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Advice worth following: 'Sell the sizzle, not the steak'

May 10, 2000
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As we glided into 2000 with nary a Y2K glitch, I spent some time reflecting on years past and people past.

Being an admirer of Frank Lloyd Wright, I received for Christmas a book titled, Frank Lloyd Wright: Master Builder. In it, I discovered that Wright was considered primarily a residential architect (not commercial as I thought), and I saw photos of many interesting and innovative homes.

I also read a quote by Wright that struck me as directly applicable to hvac contractors: “The reality of the building is the space within to be lived in, not the walls and ceiling.”

Comfortable space

Although he designed some impressive walls and ceilings, the living space is the thing, according to Wright. Functional, comfortable space is what it’s all about. Comfort, of course, is where you, the contractor, come in.

To apply Wright’s line of thinking to hvac, when you sell a customer, you should be selling comfortable space, not just equipment — the external trappings of comfort. You should be selling a comfort system, not pieces and parts. You should provide a comfort solution, not one piece of the puzzle.

Since space is the thing, you should be emphasizing and selling what you do for that space, and not how you do it.

If you’re a heating and cooling expert, then you’re a home comfort expert. So you need to promote the importance of proper humidity and how to achieve better indoor air quality. When you do this, you’re not just pushing humidifiers and air cleaners to boost profits, you’re selling a total system that improves the homeowner’s quality of life.

If the homeowner has asthma or allergies, or has a child with asthma or allergies, an air cleaner is not an expensive accessory. It’s a way — literally — to breathe easier.

You’re now providing added comfort to the customer, which they can buy or not buy. But you need to tell them you can provide this, because they may not know.

That's sizzling

Earlier in my career, when I worked in advertising and public relations, one of my bosses told me that when I write an ad I should follow the old adage, “Sell the sizzle, not the steak.” This advice applies to hvac as well.

You’re not selling the homeowner a metal box with lots of bells and whistles. You’re selling a cool, refreshing retreat from the summer heat, along with comfy, cozy warmth in the winter. This is the sizzle, certainly more sizzling that just reciting specs.

A spec person is not a salesperson. He or she is just an order taker. This person assumes the homeowner already knows the advantages of the equipment, so all that has to be done is provide the specs.

But the vast majority of customers need and want information with all the numbers. They want to know, “What will it do to give me a more comfortable house and be cost efficient, too?” So tell them all the sizzlin’ advantages you can provide.

Benefits, too

My experience in public relations also reinforces this same theme. Another boss told me that every news release should include “features and benefits.” Every feature should have a corresponding benefit. This applies to selling as well.

Neither a news release nor a salesperson should ever pile up feature upon feature without telling how each one benefits the customer.

Although it’s nice to have an extensive list of specifications, what does it all mean?

The customer doesn’t automatically translate a feature into a benefit. So explain the benefit, even if you think it’s obvious. What’s obvious to the professional may not be so obvious to the homeowner.

When you talk SEER with homeowners, you’re likely to see their eyes glaze over. But when you talk about saving dollars with a higher SEER, you’ll get their attention. Saving money is always a favorite benefit.

So put your focus on being a provider of comfortable living space, not just a metal box, and sell benefits and more benefits. Your business will really sizzle.

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