By JUSTIN STRAIN
EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the fourth installment of a five-part series of indoor air quality (IAQ) business "how-to" articles. Part I (CB, Sept. 2006, p. 64) explained why now is the time for the HVAC industry to capitalize on the IAQ market. Part II (CB, Nov. 2006, p. 58) outlined how to start and build your IAQ business. Part III (CB, Feb. 2007, p. 54) walked through the steps to take IAQ to market. Here in Part IV, comfort advisor and IAQ manager Justin Strain of K&S Heating and Air, Rochester, MN, lays out the strategies that are spelling IAQ sales success for contractors all over the country.
Over the last five years at K&S Heating and Cooling, our annual indoor air quality (IAQ) sales have grown from zero to $2 million.
If you think this is unusual or that this kind of growth doesn't apply to you and your business, I ask you to think again. When I joined K&S five years ago, IAQ didn't exist as a business segment. I took on learning IAQ and building an IAQ sales program. It took commitment to get it to today's $2 million a year, but I assure you, there's nothing I did that you can't do.
The techniques for IAQ sales success are simple. It's putting them into practice that makes the difference.
Know The Basics, Make The Sale
Whatever your size and location, you can grow your business by adding IAQ. If you're committed, confident, and consistently apply the basic IAQ sales process, you'll get results.
Start with confidence. Start your successful IAQ sales process by building confidence in your products and what they can do for your customers.
The best way to start building your IAQ confidence is to test your own home. When you can tell your customers how the solutions you offer really do work based on you and your team's personal experience, that builds credibility fast.
In the HVAC business, we deliver comfort and health solutions to our customers. We also deliver value and expertise. Nothing makes that connection for customers more clearly and powerfully than IAQ. With IAQ testing, we can clearly demonstrate the results our customers will get for their investment — and we can back it up with our own experience.
Involve your whole team. IAQ sales success doesn't happen in a vacuum. Whether it's one person or a team who owns the IAQ sales, make sure everyone in your company can explain the value of your IAQ products and services. Why? Because if you don't tell your customers about what you've got, they won't know you have it.
At Davis Air Conditioning & Heating, Houston, TX, it's the technicians who own the IAQ sales. "I tell the techs, ‘You're not a repairman, you're a problem solver,'" says Kevin G. Stewart, service manager. "Before they leave the home, every tech asks if anyone in the home suffers from allergies or asthma. That makes them a hero — not just the guy who changes filters."
Qualify Your Customers
Once you're confident in the IAQ solutions you're offering, the first step in the successful IAQ sales process is to qualify your customers.
Good closing rates begin with well-qualified leads. Qualify the customers by asking simple questions. For example, ask every homeowner or incoming caller if they suffer from asthma or allergies.
Qualify customers at every possible opportunity — in the home, on the phone, on service maintenance calls. A lot of contractors have scripts and checklists employees use to carefully qualify their prospects. At K&S, our IAQ testing supplier provides them to us.
"Every call is an IAQ call any way you look at it," says Charlie Martin, IAQ specialist and comfort advisor at Woodfin in Richmond, VA. "Every furnace, every system, and every air conditioner sold is also an IAQ lead. If you walk into a home and fail to investigate the indoor air quality, you've done the customer a disservice and missed an opportunity for yourself. Everything we do is wrapped around making the customer healthy and comfortable in their home. It's all one big picture, and we have to ensure we are a major part of that picture."
Start with your loyal customers. If you're not already doing so, inform your planned service agreement customers that you will test their indoor air quality either as part of their regular agreement, or add it on as an extra value. This is a great way to let your long-term customers know about new services you've added.
"Our ESA [energy savings agreement] customers are 100% open to working with us because they already trust us," says Ted Kirkland, IAQ specialist at Bland Air Conditioning & Heating, Bakersfield, CA. "We take very good care of our customers and therefore they're open to us approaching them with something additional — especially when it's to their benefit. Once they know we can give them an indoor air quality test, they want to know their IAQ. Our ESAs are very good leads."
Open Doors With IAQ: Ask, Listen, Act
Once you're in the home, ask questions — especially about allergies and asthma, but also about issues such as too much dust, stale air, or bad smells. People with pets and children will be especially likely to want more information about IAQ.
Your questions will let your customers tell you what their problems are. Listen for their answers and act on them with a test and a walk-through. Let customers who think they don't have any problems know that you care about them. Inform them that many potentially serious problems are "invisible," so you'd like to run a simple test in their home to make sure there's nothing going on that they don't know about. In my experience, a majority of homes have at least one IAQ problem, so chances are good that a test will uncover something — and that gives you the chance to let your customers know what you can do address their problems.
"It's up to us to let the customer know what type of IAQ upgrades are available to them," says Stewart. "What we've found is that more than anything else, homeowners are more prone to make the decision to spend money on an IAQ product once they are educated about what the solution does for them. IAQ testing and reporting allows us to show them exactly how it happens."
Stewart brings up another good point: that the informed customer is less likely to shop for multiple quotes. That makes for great margins.
IAQ Closing Power
I love "one-call closes" when I get them, but let's face it, almost half the time I don't win them. When I know the customer is going to get multiple bids, I do two things:
1. Modify the customer's buying criteria.
2. Get the last look.
How? I ask questions. "Could you share the IAQ test that the other contractors have already conducted for you? Oh, they didn't do tests? How could they possibly understand your home and your needs?" I then offer the test and determine when they want to make their decision. This ensures I get the last look. This will dramatically increase your close rates on "two-call closes." Most importantly, you deliver real value to your customers that others are not.
