Most HVAC distributors have outside salespersons who are responsible for the business done with a specific group of contractors. Their “territory” can be geographic, segmented by customer type or simply a collection of accounts where they established relationships over time. In the vast majority of cases, the outside salesperson routinely schedules his or her visits, weekly or otherwise, and they provide information about new products, pricing updates, current promotions and so on. Some will also make product deliveries. They see their job as a “service” and feel that they will earn business by providing better service than any competitor. I agree this is important … but today that isn't enough.

Today's salesperson must be more than a service person, he must be a business adviser or consultant, one who helps his clients grow and be more profitable. When this is how the sales person functions, I refer to him as a territory manager.

There are many important attributes that top-performing territory managers must have. In one way or another, at least several of these should be in use during every customer call if the purpose of that effort is to focus on increasing business. If they are not, then consider the call a “service call” and not a sales call. Here are my top seven picks.

  1. Understand the contracting business > “Business is like Monopoly except with real money,” says industry guru Ron Smith. Understanding business fundamentals will help the territory manager relate to the challenges the contractor owner/principal faces every day and will help him position the value of what he and his company provide. For example, the contractor might be pressuring the territory manager to reduce prices on a particular product so that he can be more profitable. The business-savvy territory manager understands that there are other ways for the contractor to increase the bottom line, including selling more, selling for higher prices, increasing margins, reducing labor costs and reducing overhead costs. Instead of reducing his pricing, he can show the contractor how he can help him make more profit in one of the other ways, with a prior agreement that with his doing so, he will keep the business he has earned at the price he has been getting.

  2. Engage clients at all levels > In these economically challenging times, all businesses are running lean with every co-worker doing far more than they used to. I can't think of any contractor job function that does not in some way connect with the distributor. Every position, every person has business needs, and the territory manager should be making sure he understands what those are and is taking care of them. Business has been lost when the parts purchasing guy watches the distributor salesperson take the boss to lunch every week, and he never gets so much as a friendly greeting.

  3. Analysis > Analyze the territory and purposefully focus on those clients who are the most important. This includes determining where you might choose to maintain a significant amount of existing business and also deciding which have the potential for growth. With contractors constantly going out of business and new ones starting up, there is a need for continuous analysis. Many contractors will stay loyal to the first distributor who supported them when they needed it the most. On the other hand, you may reach a point where a particular contractor's demands exceed what they are worth to you and you decide to invest your time and resources elsewhere.

  4. Determine the potential for new business > You must verify the apparent business potential determined in the territory analysis. This requires some investigative effort that may take time. Understanding industry KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) is a great place to start. For example, a successful residential, service-based, add-on-replacement contractor will produce revenue at an average of $120,000 or so per employee; 10 employees should mean annual sales of $1.2M. If the principal tells you his sales are $2.0M, you have reason to question that.

  5. The probability factor > Determine the probability that you can earn all of their business and work together to create growth. You can only do this with a carefully crafted discussion with the principal. Repeatedly asking the open question, “What would it take…?” is a comfortable way to get the contractor principal to open up about his needs and wants. Once he does that, your next step becomes clear … figure out how to provide that.

  6. Create a Business Proposition Proposal > Ensure that it clearly makes the case for how you can help the contractor become more successful and what you are expecting in return. One of the biggest mistakes we've all made is giving the contractor everything he wants, and more, without asking for what we want in return. Create a proposal that essentially says you will do what he asks if he will give you the business you want in return.

  7. Ask for the sale > I am not overstating by saying that this final step is actually the easiest. At this point in the process, you will have created a different kind of relationship with the contractor principal, elevating yourself from another supplier to a potential business partner. You've earned the right to ask for the sale and expect him to say yes.

If a contractor is worth calling upon, they are worth having a plan for increasing your business with them. Every contact your territory manager has with every client should in some way connect with some steps in this sales process. You can increase business with any account. Not consciously working toward that goal amounts to leaving hundreds of thousands of dollars of business on the table every year.


Tom Piscitelli is the founder of T.R.U.S.T.® Training and Consulting, www.sellingtrust.com.