by Tom Piscitelli

There are nearly a million residential service calls made every day by HVAC technicians, who do a good job of taking care of the customers’ equipment. Over the years much has been said and written about lead generation and sales opportunities — for both contractors, and customers — during this face-to-face encounter.

In spite of this, few technicians engage the customer in conversation about replacement and add-on products and services that could be of value to them. In the seminars I teach weekly, many successful "selling" service technicians have shared their philosophy and service call practices with us.

Why Aren’t Technicians Comfortable Selling To The Customer?

The consistent response to this question is that the technicians have chosen a career where they can enjoy the challenge of diagnosing and fixing problems. They like being able to work independently, without an over-the- shoulder boss hovering around. And most will say they value the sincere appreciation they get from the customers.

In fact, I often hear that they consider the customer THEIR customer. This commendable attitude, one I heartily agree with, may contribute to a general reluctance for many techs to sell. For example, if I had the belief that selling is pushy and manipulated customers into buying things they don't need, I would resist selling products and services to them. In other words, I'd be inclined to "protect" MY customer by insulating them from anything I didn't think they would need.

How Can We Change Attitudes About Selling?

Well, changing anything about ourselves isn't easy, but it absolutely can be done. To begin with, no one can make someone change, they have to want to change. One way of looking at this is to imagine that we all have a window we look at life through. This window is the result of all of life's experiences that have developed our individual attitudes, opinions and beliefs.

When we are exposed to a new idea, we filter that information through our attitudes, opinions and beliefs and form a judgment about it. How we judge the new idea produces our behavior, and our behavior produces the results we get.

So how does understanding this help us change? An owner or manager might think they can order people to change based on their superior position in the company. Most of us have learned that doesn't work.

Others might think they can buy behavior change with incentives. That can work with some people, for a limited time, but eventually the individual's attitudes, opinions, and beliefs take over and the incentives lose their influence.

The only permanent way to get different results is for each individual to go all the way back to their fundamental attitudes, opinions, and beliefs and decide for themselves that they are worth altering.

Let's say that a service manager attends a Jackie Rainwater seminar. He hears Rainwater describe how service technicians at Peachtree Air Conditioning in Atlanta, GA, consistently ask customers if they want information about the various products and services that the company offers.

The manager is impressed with the results Jackie described, especially that 15% of all Peachtree’s service and routine maintenance calls produce qualified sales leads, which in turn produce fantastic sales and profit margins.

So the manager goes home and, at his next service meeting, enthusiastically shares his discovery and tells his service team to "Go out there and get some leads." When they discuss the results the following month, he is disappointed to find there are virtually no leads.

Then the manager remembers that Rainwater used cash incentives for each sales lead turned in. The manager quickly decides to offer $10 for each lead that results in an appointment. He announces this and sends the technicians off again, only to find that this produces some initial results, but little more.

Based on what we now know about individual attitudes, opinions, and beliefs affecting judgment, behavior, and results, we can clearly understand how this happened and predict that no amount of incentive will provide the results we want.

So what's the answer? First, hire team members who have the basic beliefs and values that fit your company culture. Second, be clear about your company's expectations; then be consistent and enthusiastic in delivering that message. Next, train team members so they have the tools necessary to do this important job. Finally, monitor their progress and give feedback on their results — both reinforcing their success and coaching for improvement when they need it.

Only then will an incentive truly work, because it rewards the behavior that benefits you, your customer, and the team member.

When Should The Technician Sell?

Taking instruction from the proven strategies and techniques developed by Jackie Rainwater and his partner, Frank Jones, every customer contact is an opportunity to reinforce the value your company offers to the customer by giving them great service, and it's an opportunity to sell!

For example, when the planned maintenance work is completed, the technician should review the written summary of the work that was done so the customer understands the value of the service. At that point the technician can review a short checklist of other products and services the customer may be interested in, such as renewing a planned maintenance agreement or an IAQ product. The technician will answer questions and turn any leads over to sales.

One method for helping a customer determine whether it’s time to replace or repair a furnace or air conditioner, is to first find out how old the equipment is. If the unit is more than 10 years old, chances are it’s near the end of its life cycle. You can calculate whether it’s time to repair or replace by adding up the customer's remaining ownership cost of repairing today, future repair costs, energy costs, and eventual replacement equipment cost.

Compare the sum to the total cost of replacing the equipment today. In every case, replacing equipment today is the better financial (and peace of mind) choice for the customer. Why? They’re avoiding future repairs with the inconvenience that produces and the higher energy bills the old equipment suffers from.*

Let's take a look at what this conversation might be like:

Technician: Well, Mr. Smith, I’ve found the problem. It's a failed blower motor. No worries -- I have one in my truck that will get your furnace back in working order. Before I do that, some customers with furnaces as old as yours consider replacing it with a new, high-efficiency model that not only saves you money, but is quieter and provides more comfort. Would you like me to quickly show you what kind of long-term savings you could have or would you like me to repair your existing furnace?

Mr. Smith: Thanks anyway, but go ahead and fix it.

Technician: Okay, I'll get right to it!

In this case, the customer had the opportunity to learn more, but chose not to. The technician correctly agreed with the customer's wishes and went on to replace the motor.

After all, it's the customer's furnace, and his money! Rest assured though, the seed is planted for the next time there is a failure. Then, when the technician makes the same offer, the customer is more likely to say "Tell me more!"

What if the customer answered affirmatively? Then the technician might say something like this:

Technician: I've made some ballpark estimates on what it’ll cost to continue using your existing furnace for another eight years which, according to our industry statistics, is about all you can expect for its remaining life. This includes today's repair, at least one more repair in the next few years, eight years of energy costs at your current annual consumption level, and then finally replacing it with one of our best high-efficiency, variable-speed furnaces.

Over here I estimated the same costs, assuming you replace your old furnace now. As you can see, you’ll be about $2 to $3,000 ahead in this eight-year window by replacing today, plus have fewer problems to deal with, quieter operation, and more comfort.

Some customers in your situation decide to fix the old unit, and others decide to look into replacing it. Which would you prefer?

Mr. Smith: I don't know. What do you think?

Technician: I think you should learn more about what we offer. Do you want me to call and see when Jeff, our comfort advisor, can meet with you? You'll like him, all my customers do.

Mr. Smith: Sure, go ahead and make the call.

What's the quality of this lead? Excellent, HVAC salespeople say. And what kind of equipment is cued up for the salesperson to talk about? Your best. And what did this lead cost your company? Nothing. And who "wins" in all of this?

Everyone: The customer, the technician, and the company. (Thanks again to Jackie and Frank for the "Win + Win = Win" philosophy).

Okay, I Want To Create This In My Company, What Do I Do?

Start with the basics. Identify which of your technicians are ready to do this and get started with them. Follow the guidelines described above and don't skip any steps.

Make this a part of your company culture . . . and get ready to hire another comfort advisor to handle the leads.

Good selling!

*If you would like an e-mailed copy of the System Selling Repair or Replace worksheet, contact Tom at tpiscitelli@msn.com.

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 canalso learn more about T.R.U.S.T. selling by visiting his website at www.alainc.com.