HVAC Turns 13!: Sound Selling Process Needed in Post-13 SEER World

April 17, 2006
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(COURTESY OF PETE DETLEF)
In today's post-13 SEER world, there is industry agreement that now, more than ever, contractors need to follow a sound selling process. The debate lies in what exactly is a "sound selling process." Carrier Corp., along with many other equipment manufacturers, advocates a best, better, good approach when providing a homeowner with solutions. In the eyes of Brenda Schmidt, manager of training for Carrier, this combination is simple and has been proven to be effective.

"The first option, or the best option, allows a contractor to fully explain all of the benefits the homeowner will receive," said Schmidt. "A contractor can go into detail, relating how the system benefits will address the concerns that the contractor uncovered earlier in the sales call. Getting the decision maker to agree that the benefits of this best system are what they need is a critical step in a successful sales call."

When the homeowner is presented the best option, the homeowner feels, as she put it, anchored to that option.

"Everything else that the homeowners review will be in comparison to this optimal solution," she said. "Conversely, if a contractor presents the good option first, everything else they view is compared to this option."

Why is this important?

"If a contractor presents the good, or base level, solution first, the homeowner will think in terms what extra they have to spend to get additional benefits when presented the better and best options," she answered. "If the best solution comes first, homeowners will often think in terms of what benefits they lose in order to save a few dollars."

Of course, contractors should not attempt to manipulate a homeowner; and they should always provide the facts about every solution that is offered. However, understanding human behavior and how people think about their purchases is important, said Schmidt.

"This simple but effective strategy to present options with the best solution first has worked for many successful contractors and should continue to be part of the new 13 SEER world," she said.

Salesperson John Tomsic (right), of Air Rite Air Conditioning Co., Ft. Worth, Texas, explains his proposals to a customer. (COURTESY OF PETE DETLEF)

FIVE-STEP PROCESS

To help its dealers, Carrier offers its "Sales Essentials" course. This class provides a five-step plan that focuses on solutions designed to meet individual homeowner needs. This developed process is designed to help contractors successfully upgrade homeowners with accessories, higher SEER units, and products with more advanced features.

"The first two steps are preparation and discovery," explained Schmidt. "Both in a pre-13 SEER world and now, these steps remain the same. Contractors use these two steps to learn about homeowners' needs, using thoughtful questions and observations. A good salesperson will explicitly verify the homeowner's needs and identify the customer's key motivators for making the purchase."

For a contractor, step three is introducing the solution. In a 13 SEER world, this step is where the largest changes will take place in the selling process, according to Schmidt.

"Previously, many contractors relied heavily on a payback of lower utility bills in order to upsell homeowners on SEER rating," she said. "Also, many contractors failed to capitalize other benefits, such as comfort, air quality, peace of mind, or other nonquantifiable attributes.

"Now that we're in a 13 SEER world, those benefits are exactly what contractors need to use to upsell homeowners. Good contractors will leverage media attention on indoor air quality [IAQ] and the increasing utility rates to their advantage; they will help homeowners see the benefits of purchasing deluxe units and additional accessories, such as air purifiers, energy recovery ventilators [ERVs], or ultraviolet [UV] lamps."

According to Schmidt, the final steps of the process are to gain agreement from the consumer and support the sale.

"Agreement is simply what we used to call ‘the close,' " she explained. "It's a simple dialogue with the homeowner to answer any last questions they have and confirm an installation date. Meanwhile, supporting the sale is simply follow-up, ensuring the customer is completely satisfied."

Schmidt said members of the Carrier Factory Authorized Program have access to customer satisfaction surveys. Not only are the results rolled up for each dealer online, allowing for simple access to all homeowner feedback, the survey asks the homeowner for leads. These leads, in turn, are given to the installing dealer.

CONSUMERS' NEEDS

At Lennox International, Bill McCullough, director of Worldwide Heating and Cooling product management, believes listening is the sales key for contractors today.

"Homeowners want choices, but not complexity. Offering HVAC systems," he said, stressing the word systems, "based on the homeowner's needs and lifestyles, is the best sales strategy. Our industry is sometimes too focused on only one element of the HVAC system, be it an outdoor condensing unit, or an indoor furnace, etc."

In McCullough's eyes, homeowners don't have to choose between a highly efficient HVAC system and comfort.

"IAQ should also be a key element of any HVAC system, as it's no longer just about cooling and heating," he said.

For instance, a homeowner in the Southeast may have more concerns about humidity control and efficient cooling. According to McCullough, Lennox can fit the bill with "ultra-high efficiency air conditioners and our new Humiditrol®, that controls humidity without affecting the space temperature."

Meanwhile, in the Northeast, there might be more concerns about humidity control and IAQ. Lennox answers that, said McCullough, with its 13 SEER systems that work with the Humiditrol. To compliment this system, one can add a Healthy Climate® 16 MERV media air filter "to significantly improve the indoor air quality," he said.

“The challenges every contractor faces is that a homeowner often does not know exactly how to explain their home comfort needs. Hence, the job of the contractor is to uncover those needs,” said Carrier’s Brenda Schmidt.

OFFERING WARRANTIES

Lisa Townley, director of marketing for ICP, agreed that the good, better, best strategy is as viable as ever.

