If perception is reality, then the perception that prospects develop of your company can seriously impact the success of your team’s selling cycle. This perception begins with the appearance of your company vehicles and the employees driving them. I can only shake my head when I see a dirty, dented, rusty service van plastered with some company name all over it.

Is that the message that company owner wants out in the market place? I doubt it. That company is probably not one I’d trust with my valuable HVAC system. Your company vehicles are certainly one of your company’s image keepers.

Worse yet is an employee who drives in a discourteous manner, cutting in and out of traffic, tailgating, using obscene street gestures (yes, believe me, it happens frequently). In my personal life, I’ve actually made decisions not to use various suppliers and service companies based on what I witness on the highways. Your field service and installation employees are also keepers of your company image.

Your next image front line is the sales team and their appearance. Like so many others, my career began with the Fortune 500 companies that would allow us to wear any color of shirt as long as it was white. Two- or three-piece suits were required and were to be adorned with a conservative necktie.

I still lean toward professional business attire, but I do dress down when the situation calls for it. If my sales call is in the boiler room, dress slacks and an open collar is sufficient. In the board room, I recommend a suit and tie.

Remember, to gain business in today’s economy, you must either be low-priced or different. Certain types of prospects will be in business attire at all times and so should we — banks, hotels, funeral chapels, just to name a few. I recently attended a hotel association luncheon with an associate who was the only one in attendance without a coat and tie.

That’s not the type of “different” I’m looking for.

I also realize that certain geographical areas, such as the deep South and the Southwestern states, find it acceptable to move toward business casual. That’s not to say jeans and t-shirts. If I were to make a blanket suggestion it would be to err on the side of over dressing.

Technicians most certainly influence your image. I recognize that dirty, hot, sweaty work is often the norm and it’s not likely the technician will appear as though he or she just stepped out of the shower. On the other hand, I’ve worked for several contractors who require each technician to keep a clean uniform shirt in their trucks.

The technician working for the HVAC service company I use at my house always wears plastic socks over his shoes prior to entering. I don’t see why this couldn’t be adapted in the commercial HVAC business, especially when walking on expensive floor coverings in a client’s building.

Your company’s selling tools used on sales calls also impact image. Everything I use, and provide for my contractors, is clean, simple, and professional. When using a visual aid that is third party, the third party should be referenced.

Charts and graphs, photos with captions, and a professional presentation catch a prospect’s attention much more effectively than a page of just words. When prospects continuously ask for a copy of certain selling tools, you know that you’re on target.
Brochures and tri-folds should be more than an advertisement. They should tell a story about your company and its capabilities in the fewest words possible. If you have created a company brochure, and it’s a quality production, you also know that it’s a sizeable expense. If not, it probably is missing the mark.

I’d prefer no brochure over a cheesy one.

All employees can be company ambassadors or bad examples for everyone else. Several times each year our employees take part in association meetings, parties, golf outings, etc.

I recommend a company policy of “no alcohol consumption” while representing the company. You can never be sure what prospective customer is offended by booze, so why take the chance. I have also noticed that people say the darndest things after three drinks.

How important is image? You and your employees can do a thousand “right” things that can be destroyed by one wrong thing. My wife and 6-year-old daughter were crowded off the road by a lumber company truck. Our contractor, who was ramping up to build our new home always used this lumber company. Guess who didn’t put one stick in our new home.

Earl King is the founder of King Productions International, a commercial HVAC
contracting sales consulting firm based in Texas. He speaks to associations and HVAC trade groups, and consults with commercial contractors across the country, in addition to writing this column for Contracting Business.com. Email Earl with any questions or comments at:
profithvac@aol.com or call him at 515/321-2426.