The "Optional Close"

May 1, 2008
A sale is a series of small commitments made one at a time. One of the biggest problems salespeople make is providing a lot of information and options, while requiring the prospective customer to provide very little feedback.

The "Optional Close" is good, but there are good ways and bad ways of presenting it.

A good optional close is, "Do you want this air conditioner with this air cleaner, or do you want to just get the air conditioner installed now and get the air cleaner later?"

Here's another: "Do you want go ahead and get this furnace while you're changing out this air conditioner, or do you want to get the air conditioner now and the furnace later?"

By the time you get to quoting the price and closing the sale, the exact equipment needs to already be put to bed.

Small commitments:

A sale is a series of small commitments made one at a time. One of the biggest problems salespeople make is providing a lot of information and options, while requiring the prospective customer to provide very little feedback. The only serious decision they ask them to make is the final commitment to buy, and frankly, that's just too large of a commitment for most people to make.

Some people have difficulty making decisions. That's why I say that a good "closer" is simply someone who's good at helping people make decisions.

Regardless of all circumstances, including any difference in price, you, your prospects, and I usually wind up buying from the best salesman.

If the customer can't decide what equipment they want, they're not going to be able to decide to buy either.

Get a commitment on which model they prefer prior to your first closing attempt.

By the time you make your initial closing attempt, it's essential that the customer know exactly what model of equipment they want. Then all you have to do is agree on a price.

Who selects the equipment?

How do you know which air conditioner, furnace, or boiler to recommend?

Your inspection will help you with that. As you know, I always do a complete inspection as part of my calls, be it a service call or sales call. This includes looking over their exposed ductwork and wiring and removing all access panels (within reason) on their existing equipment. I also check the airflow in every room. I prefer to use the diagnostic equipment to do this, but when I'm working with a company that doesn't own it, I'll at least put my hand to every supply vent in the home while the blower is running. That at least gives me a very good feel for any airflow problems they may be experiencing.

This results in my entering every room of the house. Consequently, I also see pretty much everything they've ever bought and held onto. Be careful not to look like you're casing the joint, but be observant during your inspection.

What are their buying habits? Do they have a big-screen T.V. and other sophisticated electronics or expensive items?

Have they replaced their carpeting or windows? Did they buy high-end or go with the cheap stuff? Ask them how they like them? Maybe they bought the cheap stuff, didn't like it, and have sworn never to short-change themselves again.

A $1,200-$2,000 vacuum cleaner is a pretty good indication that they tend to buy the best and that they more than likely finance their purchases. Ask them if they're glad they bought it and still feel it was worth the investment.

Information like that helps you decide what equipment to recommend.

By the time I get to making my recommendations and closing the sale, I've learned what they do for a living and where they work, which gives me a pretty good feel for their income. I also know how long they plan to live in the house and how they hope to benefit by replacing their equipment.

All this helps me to help them decide what features and benefits they expect from their new equipment and directs me toward making an appropriate recommendation.

Who's better qualified to select the right equipment for the job, a homeowner with no hvac experience or you? Besides, they usually defer to your better judgment anyway, don't they?

How much do you say?

Briefly describe one or two features and benefits of a specific model that, based on the information you've gathered, would meet their specific needs, and ask them if they want their new system to do that for them?

Note the over-use of the word "specific." Don't tell them you always recommend this and don't just start describing how great the equipment is without clarifying how it meets their individual needs and desires. This is a "custom" system.

Your goal is to make them feel good about buying from you, so make every word that comes out of your mouth lead to that end.

Don't go over the entire product line. Make a solid recommendation on one specific furnace, boiler, and/or air conditioner, and/or Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) product(s). This is not withholding information. If they've gotten other bids, others will have gone over all that with them anyway and they'll be tired of hearing about it.

If you happen to have learned what their previous quotes were, recommend something entirely different, otherwise, there will be very little difference between your quote and everyone else's, except that their price for a comparable product is lower.

There's no point in quoting the same thing everyone else has unless your quote also includes significant upgrades to their air distribution system and/or IAQ.

