way to go because they were the only ones who were going to do it right. I felt the lower-priced companies weren’t worth what little they charged and that the company I chose, despite having the highest investment number, was the best value.

People will pay more money to have a smaller contractor do a better job for them. The big key here is that there DOES have to be some advantage in doing business with you versus the big company. If the only difference is that you’re more expensive, you ARE in trouble.

Are there advantages to working with you? As a salesperson, it’s your job to articulate those differences to your prospects, and get them excited about them.

My guess is, that’s what the salespeople on the jobs you’re losing are doing. Regardless of all the excuses salespeople make, the sales tend to go to the best salesperson.

CHARLIE GREER is a service tech and an award-wining HVAC salesman. He’s also the creator of “Slacker’s Guide to HVAC Sales on Audio CD,” “Tec Daddy’s Service Technician Survival School on DVD,” and “Charlie Greer’s 4-Day Sales Survival Schools.” For a catalog, call 800/963-HVAC (4822), or go to www.hvacprofitboosters.com . Email Charlie at charlie@charliegreer.com.