Selling Home Performance: Two Important Lessons

Has anyone heard a customer comment like this before?

“I have been frustrated with your company for a while now. I actually quit the maintenance agreement, because your guys wouldn't listen to me. I was telling them that there was something wrong, and they just kept telling me my ‘system' [equipment] was working just fine. You just blew my mind right now, because you looked past the equipment!”

If this doesn’t sound familiar, it might be because you are not in the Home Performance Contracting business. If this does sound familiar you either are wondering what I am going to tell you to do to solve it or smiling because you already have.

The issue, of course, is about culture and the cultural mind-set of our HVAC companies.

The good news is that we are adept at systems selling and value added product and service concepts. …

The bad news is that many of us still have the wrong idea of what the system is, and we haven’t moved past the box and ductwork to dissect the living, breathing context of the entire home structure.

This leads us to the focus of this article which can be summed up in the following points.

  • What you believe determines how well you sell.
  • You have to do what others won't, to achieve what others don't

So far we've learned that this new HPC path requires new thinking (and, in some cases, new people) in order to create success.

The primary change agent is education, but education alone won't get it done. The hard part is adoption of what we have learned, and adaptation to the new constellation of choices. That new kind of thinking is needed on several levels within the organization.

What You Believe Determines How Well You Sell

We currently have three sales people focused on the BPC portion of our business related to the Residential Market. They are all at different levels of development, but this story is about our most experienced HVAC sales person and his transformation.

This salesperson has been our most steady performer for well over 15 years. He has seen many other sales people come and go, yet he still moves along.

More importantly, he has seen our firm get into … and then get out of …

a) Central Vacuum

b) Home Stereo/sound systems

c) Home Securit

d) multiple UV light products, and

e) other IAQ/IEQ devices, too numerous to count.

All this to say, he was good at selling AOR system replacements and upgrades, but he had seen ownership try many new things. So even after training, he had a very skeptical view that this “Whole Home Performance” thing.

He thought it was most assuredly just “another goofy fad that these guys are getting me into, and will be out of in a year.”

Over the course of 4 years time, he saw us hire a new salesperson, from outside the heating and cooling business. This person was new to our firm, and hired on the basis that his world was now Home Performance Contracting, period!

So, through that purposeful lens, the “new young whipper snapper” went about killing it in the newly opened market.

The more experienced salesman watched with arms folded, just waiting for the new guy to fall on his face.

Well, New Guy didn’t fail, and when he started beating Old Guy at the whole process, the Old Guy decided maybe he would get all that training material out and finally start paying attention.

Based on a combination of the new guy’s success; the struggling economy pinching the old guy’s revenue stream; and, the barrage of interest presented by the CARRIER 360 program, new interest found fertile soil and the Old Guy started getting the test equipment out and got on board.

He has come to truly believe in the whole home performance process, and therefore he is determined to sell … and that's exactly what he is doing! He has started converting well over 75% of his duct cleaning leads into AeroSeal projects, and that is from a history of selling only duct cleaning.

He has now sold can light cover retrofits, top plate sealing, and is actively pursuing chimney balloons, insulation retrofits, whole attic retrofits, and clean space retrofits. His belief may be tied to being convinced that, after more than four years of growth and success, that we were actually going to stick with this program. But it's also due to the fact that he stopped just “hearing,” and started adopting and adapting.

The traditional HVAC salesman, even a successful one, starts with a deficit position in terms of HPC sales engagement. He has laid a track and process that has earned him a living, and he has all his customer service operations streamlined. We were indeed worried about our long time guy for well over two years, until his recent epiphany.

Realistically, though, some salespeople aren’t going to be able to make that leap. There is a lot to learn, and a lot of old thinking to overcome.

The exciting turning point, was at the end of our CARRIER 360 seminar burst, the experienced guy stepped up to the plate immediately and demanded to be part of our BPI certification process. We had fully expected to ask him to do this, and have him refuse.

Now, he isn’t only drinking the HPC flavored kool-aid, but is the leader of the conceptual pack in terms of actively talking up the HPC concepts and initiatives. It is the ultimate win-win, for him and for us.

Education needs to lead to real life engagement, even immersion, in the HPC world. Everyone on your team must have a strongly held belief that anything less than examining a home through proper and thorough testing is doing a disservice to that house and the people that live in it.

