Use Life-style Overlays to Sell to Women

Feb. 1, 2006
As my Texas grandmother used to say: "Now, don't y'all throw out that baby with the bath water." And, as Marcel Proust said much more elegantly: "The

As my Texas grandmother used to say: "Now, don't y'all throw out that baby with the bath water." And, as Marcel Proust said much more elegantly: "The voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new horizons, but in seeing with new eyes."

Yes, 13 SEER air conditioning as a mandated minimum efficiency is here. However, we have seen this before, when the minimum standard became 10 SEER in the early 90s. The industry survived, and our products did not become a commodity as so many doom-sayers predicted.

The reason we survived and, in fact, became a better industry, is because we didn't throw out the baby with the bath water, and learned to see through new eyes. More features, such as higher efficiency and quieter compressors, were added to the products; more services, such as duct cleaning and extended warranties, were presented to customers.

But this time the transition requires a woman's point of view. Why? Because women significantly influence the buying decisions on home improvement products 67% of the time.

Have you been to the grocery store recently? (If not, you see why a woman's point of view is necessary.) If you want to purchase a can of diced tomatoes for spaghetti sauce, you have numerous choices: diced tomatoes; diced tomatoes with onions; diced tomatoes with onions and garlic; diced tomatoes with onions, garlic, and basil; smoked diced tomatoes with onions, garlic, and basil; or organically-grown, smoked diced tomatoes with onions, garlic, and basil. You get the idea.

Sometimes there are too many choices, and I simply decide not to choose, and make hamburgers instead. At least then I only have to decide on the percentage of fat in the meat.

Women are wired-in. We do our research. We do our comparison shopping. Women want choices and we want options, but we don't have time for limitless choices. We know our homes and family are special, and you had better respect my sense of uniqueness. That's why "good, better, best" packages for HVAC equipment bundled around life-style — not efficiency — make more sense than ever.

Think of your good, better, best packages as lifestyle packages. Right now, perhaps you begin with a good package and add efficiency upgrades for better and best. (Some companies start with the best package and subtract efficiency upgrades.) Instead, start with a total comfort package and add life-style overlays to it.

Present to Ms. Homeowner a total comfort package that includes a 13 SEER, R-22 unit with a matching indoor coil, and a maintenance agreement. (A maintenance agreement should always be included in the total comfort package. The contractors we work with tell us that only 2.5% of their maintenance customers have emergency equipment breakdowns. That is part of a total comfort package for any consumer.)

Here are some total comfort package life-style overlays to consider:

Life-style Overlay 1: Ms. Homeowner with Children
From observation and questioning, you have determined that Ms. Homeowner has children who have allergies. Overlay on top of the total comfort package an indoor air quality (IAQ) package that includes duct cleaning, an upgraded filter, and a UV light (better); or a total comfort package that includes duct cleaning, an electronic air cleaner, a dampered indoor air intake, and a heat recovery ventilator energy recovery ventilator (HRV or ERV) (best). Ms. Homeowner now has choices: What IAQ products to include in her total comfort package.

As a woman, offering life-style overlays proves to me that you have listened to me and that you know I think my home is special and unique, as is my family.

Life-style Overlay 2: Ms. Homeowner with Pets and Grandchildren
Like Ms. Homeowner with Children, this homeowner loves her pet, but knows that the pet causes allergy conditions for herself, her spouse, and her grandchildren. So again, the IAQ overlay placed on top of the total comfort package makes sense for her, and gives her choices.

Life-style Overlay 3: Ms. Homeowner, the Professional
She works, she travels, and she loves her home. It's her retreat. This homeowner is proud of her accomplishments and proud that those accomplishments include her home. She wants choices, but she doesn't have a lot of extra time because of her career. Her total comfort package choices revolve around convenience: a maintenance agreement (good); a maintenance agreement and an extended warranty (better); a maintenance agreement, an extended warranty, and an easy-to-program thermostat for those times she travels but wants to come home to her comfortable retreat (best).

Life-style Overlay 4: Ms. Homeowner, Concerned Environmentalist
This homeowner doesn't purchase high efficiency because of energy paybacks. She purchases it because she wants to conserve natural resources and sees high efficiency HVAC equipment as her household's way of doing this. She also wants to minimize the damage to the environment from ozone-depleting refrigerants. So, you place the high efficiency package overlay on top of the Total Comfort Package. And the 410A overlay package is placed on top of that. She has choices. Does she want high efficiency equipment (better)? Or does she want high efficiency, 410A equipment (best)?

Life-style Overlay 5: Ms. Homeowner, Concerned with the Monthly Budget
This homeowner purchases high efficiency equipment because she's concerned with the family's monthly budget. She wants to minimize monthly spending. She has done her research and knows that the higher the efficiency of the equipment, the less her family spends on utilities. She has choices: Does she want a 14 SEER air conditioner or a 16 SEER air conditioner (better)? Or does she want a 16 SEER air conditioner with an extended warranty that will save her monthly household budget from being affected by future repairs (best)?

Life-style Overlay 6: Ms. Homeowner Who Wants to Stay Ahead of the Joneses
This customer wants the best of everything — whether it's her car, her faucets, or her total home comfort package. She wants it all — high efficiency, the best IAQ package, the latest technology. With this customer, you start with the basic package of 13 SEER equipment and overlay the most efficient 410A equipment with the IAQ package that includes an HRV or ERV (better), plus a humidifier and an extended warranty (best). She chooses how far she wants to stay ahead of the Joneses.

Question, Listen, and Offer Choices
Women want choices based on who they are, what they want as a customer, and their family's comfort requirements. They want choices, but not so many that they're overwhelmed and postpone any decision. As a woman, offering life-style overlays proves to me that you have listened to me and that you know I think my home is special and unique, as is my family.

As a salesperson, offering life-style options requires asking the customer questions and, based on her answers and life-style, presenting several alternatives. Think of it as figuring out what food selections your customer would make if she were going to the cafeteria. As the server in the cafeteria, you can make almost every conceivable food option available to her.

To me, this is the most fun part of selling. Rather than showing a customer all of the food in the cafeteria (that is, all the equipment, accessory, and service options your company has to offer), ask questions and listen to the answers. Based on the information the customer provides, sort through the hundreds of product and service offers your company has available, prioritize the options, and present the two or three total comfort package life-style options that will most appeal to the customer's specific needs, comfort, and budget.

With a total comfort package, good communication skills, and life-style overlays, you'll make more money, and your customer will get the comfort she wants, needs, and deserves.

Vicki LaPlant, along with her husband, John, are the principals of Vital Learning Experiences (VLE), Pottsboro, TX. VLE is a training and consulting business that focuses on the HVACR and plumbing industries. For more information, call 903/786-6262, e-mail [email protected], or visit

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This article is based on the presentation, Make 13 SEER Your Lucky Number: A Woman's Point of View, which Vicki LaPlant gave at HVAC Comfortech 2005, held in Nashville, TN, Sept. 14-17, 2005.

For more information about HVAC Comfortech 2006, which will be held September 13-16 in Baltimore, MD, call 216/931-9550.

Learn from the leaders: In 2005, HVAC Comfortech presented more than 30 speakers providing educational seminars. All the sessions were recorded, and are available for purchase. For pricing and ordering information, visit the show website: