Extra Edition / Business Management

PEAK Performance for the Technical Professional - Part Three

June 4, 2007
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Jim Johnson

There's an old saying in Texas that goes: "If you've got to swallow a bucket of frogs, you might as well start with the big one."

And, sometimes, the idea of "selling" can be a big frog for technicians to swallow.

And who can blame them? After all, it's not uncommon to find in our society that people who sell for a living are not often held in high regard. And, that being the case, technicians are often of the opinion that if they wanted to be a "salesperson" - one of those people - then they wouldn't have become a technician in the first place.

At a conference I attended some years back, there were about 2,000 people at the opening session. One of the opening presenters was a woman who worked as an engineer for a large communications company. When she described her job, she said that part of her responsibilities were to visit the customer along with the salesperson to make sure they were "telling the truth" to customers. "After all," she said, "you know how salespeople are."

I, along with a few others at the conference, cringed when she said that, but the majority of the people there just nodded their heads in agreement when she made that remark. Most of them weren't appalled like I was to hear a representative of a large, well-known communications company refer to her colleagues in that manner. But it bothered me a great deal. Because the way I see it, a person who sells and does it in a professional manner is just as much a professional as anybody else, whether they work in the engineering department or the sales department or the service department.

So I believe that a technician can, in fact, be a professional who is providing outstanding customer service and using their own best judgment, while part of their customer service responsibilities include selling.

There's that word again. Does it make you uncomfortable?

Maybe it does. And maybe no matter what form of it I use, it's still uncomfortable for you. I could say "cross-selling" and it wouldn't change the basic premise. I could say "selling up" and I'm still just talking about the process of selling. I could say "add-on sales," but what I'm still talking about is really "closing a sale" as we say. It all just says selling, doesn't it?

When we present our workshop on-site for service organizations, I often ask for a show of hands on two questions. The first question I ask is: "Has anybody here ever had a negative experience with a salesperson?"

Invariably, hands shoot up all over the room as soon as I ask the question.

Then I ask another question, which is: "Has anybody here ever had a pleasant experience with a salesperson?"

When I ask this question, it takes more time, but eventually, everybody in the room, after they've had time to think it over, raises their hand and admits that they've had a pleasant experience when with dealing with a salesperson.

How about you? Have you had what you consider to be a negative experience with a salesperson? And, after giving it some thought, can you recall any situation you would label as positive?

It's likely that you can. Which brings me to the third question I always like to ask when we're discussing the subject of selling at our workshops. And that question is simply: "So what was the difference between the people you felt left you with a negative feeling, and the people who left you with a positive feeling after the sale was closed?"

When people think about the answer to that question, they usually have some difficulty providing a specific answer. It's apparent that there was something different about the two kinds of experiences, but it's hard to put the explanation into specific terms.

Well, we can help you put things into specific terms by comparing two lists.

These lists are the result of surveys. And in these surveys, people were asked about the terms they usually use to describe salespeople, then they were asked about the terms they would tend to use when describing a professional.

Here's our first list. It contains the top six terms people commonly use to describe salespeople.

1. Pushy

This one is at the top of almost everybody's hit parade. Salespeople can sometimes be downright pushy. And when they are, we don't like it.

2. Phony

It's no surprise that this one appears often near the top of the list. People often say that one of the things the bothers them the most about salespeople is that they're an easy-to-spot phony. If they think that changing who they are in some way will result in a closed sale, then that's who they'll become … for the moment. Then they'll switch back to being themselves or somebody else on a moment's notice if that's what it will take to get a signature on the bottom line, or get a yes from a customer.

3. Sneaky

Is this one on your list? When people use this term to describe a salesperson, they aren't saying they're flat out lying, but maybe they're practicing some "creative avoidance.” You realize you've been dealing with a sneaky person when you suddenly find yourself blind-sided by something you didn't even think about when you were saying yes.

4. Dishonest

Yes, it's true. Sometimes people are just dishonest. They'll lie, then say whatever they need to say to cover it up. They'll twist things around when confronted, or hang on for dear life to a seemingly insignificant point in order to defend themselves when a deal goes sour.

5. Slick

Man, when salespeople are slick, they're really slick aren't they? They're like Teflon. Nothing that's charged against them can stick. You just can't catch them in a direct misrepresentation. You know things didn't go as planned or promised; you just can't tie them directly to the problem.

6. Desperate

Have you ever felt like this was the case when dealing with a salesperson? The reason it may have happened is simple.

Often, salespeople work on a draw against the commissions they plan to earn during a given time frame, say a month or a quarter. If they've been drawing a salary against their commission for a long time and they're behind in the game, it can make them appear as desperate. They know they've got some ground to make up and that time is marching on. They might even be at risk of losing their job if things don’t turn around in a hurry. And that’s why they come off as desperate.

So, that's the list that I like to say describes the terms people usually use when they're describing "typical salespeople."

1. Pushy

2. Phony

3. Sneaky

4. Dishonest

5. Slick

6. Desperate

And, now, here's the list that was the result of surveys on people's opinions of professionals.

1. Competent

Most of us don't have difficulty agreeing with this one. The ideas of competence and professionalism seem to go hand in hand. When we consider someone to be a professional, it follows that they will be competent at their job, whatever it may be.

2. Honest

I think it's interesting to note that while dishonestly doesn't come up on the typical salesperson list until the #4 spot, honesty is #2 on the list for professionals. This simply says that most people are willing to quickly accept the fact that a professional is honest.

3. Knowledgeable

Part of this ties in with competency, but it goes deeper than that. Professionals are trusted not only to be competent in their specific area of expertise, but also knowledgeable of their industry or business as a whole. We often feel that we can get good advice from a professional on how to get information on something that’s related in some way to what they do.

