Diagnose the System Before You Suggest

Feb. 2, 2011
Successful salespeople across the HVAC industry are learning to include system efficiency testing as a vital component of their customers buying experience. Let’s take a look at what spells success or failure during the early steps of this sales process.

Successful salespeople across the HVAC industry are learning to include system efficiency testing as a vital component of their customers buying experience. Let’s take a look at what spells success or failure during the early steps of this sales process.

The idea of simply installing new equipment into a system and promising energy savings based on the manufacturer’s efficiency rating is a practice that’s heaping a new liability on the backs of many contractors. The bottom line is that they’re only doing half the job needed to deliver what they’re promising.

A careful study of a shift in government and utility programs will show that in order to receive promised energy savings, additional improvements of the duct system and careful adjustments to the refrigerant circuit and combustion efficiency may soon be needed to qualify for incentives. These groups are beginning to understand that duct sealing and high efficiency equipment replacements have never delivered the savings that have been promised to consumers.

Using diagnostic testing to help your clients understand how they can increase comfort and efficiency in their homes or businesses provides added and equal opportunity for the building owner and the contractor alike. It generates a win-win scenario that consumers are demanding as they become savvy energy stewards.

A Discovery Process

The most successful salespeople skillfully build the element of discovery into each encounter with their clients.

Understanding exactly what’s happening in a sales situation is critical to your success. Before a customer will allow you to help them, you must prove your credibility. Including diagnostic testing is one of the surest ways to gain credibility by proving you are trustworthy, competent, and passionate about teaching your clients to understand how they can get the highest level of comfort and efficiency available. Only then will they work closely enough with you to participate in this discovery process.


First of all, if you’re not trustworthy, no one will be interested in discovering anything with you. If you’re only interest is in selling a new box and moving on to the next victim, this process isn’t for you. Consumers that have experienced a process based on system evaluations can smell you from a mile away. Consumers will contrast your box selling mentality to an effective testing and teaching counselor and your approach will eventually lead you to the price shoppers and the rebate class of customers.

Competency and Teaching

Consumers want to do business with competent contractors. Inviting clients to participate in the field testing of their system displays your competency. Quality test instruments and your ability to use them to help your clients learn about hidden system defects, proves your competency and sets the stage for the teaching opportunity that will guide the customer into the discovery process.

The Wonder of Discovery

Being a technically minded industry professional is a prime deterrent to the discovery process. Be careful with this new sales method. If you hold onto the notion that the way you gain credibility and prove competency is by dazzling consumers with your vast knowledge, you will fail with the testing and teaching sales approach.

The secret is to invite your customers to learn and discover what they really want in their new comfort system. What most consumers want is much more than a new box, they just don’t know it yet. Educating your clients can enable their discovery through their own actions, not by you finding, and then proclaiming the problems with their system. If you find them, you’re the bad guy. If you allow the customer to discover the problem, you’re the good guy.

Let’s take a look at the two primary tests included in the testing and teaching process and see how you can lead a client into discovery.


Manufacturers list a maximum total external static pressure on each piece of air moving equipment. This is a highly technical concept that few technicians effectively understand. Your job is to help clients understand how high pressure significantly reduces comfort and may seriously increase operating costs.

Show your customer the rating on the equipment. Let’s say its .50-in. w.c. Point to the 50 on the Magnehelic™ gauge and explain that pressure higher than this will reduce the performance of the system and cost them extra money each month. Explain the reasons why pressure becomes high. Invite questions, but keep to the basics and teach very simple principles in a very short period of time.

Drill the test holes in the system, insert your hoses and watch the numbers skyrocket to the national average of over 80…step back, say nothing. Hold…hold…allow the customer to discover this.

Most often the customer will have a look of question and surprise on their face. Remember you have already explained why pressure is a problem and what it does to their efficiency and comfort. So give it time to sink in and allow the customer to discover their problem. Let them figure it out and talk it through. Most of the time, you will just listen. They will say things like “Is it that new filter I just bought? Are my ducts plugged up? Could my ducts be too small?”

They will then believe their own diagnosis, based on their knowledge that you previously gave them. The customer will become highly motivated to fix the problem that they just discovered. They will ask if you can fix it. Assure them that you can.

Room Airflow

One final example is room airflow. Estimate the required airflow into each room of the house. Explain that it’s the airflow that delivers the needed heating and cooling onto the room. If there’s not enough, the room will be uncomfortable. Explain in advance that increasing airflow will solve the problem.

When in the customer’s most uncomfortable room, announce the required airflow for that room. Let’s say that together you have decided the home office needs 180 cubic feet per minute. Hand the customer the balancing hood and invite them to measure the airflow. Suddenly, the number 41 appears on the hood. Don’t say anything. Allow the customer to discover it without your help.

Typically, they will immediately begin to offer their ideas why the airflow may be so low. “The cable guy was up there, we’ve heard noises at night in the duct, maybe a raccoon? This room has never been comfortable. Could the duct never have been connected?”

Let the customer be the one to identify the problem. Since you are the teacher that enlightened them to the problem, you will be the one they want to fix their airflow issue because you are the one that made them aware of it. You did all the work.

Bundle each of the problems the customer discovered into a proposal for equipment replacement and offer them the best system available on the market today.

Everyone else just tried to sell your customer a high efficiency box that has no chance of ever heating or cooling that room. If you’re a good teacher, your competition will be dismissed.

Enable your clients to discover system diagnostics with you. You’ll find an appealing new way to make low pressure, high margin sales that will delight those you serve.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute a training company with technical and business level membership organizations. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician interested in receiving information about the NCI HVAC system diagnostic process, contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at nationalcomfortinstitute.com for free information, articles and downloads.

About the Author

Rob 'Doc' Falke | President

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute an HVAC-based training company and membership organization. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician  interested in a building pressure measurement procedure, contact Doc at [email protected]  or call him at 800-633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at NationalComfortInstitute.com for free information, articles and downloads.