Many contractors disagree on whether you should promote an in-house service tech to a sales position or hire a professional salesperson from outside the company. This debate is one that has raged on in the HVAC industry for years, and you can rest assured that this article will only serve to add fuel to someone’s fire, but let’s just consider some of the following:
I believe you should always hire for attitude, commitment, desire, outlook and willingness to take initiative and responsibility and to hold employees accountable to performance. I am a big fan of having a system and hiring the best people to work in that system given their ability to execute at the highest possible level. If that is a tech or professional salesperson from outside the company or outside the industry, that’s who gets the job.
Desire and passion.
Techs are techs for a reason. They have a drive and desire to fix things and/or work with their hands. They are thing or task-oriented. That does not mean they cannot work with people or be taught how to do so more effectively. However, their passion lies in completing tasks, not building relationships.
Top-producing salespeople are people-oriented and have a desire, drive and passion in building relationships that yield sales. They are not task-oriented, which explains their paperwork.
Words are key.
Techs tend to talk about equipment and technical things. How much you know does not impress customers until they know how much you care. This approach can intimidate and confuse a customer, making them feel stupid or overwhelmed. A customer who feels this way will do business elsewhere or not at all.
Top salespeople have natural conversations about real concerns, needs, and wants and present differentiated solutions in a user-friendly, non-technical, non-commodity manner that fully addresses the customer’s concerns.
Pay me or pay me not – It’s up to me.
A salesperson has no reservations about where their next paycheck is coming from as they believe 100% in their ability to generate income in the blink of an eye. Most techs are accustomed to receiving a weekly paycheck and want this safety net or security blanket. However, most sales positions usually have a performance-based pay system (mostly, if not all, commission), which most techs dislike since it could result in them going a week without a paycheck.
Always send a professional to do the job.
A technician may be able to work on the equipment and know all the industry lingo and technical aspects of designing, installing, maintaining and repairing a system.
You can train a tech in sales and communication, but their persona is not usually as good a match at leveraging these skills as a salesperson’s mind-set, attitude and persona. In my experience, it is much easier to train a salesperson from outside the industry about the industry, products, and services and have success than it is to teach a technician how to sell with a high level of performance. I am not saying you can't do it, but it is rare.
Whose best interests are we looking out for?
Most technicians end up in sales since they get “promoted” because no one else steps up, they had some success as a tech selling off service calls, or they are technically competent. The biggest reason I see is the owner’s unwillingness to properly recruit, hire, train and coach the best person for the position, as this requires vast amounts of time. If this becomes the mind-set, then are you truly doing what is in the best interests of the customer and putting the company’s best foot forward?
Leads versus calls.
There is a vast difference in a technician who is successful selling off service calls and a salesperson having the ability to sell off open leads that come from a variety of sources. Service calls result from non-functioning or not properly functioning components. The customer’s initial perception is a potential [???], which makes the tech ability to communicate openly with the customer relatively easy, even if one of the recommendations is a system replacement.
Conversely, on an open sales lead, with a source other than a referral or current customer, the customer’s anxiety level is elevated and buyer resistance is high because the customer perceives the salesperson is going to try to sell them something they don’t want, don’t need, can’t afford or don’t understand. Now is when excellent people and communication skills are required most.
You only get ONE shot.
Customers are like comets – they only come around once in a great while. You only get ONE opportunity to make the proper qualification and presentation. A person with good people and communication skills will be more apt to build a bond, rapport, trust, respect and gain a mutual commitment to work with a customer toward a common endeavor than a technically competent individual. The person who best builds the relationship with a prospect usually earns the customer’s business.
When a customer calls your company, they want your expertise and are willing to pay for it. If the call is initially for a repair, then a tech is the proper expert. If the call is for replacement or the repair call turns into a replacement opportunity, then a salesperson, knowledgeable in the latest equipment; equipment and duct sizing; installation applications; solving comfort, IAQ and energy concerns; building value and relationships; etc., is the proper expert.
Take your best shot because that’s what your customer wants and that’s what your company deserves.
Nothing is absolute.
The success that certain companies have converting techs to salespeople or utilizing selling techs is undeniable. However, hiring the right people for the right job and training them properly is easier, more cost-effective and results-oriented than trying to train someone and change that which is inherent to their personality and possibly even their genetic makeup. You can teach many sales traits, skills, concepts and mindsets, but this does not mean someone will adopt these characteristics or that someone else might not be better suited as a candidate.
Animal instincts are second nature.
Remember, a cheetah cannot change its spots to stripes and become a tiger, even if you have trained the cheetah to mimic a tiger's tendencies and behavior. A cheetah’s natural instincts are to be a cheetah, and no amount of training will ever change that.
In sales, top producing salespeople learn sales behaviors and techniques during their training and integrate them into their sales process whereby they become second nature to the point that the salesperson acts instinctively without thinking about the process or next move. This is similar to how techs perform a diagnostic or repair.
People who perform in roles that come more naturally to them tend to perform better than those who adopt roles out of necessity.
A professional salesperson lives for the challenges presented by sales, interaction, freedom, income potential and passion to succeed against all odds. The thrill of making a sale fuels their desire, while techs tend to like the challenge of fixing what is broken.
Drew Cameron has been in the HVAC industry for 30 years and is president of HVAC Sellutions, a contractor-focused sales development and management support organization that works with all types of industry organizations to help them build multimillion dollar sales forces. It positions companies to gain mindshare with maximum consumer awareness and market share dominance utilizing our its unique marketing strategy, sales philosophy, selling style, and effective sales and marketing tools and resources, while helping them to establish brand identity for ultimate sales and profitability performance.