4. Dependable

When a professional makes a promise, we can count on them delivering on the promise. Or, if something beyond their control goes wrong, we can count on them to make things right. That, for most of us, is dependability in a nutshell.

5. Caring

Now, I don't want to get all syrupy, touchy-feely, and huggy here, but when consumers are asked to describe professionals, one of the common responses is that they care about their customers. And that's part of their professionalism.

6. Flexible

One of the things people like about professionals is that they can "roll with the punches" when necessary. If something comes up and it means that plans, scheduling, or procedures have to be adjusted, then the professional can handle the change.

So there are our two lists. And when you look at them:

1. Pushy

2. Phony

3. Sneaky

4. Dishonest

5. Slick

6. Desperate

And …

1. Competent

2. Honest

3. Knowledgeable

4. Dependable

5. Caring

6. Flexible

The different ways in which "typical salespeople" and "professionals" are perceived by society is apparent.

And, by the way, when you look at the two lists, can you understand why some technicians are resistant to the idea of selling? After all, if a technician's concept of somebody who sells is pushy, phony, sneaky, dishonest, slick, and desperate, can you blame them for not wanting to be "one of those people?"

No, you can't. A technician doesn't want to be pushy, phony, sneaky, dishonest, slick, and desperate. Nobody wants to be that kind of person. Not a technician, not a service manager, not the owner of the company … nobody.

Imagine this: A technician is asked to be more involved in selling. On the outside they may be nodding their head and agreeing. At the same time, an inner voice is saying to them, "What? You want me to be a pushy, phony, sneaky, dishonest, slick, and desperate person? No thanks. I'll pass."

And the reason we said that kind of thing can be going on is because of a person's concept of salespeople. Which is something we want to focus on directly … the idea of concept.

A person's concept, and the reasons for the dramatically different lists we've presented, is based on one of two things.

One reason for a concept we hold about anything has to do with personal experience. To put it simply, we hold the opinion we hold because we've been through it. We know it's the "truth" because we've lived it.

On the surface, this seems like a pretty simple approach to making sense of things. Underneath, though, the naturally occurring human process of deductive reasoning, if it's not applied correctly, can sometimes skew the "truth."

What I'm referring to is the idea that in deductive reasoning, we can sometimes say that "this particular thing happened, so therefore, that particular thing is true." It would be like saying "I had a bad experience with a salesperson, therefore all salespersons are bad."

That, as we all know, would be a misapplication of deductive reasoning. It just doesn't make sense to say that a single experience, or even a series of experiences with a small percentage of a group, mean that all dealings with that entire group will always result in bad experiences.

The best way I can illustrate what I'm talking about here is by talking a bit about Waffle House.

Many people are familiar with Waffle House Restaurants. The way it's supposed to work at a Waffle House is that everybody gets a "Good Morning!" from at least one person when they walk in. And, of course, the breakfast is supposed to be good, the coffee hot, and the service quick. And, experiences I've had with Waffle Houses have been that way … for the most part.

On a trip through Florida a while back, I decided to visit a Waffle House for breakfast. It had been quite a while since I'd been to one. When we walked in the door, nobody said hello. It took longer than it should have to get our food, and when it arrived, it was cold. The coffee was almost as bitter as the person who took our order. In short, nobody was friendly, the food was bad, and the service sucked. It wasn't a pleasant and positive Waffle House experience.

Several months later on a trip through Arkansas, I again decided to visit a Waffle House for breakfast. When we got near the door, a young lady standing inside opened it for us. Her brisk

"Good Morning!" was followed by several other "Good Mornings" from the rest of the restaurant staff.

"Just have a seat right here," the young man who did the cooking and managed the place said as he came out from behind the counter and handed us a menu to look at during our brief wait, "and we'll have a booth ready for you in just a moment"

When we sat down at the booth, the lady behind the counter said good morning again, and she said she would be right with us as soon as she finished getting another order taken.

When she took our order we included a small glass of orange juice as one of the things we wanted.

"Well, " she said, "there's only fourteen cents difference between a large and a small orange juice. Are you sure you want a small glass?"

We told her to make it a large.

When our waffle, eggs, and bacon arrived, they were hot and fresh. The coffee was, as you would expect, good, and the lady checked back with us several times while we ate to see if we needed anything else.

After we finished and I was standing at the register, about to pay my bill, the manager acknowledged me and said, "We appreciate your business, sir."

When I paid the bill, the cashier asked if everything was to our liking. When we turned to leave, everybody said "Goodbye!" and we heard a lot of "Have a nice days" and "Thanks for coming in" from the rest of the staff. The young lady who had opened the door for us when we arrived, opened it for us again as we left, smiled, and thanked us for coming in.

All of which adds up to a pleasant and positive Waffle House experience.

The point here is that if I had allowed misguided deductive reasoning to govern my decision as I approached the exit on the freeway in Arkansas, I might have avoided the Waffle House because of the bad experience I had in Florida. All I want to do here is give you the opportunity to examine whether or not you may be applying misguided deductive reasoning to the idea of selling as a technical professional. In the next segment of our series, we’ll discuss a simple philosophy that the technical professional can apply to selling and customer service.

Note: The information for this article series is excerpted from Jim Johnson’s “PEAK Performance for the Technical Professional,” an audio learning program designed to help technicians develop their sales and communication skills. The three CD set can be ordered from: Technical Training Associates, HC 70 Box 3172, Sahuarita, AZ 85629 for $39.95 (shipping and handling included). Mail check or money order, or send Visa or MasterCard information to the above address. Credit card orders may also be faxed to 520-648-3334. For more information, visit www.technicaltrainingassoc.com.

Copyright © 2007, Technical Training Associates

Publication date: 06/04/2007

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