Nov. 1, 2002
by Tom Piscitelli How many times have you bought something that was Or bought something from someone you werent completely comfortable with? We all have.

by Tom Piscitelli

How many times have you bought something that was “cheap?” Or bought something from someone you weren’t completely comfortable with? We all have. And what was the result?

Perhaps the product didn’t live up to your expectations, and you had to buy it again. Only this time you bought the better one, or even the best one. And if you purchased it from a salesperson you weren’t quite comfortable with, did you refer friends or relatives to him or her? Probably not.

Why did you make those decisions?

As consumers, we learn from our buying experiences. One of the essential benefits we want when we buy something is peace of mind.

Peace of mind. It’s everywhere. It’s in the lyrics of our music. It’s in our checkbook every time we make a payment on the myriad of insurance policies that we seem to have. It’s in the store clerk’s presentation when they ask if we’d like the extended warranty protection plan for the appliance, electronic device, or car we just bought. Peace of mind is why customers usually choose the better choice when shown good-better-best options.

Why is peace of mind so important? Simple — because human beings are hard-wired to avoid worry. Worry causes stress and stress wears us out, or worse.

So, to address this fundamental issue, and to give HVAC salespeople a philosophy and roadmap that will guide them, and their customers, though the hazards of buying, I have developed the T.R.U.S.T.® selling process. T.R.U.S.T.® is an acronym that breaks down as follows:

T stands for the Truth

R stands for Relationship

U stands for Understanding

S stands for Showing

T stands for Telling How.

In this first of three articles we examine why it’s so important to always tell the truth, and why and how to build a customer relationship during the in-home sale.

The Truth

Approximately how much of the time should we tell the truth?

And what happens when we don’t, when we tell just a small “untruth?” There are many human reasons for not being 100% candid or truthful with people, and, in spite of our rationalizations for them, choosing to behave in this manner is ineffective in selling, and in life.

One reason we sometimes don’t tell the truth is because we are afraid of the customer’s response.

“How long will this last?”

“Ummmmmmmm…50 years.”

We assume the customer needs it to last 50 years. Did the customer say that? No, she just asked how long it will last. We assume 50 years is what the customer wants to hear. Let’s try the truth:

“How long will this last?”

“With proper maintenance, this furnace will last 15 or 20 years or even more. One of the reasons we offer this furnace is because of its history of reliability, and our service technicians recommend these to all of our customers. In fact, it comes with a 5-year warranty on all parts, and the heat exchanger, the most expensive part of the furnace, is warranted for as long as you live in the home. We believe in it so much that our company also includes a 5-year labor warranty on this model.”

Another reason we might not tell the truth is because we don’t know the answer to the question.

“How long will this last?”

“Ummmmmmmm…50 years.”

In this example, we’re afraid to let the customer know we don’t know. What gets us into trouble here is what I refer to as image. This powerful, and largely unconscious, driving force compels us to present an image of what we think the customer wants us to be. For most people, image is behind the car we drive, the clothes we wear, and, as a salesperson, in the words we use. Some salespeople memorize what they think they are supposed to say because they think the words are what compels the customer to buy.


The only person I’m fooling when I try to become something I’m not, is myself.

The customer knows.

Only 7% of all communication is verbal: the words we say only account for 7% of the entire message we deliver. The other 93% of all communication is non-verbal, and includes appearance, posture, facial expression, hand gestures, eye contact, and, the most powerful of all, tone of voice. In fact, tone of voice reveals 35% of our “truth.” We can’t fake who we are, or why we say what we do — the customer knows. So let’s see how we might reply with the best information we happen to have:

“How long will this last?”

“That’s a good question. This is a fairly new model, so we don’t have a life-history on it yet. I can tell you that the manufacturer is proud of its past products’ reliability, and we are too. That’s one of the main reasons we’ve sold this brand for 20 years. As evidence that they, and we, believe in this furnace, it comes with a 5 year warranty on all parts.”

Let’s not worry about what we think they want to hear, let’s just let our guard down and explain things as they really are. The truth is very, very effective.


First of all, to our male readers, the word “relationship” is okay to use. I’m kidding a bit here, but some of us just aren’t used to thinking this way!

Why do we need to consider what we do as having a relationship? Why can’t we just get the job, do the work, collect the money and move on to the next job?

We must think of every customer as a customer-for-life. Successful companies in all industries understand this. Our success, and our survival, depend on this attitude and commitment.

First, industry marketing gurus tell us that it costs more than $400 to advertise to win one sale, which means it costs $400 in cold cash, net profit cash, to attract a new customer. Walking away from that customer once we’ve sold the job is like flushing money down the toilet.

Plus, these gurus say, it’s six times easier, and six times less costly, to sell products and services to past customers who’ve already purchased from you than it is to find and sell to a new customer.

When you continue a business relationship with your customer, you can receive future revenue from maintenance agreements, replacement parts sales, add-on sales, future replacement and add-ons and, the best of all, referrals. Add it up, and you’ll discover that a customer you sell to today is worth $20,000 or more over your business lifetime.

It’s all about the relationship.

So, how do we develop and maintain an effective customer relationship? Here are some high points for the HVAC salesperson to follow during the in-home sale:

  • Be on time: five minutes early, zero minutes late, call every time while on the way.
  • Knock on the door: A small thing, but friends knock, strangers ring.
  • First impressions count: Smile, clean and neat, professional appearance, photo ID.
  • Wait to be invited in: You are a guest.
  • Put on your boot covers: Yes, even the salesperson must do it.
  • Shake hands with everyone: Firm, responding to their hand pressure.
  • Establish rapport: Must be sincere.
  • Review why you are there: Make sure the information you have is accurate.
  • Explain how the call will progress: Set expectations and ask for approval.
  • tSurvey the home with the customers.
  • Involve the customers: Ask them to help you measure for the load calculation.
  • Ask questions and listen: Next month’s topic.
  • Have a “servant’s” attitude: You are there to help the customer.
  • Have fun: If you do, they will.
  • Be confident and enthusiastic: If you are, they will be too.

A final note on building customer relationships. You can follow all the steps, but if you don’t sincerely care about the customer, it won’t work. What I mean here is that if you are focused on “getting the order” and “how much the order will be,” most customers will sense this and they will treat you as “just another salesperson” out to get their money.

If you need to, recalibrate yourself a bit, and see yourself as a consultant or as an advisor whose job is to help customers sort through their problems, understand what the possible solutions might be, and help them make a decision that is right. When you are “there” for customers, customers will be “there” for you.

Next month we’ll look at Understanding what the customer wants and how to use their information to create the proposal.

Until then, good selling!

Tom Piscitelli is president of Applied Learning Associates, Inc., an HVAC sales training and consulting company (, and partner of Chameleon Management Solutions, Inc., a Web-based provider of HVAC contractor business management services. Find out online at He can be reached at 425/985-4534 and [email protected].