That test gets you back in the door. You've differentiated yourself from your competitors and provided your customer with information they didn't get from anyone else.
Use your IAQ marketing and sales tools. Your typical customer probably doesn't know about your IAQ products or services. Your IAQ marketing and sales tools help you educate them.
An IAQ testing and reporting system is a crucial tool. Testing shows your customers what's really going on in the home, and objectively demonstrates the value of their solution investment.
"Down here, showing people they have humidity problems really helps with the sales," says John DeYoung, owner and general manager at Air Masters of Tampa Bay in Tampa, FL. "IAQ works. When we show that an air conditioner won't solve the comfort problem if we don't solve the humidity issue, too, it makes the difference."
For the customer service representative or dispatcher, IAQ sales and marketing tools might include a script or a cue card by the phone. Techs and comfort advisors can rely on IAQ brochures and fact sheets, and can leave these items with the customer on every call.
Your presentation book plays a big role. It tells your story to your customer. Keep it up to date with IAQ information, sample IAQ test reports, and customer testimonials, as well as "before and after" IAQ test comparisons that show how the solutions you've installed in a customer's home have made a real difference. In fact, have the comfort advisor include the "before and after" tests of his own home for added credibility.
Charlie Martin at Woodfin customizes the company's presentation books to clearly demonstrate the value of IAQ to the customer. "We have a worksheet that breaks down the equipment by levels of quality and by the concerns that are addressed," says Charlie. "It's an easy way to make sure you don't forget anything."
Take It To The Close: Offer Options, Recommend Solutions
Whether you're offering IAQ when you're selling a whole system, adding it to a heating and cooling system solution, or directly marketing it to your customers, use it to add value to your proposal.
Involve your customers in the decision. In your presentation, bring up what they told you is important to them. This lets your customers know that you listened to their problems. Then show them the options for improvements for each of their concerns. Make a recommendation that you believe is best for them.
Educate your customer. An informed customer is an empowered customer.
"We're committed to the philosophy that an educated customer makes informed decisions," says Kirkland at Bland AC. "We try to keep the customer very involved, because we learned early that keeping them involved is critical to our close. If we don't educate the customer, we've failed."
Stewart, at Davis Air, shares this philosophy. "When you give people the information to make informed decisions, you establish instant credibility. That's one of the great advantages to promoting IAQ products."
Focus on the customer. This one may seem like a given. But it's key to IAQ sales success. The customer's decision to spend money on a solution comes from a desire for comfort and health. It's in the hands of the salesperson to make sure the customer knows that the customer's well-being and satisfaction are the goals of any IAQ solution.
"Customers don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," says Kirkland. "The art of IAQ sales is asking the right questions and then going quiet and listening to the answers. If you're willing to listen for it, people will basically tell you what you need to hear so that you can close the sale."
The successful IAQ sale doesn't end with the close and installation. Continue to track your progress and hold your team accountable. Reinforce good customer qualification and good sales practices with your team. Make sure everyone in your company understands the value you're providing to your customers through IAQ. They're enjoying homes that are cleaner and healthier than ever before, and your company is better off for it.
Communication is key. "Every week we have a role-playing meeting so everybody can be aware of all the different things we can offer with IAQ," says Kirkland, at Bland Air Conditioning & Heating. "That role-playing really helps all of us keep IAQ in the forefront when talking to customers. That's sales, techs, dispatch, everybody. Right now our close ratio with IAQ is over 50%. We want to take it even higher."
Make the Move to IAQ Sales Success
If you're in the HVAC business, you're already out there making homes more comfortable for your customers by fixing problems and recommending solutions. It's an easy step to expand your business with IAQ.
Start your IAQ sales success process today by doing an IAQ test in your own home and installing some of your own solutions. Build confidence in your team so that they can consistently identify problems and fix them with your solutions. There are many resources out there to support you. There's a wealth of literature and training available; you can even consider engaging an IAQ testing company to help you define your company's IAQ plan. But above all, the single most important step you can take is to start talking about it to your customers. When you make IAQ part of every customer conversation, your sales numbers will grow.
Figure 1: The Problems The Air Advice state of our indoor Air report 2007 analyzed 49,130 iAQ tests from homes across the u.s., and found these six iAQ problems to be prevalent in all regions.
Figure 2: THE OPPORTUNITY Nearly 97% of the homes tested for the AirAdvice state of our indoor Air Quality report 2007 had at least one of the six iAQ problems described in Figure 1. eighty-three percent of the homes had two or more of the six problems; nearly 50% had three or more.
CLOSING RATES TELL THE STORY
"There is less competition in the IAQ solutions field. We see the consumers either going with our recommendations, or waiting until they feel they have to do the recommendations. We receive calls on a regular basis for solutions that we suggested over six months to a year ago."
Justin Strain is IAQ manager and comfort advisor at K&S Heating and Air, Rochester, MN. He can be reached at 507/282-4328. Also contributing to this article were John DeYoung, owner and generalmanager at Air Mastersof Tampa Bay, Tampa,FL; Ted Kirkland, indoorair quality specialist at Bland Air Conditioning & Heating, Bakersfield, CA; Charlie Martin, indoor air quality specialist and comfort advisor at Woodfin, Richmond, VA; and Kevin G. Stewart, service manager at Davis Air Conditioning & Heating, Houston, TX. Strain and the other contractors interviewed for this article are using the AirAdvice® HVAC-IAQ™ Program to grow their businesses. For more information, visit www.airadvice.com.