Additionally, if the customer truly wants what everyone else is quoting them, they probably would have already bought it. They’ve called you out there because they wanted to hear something different from what they've already heard.

If everyone else has already quoted them on a single-stage furnace, recommend a two-stage. If everyone else has quoted them on a 16-SEER variable capacity air conditioner, don't be afraid to recommend something different, even if it has to be a lower grade model, like a 13-SEER single capacity.

Be open to changing your mind if you don't receive positive feedback on the direction you're heading.

Good options vs. bad options:

A bad option is one that makes the decision difficult. This occurs when there is not a marked difference between them. For instance, there's not a lot of difference between the 13-SEER air conditioner and the 14-SEER air conditioner, so don't quote that as an option.

Make one of their options a really good deal and make the other not a very good deal.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far away, I won recognition for selling more of what was at that time the most expensive air conditioner on the market. What wasn't publicized was that at the same time, I also won an award for selling more of one of the cheapest units available than anyone else.

When I quoted an option based on the equipment line (which I rarely do), I usually gave them the option of going with the most expensive or the cheapest. I couldn't see the point in taking the middle-of-the-road line.

Sometimes I priced the two lines very close together to make the decision easier. In those cases, they usually bought the better unit and consequently, got a better deal, so it worked out to everyone's advantage. One time I priced them only $50 apart (instead of about $2,000), and the customer still chose the cheaper unit. As a courtesy, I went ahead and surprised him by installing the better, more expensive unit anyway.

Examples of good options:

IAQ products
• You can always get the IAQ later, but there is a sizeable discount to getting it now. Really, what's more important than clean, healthy air?
Duct system upgrades
• Learn all you can about ducts and air distribution.
• When they tell you they want a bigger air conditioner, tell them, you don't need more cooling, you need better airflow.
• Learn how to test for duct leakage. While you're learning about duct leakage, you'll also learn about building envelope leakage.
o Barring a home that is so loose you can see light through the cracks, when people invest in high-efficiency equipment and still don't see energy savings, it's due to either improperly sized equipment or duct leakage. More often than not, it's duct leakage.
• Most systems need more return air. One way to check if more air return will help is to take the blower door off while it's still running.
• Duct system upgrades can be used as a point of negotiation and to muddy up the waters (Look for “Muddying the Waters” article in the June issue of Contracting Business).

Repair vs. replace:

When you're running service and you want to quote repair vs. replace, prior to quoting prices, discuss the replacement option and "land" them on a specific model.

When you quote the price on your "Paper Towel Close," list all the repairs and make a subtotal that's labeled "Total price to repair." Then take the difference between the total amount for the repairs and the total price of the replacement equipment. Write a line that says, "Add to replace," and put that difference under your subtotal. The final total should read "Total price to replace" and will be the total cost of replacing their equipment. This gives them a visual aid that explains that their best choice is to go with the replacement.

The "wrong" decision:

Occasionally they make what you consider to be the "wrong" option and they choose to sink more money into equipment you feel should have been replaced a long time ago.

Don't make them feel bad about their decision. They've got their reasons and they're entitled to make their own mistakes. We've all owned cars we've sank too much money into. They're doing it now with their heating/cooling system.

Document on your repair invoice that the customer declined the option to replace, and lovingly repair their equipment for them.

Now, you've covered your back, kept them as a customer, and stand a good chance of getting another repair or two along with service agreement renewals over the next few years, and the eventual replacement sale (at a higher price) when they finally decide to bite the bullet and do it. If you've built a solid enough connection, they won't get other bids.

Despite our making every effort to make the decision to buy as easy as possible, we'll still encounter people who "need time to think it over." There are still more ways to prevent this from occurring and actions we can take when it does. I'll cover that situation in the next edition of HVAC-Talk.

CHARLIE GREER is the creator of "Tec Daddy's Service Technician Survival School on DVD," and "Slacker's Guide to HVAC Sales on Audio CD." For information on Charlie's products and speaking schedule, visit his website at> or call 1-800-963-HVAC (4822). Email Charlie at [email protected] .