Sell a Well-Performing System, and Stop Swapping Boxes

July 1, 2006
There are two camps forming in our industry. There are contractors that continue to swap boxes, and there are contractors that take responsibility for

There are two camps forming in our industry. There are contractors that continue to swap boxes, and there are contractors that take responsibility for the performance of the system and add efficiency testing and duct renovations to their equipment replacements.

The distance between the two camps is widening. The box changers have remained stationary, while those delivering top-performing systems and complete solutions are moving forward at an increasing rate. Delighted customers, increasingly professional workforce, and swelling balance sheets measure their progress.

Their maneuvers are quiet, and haven’t yet been detected by the box changers as one sale at a time slips away, closing rates fall, and margins shrink. With the minimum equipment efficiency increase, it seems average sales price has increased, giving the appearance that all is well. But how good is business as usual, trying to make a buck swapping the commodity of air conditioning equipment, and competing for the lowest price?

As energy costs rise, the call to battle of the box changer is “higher and higher efficiency!” But salespeople that teach and prove installed system efficiency easily muffle this cry. By testing system performance during each sales call and revealing duct system performance often near 50%, equipment efficiency falls to the rear of the discussion. The idea that 50% of a 16 SEER is better than 50% of a 13 SEER has been dead for years.

Delivered system performance is all that counts to those we serve. What does the equipment BTU capacity or the efficiency it functions at in the laboratory matter if only 50% makes it into the building? When a customer understands this concept, box swappers are often immediately dismissed from the contest.

Define Your Product
The difference between the two camps is the product. The box swappers believe the box is the product. System performance contractors understand that while the box is critical to the efficiency, no promises can be made based on equipment efficiency alone. Much more is required to assure the final product of a well performing system.

Delivering a well performing system includes squarely addressing each element of the system and providing clean and clear solutions that your customer can easily accept to get the results they want.

The problem many of us face is how to completely diagnose each problem a system might have. The next challenge is to present our findings, and the solution, to our customers so they can understand what needs to be done, as well as be willing to pay for it.

Here’s a short list of what we get to teach, test, diagnose, engineer and sell in a 90 minute sales call:
• Instill a personal trusting relationship
• Extol the virtues and integrity of our company
• Enlighten our customers to the physics governing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning system performance
• Test delivered airflow, static pressure, and temperatures
• Calculate delivered BTU and rate the installed system performance
• Diagnose system defects including duct losses, installation and design defects, poor combustion, and refrigerant functions
• Engineer duct renovation work needed, building load, and equipment sizing
• Verify the customer understands and accepts your evidence of all the above
• Package and price the system renovation in an easy to understand format and agreement
• Arrange financing and schedule the work, then secure the customer’s approval and commitment.

Oh, did I mention magician skills are helpful? Magic can be interpreted as a standardized method of performing a diagnostic HVAC sales call. A set of forms and procedures are needed, that when completed in a logical sequence, assures a process that will include all the steps listed above with a favorable outcome. In other words, the customer gets a complete job with the assurance that their system will perform to its maximum potential, and you get the sale.

Unfortunately, over the years there have been many battles fought in an attempt to secure one simple silver bullet, struggling to shorten the diagnostic process and deliver a simple solution to comfort and efficiency. Every valiant effort from higher efficiency equipment, duct sealing, accessories that compensate for system defects, excessive filtration, higher pressure fans, various duct materials, black boxes and wonder (how they work) controls, and refrigeration voodoo has failed on its own.

In the end, it’s the combination of many of these features, applied correctly, after each system has been tested and diagnosed, that creates a system that fulfills the promises we make to our customers of comfort, safety, and efficiency. Only by collecting and applying the all-necessary HVAC solutions required by each individual system can we provide the solutions our customers seek.

A Word of Caution
I learned years ago as I passed through a difficult time in my profession, that our customers call us to improve the HVAC system, so stick to the HVAC system. Whole house diagnostics is a cute term that has somehow found its way into the HVAC industry, but this type of contracting is outside the expertise and licensing of most HVAC contractors. Attempting to combine the two is confusing to customers and may be life-threatening to the financial future of your company, as it has lead many a poor contractor down a rabbit trail where some have become hopelessly lost.

Don’t mix building diagnostics with an HVAC sales opportunity. Don’t get me wrong, the principles of building science are correct, and the services are extremely valuable and it does offer wonderful comfort solutions, but it must be addresses by its own industry.

One tremendous asset to HVAC contractors is the growing pool of HERS raters across the country. These men and women are specially trained to test and evaluate a building envelope, and many are becoming the finest consultants available to solve building problems today. You can find a reliable HERS raters near you at Make them part of your team and use their expertise to improve building performance.

Results Oriented Proposals
The final step in the selling process is bundling your HVAC products and services so that the customer can understand what they need, and believe you can deliver the solutions they seek. One of the worst things that can happen is to get too technical in your presentation and confuse your customer with endless, detailed options leaving them confused and bewildered.

If you’ve done a good job with your teaching and testing, all that remains is to assure the customer that your results will meet their expectations. Many proposals now present a summary describing the end result, rather than an endless list of the technical details of the project.

Using a results oriented proposal is a new trend that distinguishes Performance-Based Contractors from the box changers every time. Take an hour to pencil out a results-based proposal and compare it to the proposals our industry has used for the last 50 years. Read it through the eyes of your customers, and you’ll be pleased with the results.

Deliver the results that you promised. Replace the equipment, and learn to renovate duct systems; then test and balance the system, adjust combustion and refrigerant charge, and verify the installed performance of the system. Document what you have accomplished and delight your customers with a new product . . . delivering far more than an equipment replacement.

Rob “Doc” Falke serves the industry as president of National Comfort Institute a training company specializing in measuring, rating, improving and verifying HVAC system performance. If you're an HVAC contractor or technician technician interested in an HVAC Testing and Diagnostic Sales Procedure, contact Doc at [email protected] or call him at 800/633-7058. Go to NCI’s website at for free information, technical 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 for free information, articles and downloads.