Tips for Selling to Building Owners & Facility Managers

May 3, 2010
Three commercial HVAC contractors reveal some of their secrets to selling in good times, bad times, and every time in between.

Building owners are faced with increasing numbers of vacancies. Facility managers are under pressure to reduce operating costs. Customers who are operating a commercial business often need solutions to a wide variety of comfort and air quality problems found in their offices.

Your approach in every situation must be as an experienced and knowledgeable expert, with good referrals and affordable — not cheap — solutions. Our April issue contained an article we called, "Behind-the-Scenes Service Essentials". Here are a dozen additional tips to becoming the contractor of choice for troubled building owners and facility managers.

From Tom D'Agostino, manager of special projects, Kimmel Service, Denver, CO

Networking Pays Off
In today's market, you don't just walk into a building cold. You need to know someone who knows someone else. You don’t get anything out of the Yellow Pages.

I've found my membership in the Business Networking International ( to be very helpful. BNI calls it referral marketing, and you'd be surprised at how well it works.

You meet with a peer group, and everyone gets to know each other. It's all about what you give, not about what you get. The more they get to know me, the more comfortable it becomes. When people ask me what I do, and I tell them, then they can tell me if they know someone with a genuine heating or cooling need.

Earn Your Stripes
Once you've obtained an initial meeting with a prospect, you have to qualify yourself. You don't go in thinking you're the best, and that the manager is going to hand you the keys to the building. You have to earn your stripes. If they give you an opportunity to solve a small problem, you can then go on to more opportunities.

The City of Denver had a problem at its steam plant, which another company wasn't able to solve. We solved the problem. Now, the city needs help with a cooling tower problem. I'm going to do as tight a bid as I can, answer all their questions, and try to obtain the maintenance contract for that building. I'm going to be detailed, and won’t rush into it. I want to make sure I know what I'm doing.

From Steve Saunders, president of residential/commercial contractor Tempo Mechanical

Align with Other Experts
Three colleagues of mine — two architects, and an engineer — have been calling on people and saying they need to think about energy efficiency and green building as part of their operating strategy, and they know just the guy to talk to. In other words, here are three people not on our payroll, using their expertise to sell our services. They help get me in the door, and I just show up and try to be charming. It's an interesting leverage point, of taking your expertise and helping somebody else develop their business. I used this approach recently with a real estate property manager, and a commercial developer.

Keep Global Warming Out of It
There are differing views on "global warming," but it's not important whether you think global warming is a hoax or a reality. The fundamental driver for energy efficient buildings is separate from that issue. The wave is coming, and you'd better get on the bus now.

Emphasize Leasing Advantages
If you look at two new Class A office buildings, one of which is a highly efficient "green" building and the other is a "regular" building, you'll find that the green buildings have higher leasing rates per square foot. Eventually, all commercial buildings will be more energy efficient, so you have to start thinking about a green property management strategy as you go forward. If you're not aware of these things, your buildings will lease for less, you'll have lower occupancy rates, and your return on investment will decrease to nothing.

The Building Boom Will be Back — Will You be Ready?
A common objection is that, "there are no tenants and no money, and therefore we can't do this." Eventually, there will be a plethora of opportunities. If all you have to sell is price, that won't be good enough. The best clients aren't interested only in price.

Emphasize Reduced Operating Costs
From a mechanical standpoint, the issue is not just the cost to lease, but the cost to own the property. Improved efficiency puts operating costs in a positive direction.

Make no mistake, we're going to see more of these green trends, whether they're driven by public policy or by the competitive nature of the business, which comes down to, "why you should lease my building instead of his."

From Josh Kahn, president, Kahn Mechanical, Dallas, TX

Build and Maintain Trust
It's easy to build trust with current clients who have seen us deliver. Kahn Mechanical lives and dies on doing what we say we will do, when we say we will do it. Give us one opportunity, and we'll deliver.

Often, we'll engage a new client through a referral. This is an opportunity to build trust, both with the new client and with the referring party. These opportunities are critically important, as we’re responsible for making the referring client look good for suggesting us.

Tell Your Story
We don't hold back on sharing about success as well as failure. We believe we're a good company because of how we handle failure, as well as for how we celebrate success. We tell about our Design/Build experience from the perspective of an award-winning company, which is a measure of success.

Clients expect us to fail, and ask a lot of questions in an attempt to hire a company free of failure. We turn this around and share that we try, and sometimes do fail, but will never quit until we have delivered everything we promise. We also share that, 99% of the time, we succeed without obstacles because we're an experienced team.

Design the Solution to Meet Customer Goals
We spend an extraordinary amount of effort on continuing education. We constantly refine our knowledge, and as such are in position to deliver cutting edge, time-tested designs for building comfort. Some clients want meat and potatoes, and some prefer caviar. We listen with intent to what the client desires, then we create the design that best matches our understanding of those desires, share our ideas, and shift course when we're not meeting client goals. We must be communication experts as much or more so than we are design professionals.

Deliver on Commitments
Project fulfillment is about meeting commitments. The client understands what we intend to deliver, and it’s our job to do it. If a pipe is out of level, we rip it out and replace it. These actions show the client how much we care about delivering on our claims.

Commission the Job, Inform the Client
No project is complete without thorough examination of the project on the back end. When we know that the project is delivered, we move into maintenance of the equipment and the ongoing client relationship phase. We own our designs for life, and plan that the customer will be with us for life as well.