IN HOME SELLING Aint What It Used To Be

Sept. 1, 2002
by Tom Piscitelli During a recent interview on, three of us were asked, "How can our industry reach the millions of existing homeowners with

by Tom Piscitelli

During a recent interview on, three of us were asked, "How can our industry reach the millions of existing homeowners with the breaking news about the new products and services we have to offer?" Most of us would readily arrive at the opinion that we need to get contractors and manufacturers to advertise more. Sure that works, but to really have impact, to really create consumer demand, we'd have to spend millions of dollars — money our slim-margin industry just doesn't have.

Earlier in that same show, Rex Boynton, president of NATE, talked about how his program has already certified more than 11,000 service technicians and they are gaining momentum on reaching the rest of the 300,000 technicians in the country.

Imagine, if these 300,000 techs make only 3 to 4 calls a day, that's 1 million in-home service calls a day! And that's just with the technicians. Add in the 100,000 or so calls per day being made by HVAC sales people.

My idea is simply this: let's talk to the customer. Let's make the time during every call to do what sales people do: greet the customer, establish some rapport, ask questions, listen, educate, and develop interest. If they want something, show them what the choices are, and ask them if they want it!

Talk to them? Why? Some will say, correctly, that we didn't have to do that in the past. "In my father's day, we went in and fixed the problem and the customers were happy. We went out to give them a bid or estimate (ugh...please don't use those words), told them what they needed, and they bought it." What's so different today?

Well, today is different for several reasons:

• With our industry in a slow or no-growth mode, competition is tougher than ever.

• Retailers are solidly into HVAC and they’re doing a good job. This raises customers expectations for professionalism, etc.

• Customers are more interested and educated about HVAC and related issues today.

• Customers are more careful about what they are buying and from whom they are buying.

• Customers are tired of "pushy" salespeople.

• Customers are increasingly looking for a company, and people, they can TRUST.

Think about it from the customer's point of view. Customers invite you into their homes. They have problems and want solutions. They want to be treated fairly and honestly by someone they can trust. They want their unique needs met. They want fair prices for what they get — they want value.

How do we know this is true? You can validate this thinking two ways:

1. Ask yourself, as a consumer, what you would want!

2. Look at what the successful retailers are doing! (Want to recalibrate your marketing thinking? Stop thinking about yourself as a contractor and start thinking as a retailer.)

What Do Consumers Want?

Customers generally want their HVAC contractor and system to provide:

• Peace of mind (no worry)

• Comfort

• A healthy environment

• Energy and cost savings

• Quiet operation

• Convenience.

Can you provide all this? You betcha. It’s done by blending some smart retailing business practices with a few key equipment upgrades and accessory/
enhancements to complete the system.

How Do Retailers Sell?

Heck, we all know this answer, because WE are their customers! Here's what Retailers do:

• Offer choices

• Offer financing (every time)

• The price is the price
(no bids or estimates)

• Offer or include warranties

• Offer or include guarantees

• Open evenings and weekends

• Sell from showrooms

• Convenient to reach on the phone
or internet

• Advertise/market to attract new

• After the sale, they ask the customer
how they did

• Ask for referrals.

And what does all this provide for the retailer? It provides customer satisfaction! First they attract the customer to them, then they make the sale, then they make sure the customer is very satisfied, then they ask the customer to buy again, and they ask the customer to tell their friends about the good experience they have had.

Why the increased emphasis on customer satisfaction? You're probably thinking that's always been important to you. I hope you have! Well, it's even more important now as our industry has evolved from a growth to a service industry.

With that evolution, comes the realization that the incredible growth of the past decades won't be repeated. As growth slows, our industry becomes more competitive. The winners in this environment are those who can clearly out-perform their competition. The key to winning in our new world is customer satisfaction!

Fact: companies with higher customer satisfaction also have higher profits than those with lower customer satisfaction levels. The reason: very satisfied customers will call you again. They will refer other customers to you.

Building Satisfied Customers,
One At A Time

Earlier I said that tops among the benefits customers look for is peace of mind, and that means they want to do business with someone they trust. In recognizing this, we created an acronym from the word "trust" that can help you remember what should be happening during the in-home sales call.

T... stands for the Truth

R... stands for Relationship

U... stands for Understanding

S... stands for Showing

T... stands for Telling How

Let me take you through the TRUST steps. TRUST starts with a commitment to the truth. We need this commitment to the truth if we intend the customer to have so much confidence in us that they’ll value our advice, will call us back into their home, will refer us to friends and relatives. This doesn't just mean you need to become honest and ethical — you already are. It does mean you feel an obligation to share the honest facts with the customer.

If a customer has a 15-year-old furnace and it needs a major component replaced, and you do the job correctly and charge a fair price, then you've been honest. But you haven't shared the complete truth with the customer — which includes the facts that a 15-year-old furnace is nearing the end of its useful life, that it's consuming more energy that it was designed to, that the homeowner might save money in the long haul by choosing to replace rather than repair the system.

Sharing such honest feedback requires that we develop some degree of relationship. Relationship is the "R" in TRUST. If you think about a business that you enjoy going to — whether it's a clothing shop, an auto dealership, or the local tavern — the main reason you probably enjoy it is the way they treat you or the relationship they have with you.

The average service technician doesn't go on a service call to establish a relationship with each customer. But that's exactly what I'm suggesting you do! This is the number one way that you can be different than the pack. It only takes a few seconds.

The "U" is for Understanding. By asking questions and listening to the responses we build a stronger relationship and we get a better understanding of the customer's needs.

The "S" stands for Showing. With a better understanding of the customer and their needs, we can show them — using our expertise — what their choices are.

And lastly, the "T" stands for Telling how. For example, "I Showed you what's possible, Mr. and Mrs. Smith; I'd be happy to tell you how you can make this happen.”

With the T.R.U.S.T. approach you can stop worrying about what you are SUPPOSED to say and simply let your sincere interest in helping customers get what they want take over. Your customers will suddenly be comfortable with you, because you are comfortable with yourself.

However, it’ll mean you have to change what you are currently doing.

One of the most important reasons that I left my career as a manufacturer and distributor executive was because I realized that I could have such a huge impact on people and on their businesses if I could just help them to change. I'm really fascinated with the subject of why people don't change - and what to do about it!

Sometimes the need for change can be quite clear, and yet people continue to forge ahead, doing the same things that are not getting them where they want to go. Einstein said, "Doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result is the definition of insanity."

Tom Piscitelli is president of Applied Learning Associates, Inc., an HVAC sales training and consulting company (www, and partner of Chameleon Management Solutions, Inc., a web-based provider of HVAC contractor business management services. ( He can be reached at 425-985-4534 and [email protected].