Customers Don't Have To Like You

March 22, 2005
The struggling HVAC salesman told me, I figure the purpose of my job is to make friends. Id been asked to visit this HVAC salesman because he had such

The struggling HVAC salesman told me, “I figure the purpose of my job is to make friends.” I’d been asked to visit this HVAC salesman because he had such a low ratio of converting sales calls to actual sales. He was lucky to be on salary as opposed to commission, because frankly, he couldn’t close a door, let alone a sale.

I myself have sold, with a large degree of success, in the same town where this salesman worked. This doesn’t make me a better man. It just means I’m a better salesman. This is due more to dedication, study, and practice than to any innate abilities.

The town could best be described as a small, country-western kind of town. Everyone pretty much knew everyone else and there was a fairly low average income per household.

“The purpose of your job is not to make friends,” I told the salesman. “The purpose is to make sales.”

He didn’t particularly care for my opinion and went on to describe how difficult it was to get along with the people in his area, and how he was continually being mistreated by prospective customers.

As an example, the salesman told a story about a customer who made an appointment that was nearly an hour-and-a-half (one-way) away. When he arrived, the salesman was brushed off at the door by the customer who said he was too busy to talk. The customer told the salesman to come in, take a look around, leave his price on the table, and show himself out when done.

When I asked the salesman how he responded to this, he said he told the customer, “I’d be glad to come back when you’ve got more time.” The customer did reschedule and, when the salesman showed up the second time, the customer pulled the same routine on him again.

That doesn’t surprise me. My experience has shown that anything customers will pull on you once, they’ll pull on you again.

When I asked the salesman how he responded to getting the brush-off after investing a bare minimum of six hours in the call, he said he told the prospective customer, “Well, I appreciate the opportunity.”

Herein Lies the Problem

At this point, I saw two problems with his approach. I told the salesman:

  • He’s a liar, and obviously his customers can tell
  • He isn’t maintaining control of his sales calls.

Once he got over his initial resentment and anger, he had to admit that he didn’t “appreciate the opportunity” of getting the bum’s rush from a client in whom he’d already invested nearly an entire work day. So yes, he did in fact lie when he said, “I appreciate the opportunity.” He’d just never thought of it as being such. He was just trying to be polite.

Any time you tell anything but the truth, even when (perhaps even especially when) you’re just trying to be nice, your customers will see right through you. You’ll not only lose credibility, you’ll let them know in no uncertain terms that it’s perfectly all right to treat you like a doormat.

You Must Maintain Control

One of the primary components of a successful sales call is control. Since the person asking the questions is usually the person controlling the conversation, the easiest way to maintain control of a sales or service call is to ask questions.

Questions keep prospective customers talking, which is good. Your customers should do the vast majority of the talking.

Additionally, questions provide you with information and, contrary to popular belief, you don’t make sales by providing information. You make sales by gaining information. What information are you seeking to gain? You want to know what they want to buy.

What Customers Really Want

Sure, people prefer to “like” who they buy from, but believing that people “have” to like you to buy from you is wrong.

Frankly, most people don’t want nor need any more friends. Furthermore, you’re not their friend anyway. The only time you’ll see or call them again will be within a business setting. While you should be friendly, polite, and pleasant, be careful about being seen as a phony.

That being said, most customers don’t need or want salespeople who are fast with all the jokes, all the lines, and all the charm. They want salespeople who know what they’re doing; people who take pride in their work. They have to see you as someone who lives, eats, sleeps, and breathes HVAC.

Then they see you as the ultimate service professional, they’ll want you to take care of them.

The Final Result

Two days after our initial conversation, the salesman and I met again. He told me about a call he made to a single woman, a homeowner, whose father was visiting during their appointment. Rather than sit in on the complete conversation and help his daughter to make an informed decision, he wandered in and out of the room, making caustic, deal-killing remarks.

This really ticked the salesman off — and justifiably so.

In relating the story, he went on to say, “That’s when I thought to myself, ‘This is just what Charlie Greer was talking about!’”

The salesman said, “That’s when I decided to pretend I was some skinny, spike-haired guy from New York (I believe he was attempting to describe me at that point), and the next time the father wandered into the room, trying to disrupt my train of thought, I said, ‘Listen. This is the way it’s gonna be, sir. Either stay in here and participate in this conversation and help your daughter make her decision, which is what I’d prefer you do, or stay completely out of it. We can’t have you coming in and out of here, disrupting our conversation, and contradicting me without waiting for my response. Your interruptions could actually cause her to make the wrong decision, and neither one of us wants that, do we?’”

The final result was that the prospect’s father had an abrupt change in demeanor, became instantly cooperative, sat down to actively participate in the conversation. In less than 20 minutes, he advised his daughter to buy from this salesman.

This was the first time, during his four years in HVAC sales, this salesman had closed a sale on his first call. He attributes 100% of his newfound success to getting away from “making friends” as his primary goal to making sales.

I don’t think people like liars and wimps. I think they like people who are down-to-earth, businesslike, and don’t waste their time. I think people like people who are sincere, and they dislike phonies.

I think this salesman made the sale because, once the salesman took control of the situation and started acting like a real professional, and frankly, like a man, the father started to like him.

Charlie Greer is the creator of Tec Daddy’s Service Technician Survival School on DVD, the instructor for Charlie Greer’s 4-Day HVAC Sales Survival School, the sponsor for Comfortech Idol and a Service Roundtable Consult & Coach Partner. Charlie has just embarked on a 20-city seminar tour, sponsored by Aprilaire. He’ll also conduct a sales seminar at HVAC Comfortech 2005.

For a catalog of Charlie’s products or to check his schedule, go to or call 800/963-HVAC (4822). You can also email the intrepid Mr. Greer at [email protected].