This needs to be a core belief in the sales team, both individually and collectively, to the point that, if we aren’t going to test your home today, we are going to keep talking with you about it until we do.

This same commitment has to be at the service level with our technicians. In fact, many will argue that technician belief and action in this regard may be more important that the sales staff buying in. We need to reward and honor our techs properly, and oftenm when they do the right thing in regard to our customers and HPC.

That brings about another tale.

You Have To Do What Others Won’t, To Achieve What Others Don’t

So, with our success of bringing a new, non-HVAC related guy into the fold, we decided to try it again. But we discovered that traditional salesmen, even from completely different fields, may not be suitable for this work.

Not all salespeople are cut out for this world. Often, experienced sales people have an interesting trait in that they like to seek short cuts that still allow them to get good results.

Well, HPC doesn’t really have room for a lot of short cuts!

For example, how much honest assessment and engagement do you suppose you are going to garner from a prospective customer if you never get your equipment out and actually do a test? The answer, we found out, is not much!

We hired another individual from another very traditional sales field, and he was trained at a Comfort Institute class virtually out of the box. He came back from training all fired up, talking the talk, and looking as if he was walking the walk.

The trouble is that he discovered AeroSeal was much easier to sell than doing all “that blower door stuff.” So he immediately went into a mode of confidently proposing AeroSeal without even bothering with the testing.

The thing was, he believes in and loves AeroSeal, so his swagger and confidence in it has helped him be marginally successful. The down side is that right now he is no better than a technician that only looks at the box, because every house in his mind is an AeroSeal job beginning to end.

While we are happy to see the AeroSeal equipment in regular and repeated use, there is not enough revenue for him to just do that alone, plus he is doing a disservice to our clients by not bringing alongside a fuller understanding of all the implications of HPC beyond the ductwork.

This issue came to a head a short time ago, when one of our long term PM customers engaged with our technician during a recent visit. The technician got the customer motivated to consider testing of the home to diagnose and list of issues that appeared to fall into HPC. The technician did exactly what we hope they will, and excitedly brought the lead back to dispatch awaiting assignment to sales, and expected his recognition and monetary reward at our next quarterly breakfast meeting. The lead was assigned to this other new guy, who proceeded to the site, saw the lay of the land and proceeded to talk the owner out of testing and into some additional diagnostics that are now disputed, because we didn’t move the ball forward.

So yes, loading up the gear, setting it up for testing, and following through on a lead generated by your technical staff is what you must do. It is what other companies don’t and won’t do, and it is of course, the only path to success in HPC.

Rule of thumb diagnosis, and traditional sales-speak and regurgitation, won’t get the real issues identified and moving toward a solid proposal. Furthermore, they don’t engage a customer at the higher level needed to make and pursue good HPC strategy for their home.

Lastly, not rewarding our technicians when they truly do the right thing is like taking three giant steps back, which requires a good deal of intervention from management, as well as that particular salesperson, nullifying his potential at future leads and opportunities.

Right now, in what many consider the early adoption stage of HPC, most HVAC firms are not engaged, and many of them, like this second salesman, are trying to think of ways to be in that business without having to do “all that stuff.”

Those of us that are initiated know that every job has be tested correctly at least once, and most of us know that testing in and testing out is the real correct methodology, so we are actually doing it twice. Trying to short circuit this process isn’t the right thing for the house, isn’t the right way to do this business, and doesn’t reward any of the stakeholders the way it should.

  1. Customers should get a better living environment by clear identification of the issues and acting on them in an organized strategy.
  2. Salespeople should be developing larger ticket sales with more than just HVAC opportunities and solidifying even more rewarding customer relationships.
  3. Service technicians should be rewarded for leading customers’ interest and engagement in the HPC process by us doing “all that stuff” and assisting the customer to make reasonable and healthy decisions about their home.

It is a true team effort that starts with believing the truth and extends to us acting on what we believe and being willing to do what the traditional HVAC dealers aren’t willing to do.

Matt Todd

Matt Todd

Matt Toddis a LEED Accredited Professional and a certified Commissioning Process Management Professional. Entek is actively involved in Building Commissioning and Retro-Commissioning activities and energy retrofit analysis.
Matt Todd

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