ACHRNEWS

Packaging, Selling Whole-House Solutions

May 21, 2007
Joe Kuonen (left) held an informal roundtable meeting titled “Sales Boot Camp for Whole House Services” with attendees to the ACI Home Performance Conference.

CLEVELAND - Giving a customer a price on replacement HVAC equipment is one thing, giving them the price of a whole-house solution is another. Yet there are many potential customers out there who probably need a lot more than a new furnace or air conditioner to make their homes more comfortable and safe. Being able to sell more than a piece of equipment is a trend that will continue to grow in the HVAC contracting trade, and it takes some specialized training to learn how to do it.

That’s the reason behind Joe Kuonen’s presentation at the recent Affordable Comfort Institute (ACI) Home Performance Conference in Cleveland. Kuonen, representing Building Performance Horizons Inc. of Sherwood, Ark., gave a half-day workshop titled “Sales Boot Camp for Whole House Services” in which he answered the question, “What does it take to get consumers excited and ready to buy whole-house packages?”

Kuonen listed many factors involved in selling whole-house packages including customer screening, communication techniques, interviewing, relationship building, diagnostics-as-education, bill analysis, creditability development, removal of barriers, closing strategies, and accessible financing. “Contractors need help in communicating just what performance selling is,” he said. “It begins with the customer. How do we know which are the best prospects for home performance and those who are just wasting our time?”

Kuonen said that performance selling is unlike traditional in-home selling, which he likened to having one tool in the toolbox. “You don’t go to work with only one tool in your toolbox,” he said. “You need different tools because you never know if there is a bigger bear in the bushes.”

He suggested that contractors may be missing the customer’s targeted comfort needs by not diagnosing what is really wrong in the home, i.e., poor insulation versus poor airflow. If a customer senses that one of these symptoms is the real problem, they wind up calling an HVAC contractor or an insulation company, since there are no listings for performance selling contractors. “And there is always an underlying assumption from the customer that you will solve their problem,” Kuonen said.

With homeowners focused on “what’s in it for me,” Kuonen said HVAC contractors should focus on the following elements of home performance selling:

• Understand the homeowner’s needs;

• Listen to the customer;

• Ask questions to gain insight;

• Let them tell you;

• Build a relationship.

“Find out the source of a customer’s discomfort,” Kuonen said.

HOME PERFORMANCE SELLING PHASE ONE

Kuonen identified three main phases of home performance selling including lead qualification, relationship building, and demonstrating capability.

Phase one, lead qualification, involves several factors including having a professional staff as the first contact with customers, developing a process for responding to leads, uncovering problems and needs of the customer, and setting up an initial appointment with the customer.

“It might be best to establish the process by setting up a test run in an employee’s home,” Kuonen said.

Once a process has been established, the next step is to take it “live” with a real customer, providing that the customer has a problem in the first place. “You need to give a proper diagnosis before suggesting how to fix the problem,” Kuonen said.

There is often a degree of pain suffered by each customer and it is the contractor’s job to know what causes the pain in the first place - and then use that example to solve similar problems for other customers. “Your marketing should hit these pain points,” he noted. “Understand what makes people uncomfortable.”

The pain points can be something like high utility bills, too. Good contractors can look at a utility bill and determine what is going on in a house.

Kuonen also suggested that by being able to diagnose and prescribe a cure for a homeowner’s pain, they are raising the professional bar, and thus, raising a customer’s confidence level in the contractor. On top of that, he recommends that contractors maintain a good appearance and good marketing tools, i.e., keeping appointments, being well dressed, having professionally produced marketing materials available, and being properly trained.

HOME PERFORMANCE SELLING PHASE TWO

Kuonen said that phase two - relationship building - is “as important as anything else in the selling process.” In this phase, he said it is important to develop a rapport with the homeowner, understand the homeowner, frame the problems and locate others, develop implications of the problem, and initiate education on the whole house.

Understanding the homeowner involves the ability to identify certain personality traits, which are identified as social, technical, action-oriented, and results-oriented. “Social people would prefer to know about who will be in their home rather than listening to a lot of technical jargon,” said Kuonen. “Technical people like to know about the gadgets and tools we use. Action-oriented are like drill sergeants, they don’t want to beat a dead horse and prefer to get to the bottom of everything. Results-oriented people like to be the first to do something - to one-up everyone else.”

During relationship building, it is important to find a common ground with homeowners and make them feel comfortable with the contractor. Kuonen suggested talking about the kids or the pets in the home, and calling them by name.

Once a good rapport has been established, it is easier to gain a homeowner’s confidence during the kitchen table interview, where contractors can review utility bills and educate homeowners on where their money is going to pay for energy costs. “Find out which bills are most important to them,” he said. “Ask them to imagine living without high utility bills or without a lot of dust or mold in the house.”

Kuonen talked about a couple who never understood the source of their moldy grilles, ducts, and odors in their home and used ‘ordinary’ contractors to help solve the problems. “They had their ducts cleaned four times, spending a lot of money to cosmetically fix the problem,” he said. “They never understood the problem in the first place.”

HOME PERFORMANCE SELLING PHASE THREE

The third phase of performance selling is “demonstrating capability.” This is where Kuonen suggested that contractors talk about themselves and their successes in solving similar or identical problems that their customers are now facing. “Use illustrations from past customers and use them as examples,” he said. “Get the homeowner with you, involve them, and try and be on the same page.”

He also suggested getting homeowners involved with the inspection process, inviting them along for visual inspections and walking them through the use of advanced diagnostic tools. “First tell the customers what the numbers mean on the instruments and then perform the tests,” Kuonen said.

He said that using photographs from inspections are very good visual tools. “Pictures are very powerful,” he added. “They often show what other people are not telling the homeowner.”

Kuonen noted that it is very important to get customers involved in the diagnostic process, too. It is a way to educate and motivate homeowners so they don’t feel they are being sold something they don’t need, e.g., more duct cleaning. “You want the homeowner to be on the same team as you,” he said. “Avoid having an adversarial relationship, which gives the impression that you are only trying to sell something.”

The remaining phases of the selling process involve delivering findings, setting follow-up appointments, preparation-presentation of the proposal, handling objections, and getting a signed contract.

Once the contract is signed, the selling process is still not over. Follow-up is very important, according to Kuonen. “Send a closing gift to the homeowners, maybe a gift basket to where they work,” he said. “Remember that this is a win-win business. You are solving a problem and helping the environment at the same time.”

Publication date: 05/21/2007