Three Questions for HVAC Salespeople and Service Techs

April 1, 2008
What do people buy? You don't sell furnaces or air conditioners. You don't sell service. You don't sell the company. That leaves very little left to sell,
What do people buy? You don't sell furnaces or air conditioners. You don't sell service. You don't sell the company. That leaves very little left to sell, so this question should be easy. What do you sell? Or, better yet, what do people buy? The answer is, BENEFITS. In the sales world, you've got features and you've got benefits. The feature is what it "is" or "does." The benefit is what it does for you. The feature is the logical component. The benefit is the emotional component. Logic provokes thought. Emotion provokes action. When they give you an objection, a smoke screen, or a stall, what they're really saying is, "You haven't provided me with enough reasons, or benefits, to owning your product or service, for me to part with my hard-earned cash." Why do people buy (from you)? Lots of people answer, "Because they need to." Wrong. They may have initially called your company due to "need" but the fact that we've all been turned down at one time or another means that, despite needing our products or services, if they don't want what we're offering, or don't want to buy it from us, they can get what they need somewhere else, and often for a lower price. So, why do people buy from you? Because they want to. That may seem a little trite at first glance, but this simple realization was kind of a life-changing epiphany for me. For my first 15 years in sales, I thought that salesmanship was defined as, "the art of persuasion." I'd always thought of salesmanship as talking people into things. I started analyzing my calls; making note of what worked well for me on a regular basis, and what didn't work. I began to do more of the things that worked and less of the things that didn’t. (How's that for an idea?) Things started to get better with fewer turndowns and more sales, when it finally hit me. I realized that I couldn't make people buy. I couldn't talk them into buying. I couldn't pressure them into buying. I realized that the people who bought from me did so of their own free will. They made the conscious decision that they wanted what I was offering and they wanted to get it from me. What they wanted were all the benefits of the product or service, as well as the benefits of using me as the provider. I also realized that, up to that point, I had seen sales calls as more of a competition between the prospect and me in which, when they bought, I won. I'll have to admit that it hadn't really occurred to me that when they bought from me, they also won. I'll also add that, as I heard the horror stories of what happened to some of my prospects who bought from some of my lower-priced competitors, they frequently lost by being unsatisfied or feeling totally ripped off. I came to the conclusion that, when I run calls, it's not so much that I "sell" things to people as it is that they decide to buy. Can you see the difference? What’s the difference between the "best" and "top quality": Ever had a customer ask you, "How do your prices compare with those of your competition?" I've actually heard a lot of HVAC sales and service professionals say, "Well, we're not the cheapest, but we're the best." Doesn't that statement actually translate as saying, "Our prices are kind of high. Why don't you check around? I'm sure you can get it cheaper elsewhere." Most sales instructors will tell you that the most important thing to stress in sales is that what you're offering is "the best" and "top quality." There some serious problems with the use of the words "the best" and "top quality." Overuse of the word quality in a sales presentation can translate in the listener's mind as "over-engineered, overdone, overblown, and overpriced.” I spend the least amount of money possible. And who doesn't want to spend the least amount of money possible? Even when you decide you're going to buy the best product available, don't you want it for the lowest price? Ready for a shock? People don't necessarily want to spend the money for quality, and people don't want to spend the money to own the best. I know there are many surveys, consumer studies, and focus groups to contradict my point, but I really think you need to keep in mind that many surveys, studies, and focus groups were formed to prove a specific point and are worded in a manner to steer people into a certain type of answer. Plus, people tend to say what's expected of them, and who wouldn't say that when shopping, their top priority is quality and that price is only a minor concern? It's a matter of pride! Additionally, overuse of terms like "top quality" and "the best" can turn on your prospects' "B.S. alarms." You could be seen as someone who is prone to exaggeration. In fact, do you even know what you're selling is the best? Have you got a testing lab? Are you the only one in your area selling it? Isn't the distributor selling the same stuff to everyone? The most important thing: So, what is the most important thing to stress when you're in a selling situation? That accepting your recommendations is the way to spend the least amount of money possible, or that you're giving them a "deal." Another way of putting it is simply to stress the "savings." At least twice, if not three times during a call, I'll find an opportunity to mention that, what I'm recommending is the way to spend the least amount of money possible … that's even when I'm recommending what I feel is the best and top quality. Everybody likes to save money. Everybody wants a deal. So give them a deal. Real-life example: My first year in the business, I was dispatched on a call to provide a quote to a gentleman wanting to add central air conditioning to a home. When I called to confirm the appointment, he made it clear to me that he had bought the home to flip, that he would never live in it, and that his buying decision would be based solely on price. He said he had no interest in quality, efficiency or the longevity of the equipment. He was adding air conditioning to make the home more marketable. I was nervous on the way to the call because I'd been trained to make certain that my prospects knew that what we were offering was the best and top quality. Our customers paid a premium price for a premium product with premium service--40% of the time it went well; 60% of the time it didn't. I decided that, for the first time ever, instead of bragging about top quality and the best, I would try to make every word that came out of my mouth something to which the person wanting to spend the least amount of money possible could relate. I still stressed the benefits of my product, my design, my installers, and my follow-up service, but I did so from the standpoint of how it saves money. And it worked. After the call, it occurred to me that I didn't need to reserve that type of presentation exclusively for people who made it clear up front that they were basing their buying decision on price. Can you sell the best? Later that year, I sold more of the most expensive air conditioner units on the market than anyone else in the country (over a given period of time). I don't believe I sold a single one based on the fact that it was the best. I explained to them that investing in that model would have the lowest overall cost of ownership over the life of the equipment. Only rich people can afford to buy cheap air conditioners and furnaces. Conclusion: Price shoppers want the job done right, but for the lowest amount of money. This doesn't mean the lowest price. When you talk about the value of doing business, stress the money-saving benefits of your products and services. Make certain the customer knows that, while your price may appear to be a larger initial investment than some lower-priced competitor, everything you do for them is necessary and vital, and ultimately saves them money. Doing business with a quality contractor doesn't cost you extra, it saves you money. Doing business with unlicensed, uninsured contractors who don't pull permits, don’t provide satisfaction guarantees, and don’t honor their warranties can be one of the most expensive mistakes people can make. When they're in need of replacement equipment, they're paying for it whether they buy it or not. If the air in the home is dirty, they're paying for an air purification system whether they buy it or not. If the air in the home is too dry during the winter, they're paying for a central humidifier whether they buy it or not. They're paying for your level of service, whether they buy it or not. Whenever you quote a product or a service, try to determine exactly what they want to buy (as opposed to trying to sell what you want to sell). Make certain they know the benefits of the product or service as well as the benefits of buying it from you. Show them how they're saving money by doing business with you, and make them feel like they're getting a deal. The whole purpose of this article is to put you in the right mindset to go in and close the sale on a repair and to get the service agreement as part of the transaction. I'm also going to try and get you a "thanks" while I'm at it. In my next article, I'll tell you how I present the price, close the sale and get the signature on repair calls. 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].