"The challenge for today's dealers and contractors isn't that much different from the challenges created when the federal government eliminated gas furnaces below 78 percent AFUE," she said. "Our strategy is to give dealers and contractors a range of options for differentiating their product offerings. We focus on warranties, comfort, and energy efficiency."

According to Townley, dealers and contractors told ICP that warranties were the No. 1 way to increase the value in mainline products. As a result, ICP established a good, better, best warranty offering "to make it easy for dealers to offer homeowners a range of good, better, best choices," she said.

"We are expanding our popular No Hassle replacement warranty across all of our mainline Tempstar®, Heil®, Comfortmaker®, Arcoaire® and Keep Rite® brand product lines this year," said Townley. "For example, our top-of-the-line, full-featured products include a 10-year No Hassle replacement warranty. Models with fewer comfort features and/or lower efficiency may include a one-year or five-year No Hassle replacement warranty. That way, the good, better, best warranty options are built in with every product offering."

Pushing comfort is a no-brainer in Townley's estimation. She said ICP dealers can offer top-of-the-line systems designed to provide quieter, variable-speed gas furnaces or fan coils, quieter two-stage operation, quieter outdoor units with enhanced air management systems, and more.

"Plus, we are placing increased emphasis on indoor air quality products - and we're making them available with the same Heil, Tempstar, Arcoaire, Comfortmaker, or KeepRite brand name as the air conditioner, heat pump, and furnace. That way, dealers and contractors will be ready to use them to build good, better, best comfort options into their offerings."

With models ranging from 13 SEER to 18 SEER, ICP dealers can also offer efficiency, she added.

"Our split-system product line gives dealers and contractors room to offer additional choices based on energy savings and long-term payback. And with a complete R-410A offering, they can offer the homeowner increased value as the price of the R-22 refrigerant goes up in the market in the next few years."

Regarding the correct sales approach, Townley said her bottom line is this: Offer choices and recommend the best solution for that homeowner every time.

"Over 75 percent of homeowners will choose a system that solves their comfort issues when given a choice over just a low-cost entry system," she concluded.

SELL EFFICIENCY AND COMFORT

From Nordyne's perspective, contractors who are successful in the post-13 SEER market will be those who sell a combination of efficiency and comfort.

"While the paybacks aren't as dramatic when you step up from 13 SEER to 14 or 15 SEER, it is important to note most of the systems that will be replaced in the next several years will have efficiencies of 10 SEER or less," said Drew Fitzgerald, vice president of marketing, Residential and Light Commercial, Nordyne. "The paybacks start to look much more appealing when you compare a 10 SEER system to one that delivers 13 or higher SEER. If a consumer upgrades from a 10 SEER to an ultra-efficient 23 SEER system, they could reduce their annual cooling bills by almost 60 percent. That's a significant savings.

"However, efficiency is just part of the story. Successful contractors will also be selling the benefits of whole-home comfort as well."

As other manufacturer reps stated, the key to selling comfort is asking homeowners the appropriate questions "to really uncover what additional comfort needs may be present," said Fitzgerald.

"Consumers may not be aware that many of the more common air quality problems they're experiencing can be solved by professional heating and cooling contractors," he said. "Problems like dust and allergens, dryness in winter, excess humidity in summer, hot or cold rooms, indoor odors, or stale air can all be greatly mitigated with today's indoor air quality products."

A simple example, said Fitzgerald, would be to ask consumers if there is anyone in the home with hay fever or if dust is a problem. Electronic air cleaners, media filters, or HEPA systems can then be built into the contractor's bid and will go a long way in reducing the airborne particles and allergens that enter a home, he said.

Another comfort question involves the presence of hot or cold rooms. If these exist, heating and cooling professionals should present the benefits of zoning, said Fitzgerald, who pointed out a series of questions can identify the need for humidifiers, heat recovery ventilators (HRVs) or ERVs, ultraviolet lights, etc.

"If the contractor asks a series of home comfort-related questions, they can help identify the true comfort needs of customers," he said. "Contractors then can present a system that includes these products and bring true comfort to a home."

BOTTOM LINE: LISTEN TO THE CUSTOMER

If there is an overall general consensus from manufacturers, it's this: The absolutely best approach any contractor can take is to listen to a homeowner's needs and respond with solutions that address those needs.

Contractors need to pay attention to clues in the house and surroundings and ask questions about the family's lifestyle, air quality concerns, and home comfort. Homeowners will always say they want it to be cool in the summer and warm in the winter, but did the contractor notice the hardwood floors and ask them about how important it is to control humidity to care for their home?

"Once these needs are uncovered, it's easy to propose the best solution to the customer," said Schmidt. "Using the homeowner's own words and concerns, a good contractor will know exactly how the features of the best solution will address each of their concerns and help the family live more comfortably in their home."

Schmidt would like to think the industry is currently in a unique situation.

"We have many external forces affecting the way we do business," she said. "It's not simply the governmental regulations about SEER rating, it's the general public's concern around indoor air quality and health concerns, the advancing technology and new applications of HVAC equipment, and the rapidly rising utility costs facing our country right now."

Publication date: 04/17/2006

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