While people attend technical or community colleges to learn how to install or service HVACR equipment, there’s no formal field of study or degree for HVACR sales. Despite an established educational tract, the majority of HVAC businesses have one or more salespeople on staff, whether or not the word sales is integrated in their titles.

Who Sells?

While a well-rounded salesperson boasts several quality traits, many HVAC companies prefer industry experience when considering new sales personnel.

Robert Helbing, president, Air-Tro Inc., Monrovia, California, said, there isn’t much turnover in salespeople at his company. When he has hired a salesperson, he’s hired someone with experience in the trade, whether or not they have prior sales experience.

But the sales staff isn’t the only crew selling at Air-Tro — technicians sell, too. Helbing said consultants are brought in to work with technicians to improve lead generation and accessory sales.

At Eric Kjelshus Energy HVAC, Greenwood, Missouri, everyone sells. “It starts with the person who answers the phone by asking what can be done to help,” said Eric Kjelshus, owner. “The person who makes the sale gets the glory.”

Other contracting companies differ in their sales philosophies. Some only allow salespeople — who may be referred to as sales representatives, comfort consultants, or similar monikers — to sell.

Then there’s the more atypical approach of staffing no salespeople at all. “Salespersons drag down company advancement as far as growth,” said Joe Kokinda, president and CEO, Professional HVAC/R Services Inc., Avon Lake, Ohio. “Gaining work leads that cannot be performed by staff does no good, and time wasted on cold calls also can be demoralizing to all involved. We are a niche contractor and highlight our expertise to a target audience. We prefer to work with only a handful of great customers who trust in our proven track record and return with projects for us in our regions.”

In most HVAC settings, sales personnel certainly help pad a business’s bottom line.

“A well-trained salesperson will outsell a trained tech three to one,” said Kjelshus. “I have seen the tech sell just a basic unit when a well-trained salesperson upsells to zoning, a 95 percent unit, and a duct redo.”

How to Train Your Sales Staff

Effective HVAC sales tactics typically require adequate training. To educate salespeople about HVAC sales and the equipment they will be peddling, a myriad of HVAC training is available. However, it varies from company to company as to the training methods each endorses, what they want their salespeople to learn, and how they want them to sell. Helbing said for the company’s new salespeople, he tries to take advantage of programs such as Lennox’s BuildASalesperson™, “but, other than that, we have no specific orientation agenda we expect them to follow.”

Helbing did note when new hires go solo to sell, they are expected to know the available systems and their installation costs as well as enough of the company to answer customer questions and establish credibility.

Scott Merritt, CEO, Fire & Ice Heating & Air Conditioning Inc., Columbus, Ohio, also sends newly hired salespeople to manufacturer training. In his company’s case, it’s the four-day Trane Boot Camp and two-day Advanced Boot Camp. But, before they can represent the company, Merritt conducts a morals-and-values interview with them. He wants the salespeople to educate customers on their choices, but let customers select what’s best for them.

The new salespeople at Fire & Ice also work with other comfort consultants for about a month before they go sell on their own.

Kjelshus prefers one-on-one training with tapes and a general overview. For the full-time salespeople, the company extends lessons from Tom Piscitelli’s T.R.U.S.T.® Training and Consulting, Joe Crisara’s contractorselling.com, and Joe Cunningham’s Successtrack Network. Kjelshus has found further benefits in Ron Smith’s training on cleaning and service before the season hits and Ruth King’s tips on commercial clean and checks.

John Huggins, service manager, Worley and Obetz, Manheim, Pennsylvania, said the company sends salespeople to different training sessions offered by various distributors the contractor calls “partners.” Lessons range from sales to technical to new equipment training. After prospects are hired and trained, the company expects them to “have an in-depth understanding of all the equipment they are selling and the ability to provide excellent communication and care for the customers,” said Huggins.

Selling by the Distributor

Distributors staff salespeople, though they are commonly known by different names, including counter people, store managers, territory managers, and more. Each has its own role. Chris Baker, president & CEO, Virginia Air Distributors, Midlothian, Virginia, said the company uses full-time territory managers or outside salesmen for the majority of its sales responsibilities and relationship management. In addition, counter people and inside sales staff help generate additional add-on sales.

Each new distributor sales employee often goes through several kinds of training, including learning the ins and outs of all the equipment in the warehouse. Jeff Lang, operations manager, Southern Refrigeration Corp., Roanoke, Virginia, said the company trains new salespeople on the company’s day-to-day procedures and have each new employee sit down with each purchasing manager to learn its product lines. Prospects also spend some time with the company’s technical service advisors (TSAs), who are trained by the manufacturers to answer technical service questions from techs in the field, so they don’t have to direct their questions to the manufacturer.

“We don’t expect our salesmen to be experts on the technical side of the products, but a basic knowledge of the product and how it works is something we try to train our salesmen. The biggest part of a new employee sitting down with our TSAs is to teach him or her why our product is different and/or why it stands out from the rest of the competition.”

In order to learn more about product and programs, Baker said Virginia Air’s salespeople attend factory-sponsored training, in addition to weeks and/or months of in-house training in its branches in all job responsibilities. “We strongly feel they must have an understanding and respect for how the business operates at every level in order to sell effectively. During this cross training, they also get a chance to establish relationships with key internal customers.”

Baker added the company has developed “a custom ‘configurator’ that shows inside salespeople all the available options and accessories that go with a specific HVAC system, so hopefully we’re at least asking if they’d like fries with that.”

Blake Quinn, director of marketing, AC Pro, Fontana, California, said if the company’s new sales members are fresh to the industry, the prospects will work at one of the branches behind the counter for a while to familiarize themselves with the products. The company also insists that experienced new hires spend several weeks “getting to know our company and how we do things,” said Quinn.

Michael Youngs, general sales manager, Johnstone Supply, Portland, Oregon, said learning the company’s ways is a key part of a new salesperson’s training at Johnstone Supply. This is achieved via online sales training at Johnstone University. The training is designed to help new staff members identify a customer’s needs and learn how they can assist them in running a more profitable business by offering the best products and services available.

Working with customers is an important aspect of sales, but it can be how you treat those customers that can set a salesperson and the company they represent apart from the competition. Quinn said, “We always tell our sales team that if they do not know what to do in a situation, err on our customers’ sides.”

Lang agreed that treating customers well is important and said two qualities Southern Refrigeration Corp. looks for in a new salesperson are exceptional customer service, going the extra mile for a customer no matter how big or small the customer or job is; and being personable and able to build strong relationships with customers.

Continuing education for salespeople is important, just like it is for installers and service technicians. Technologies change, equipment improves, new accessories are created, and new tools such as apps on the iPad, all call for salespeople to become lifelong learners.

AC Pro offers sales training opportunities for salespeople who are no longer considered new employees as well as those who do any amount of selling for the company. It holds monthly sales meetings and typically tries “to have a supplier rep there to keep our team up to speed on changes in the industry,” said Quinn. “We also ask our sales team to ride along with the reps. A couple of times a year, we will bring in a speaker to cover different topics.

“No matter what previous HVACR experience, or lack thereof, a salesperson has, or how little or much experience they have in in HVACR sales at a distributor, contractor, or other company, continual training improves sales, and, more significantly, builds better customer relationships, helping to keep customers coming back for a long time to come, thus strengthening your business,” said Quinn. “On the other hand, not training salespeople does your company no good.”

Publication date: 6/23/2014 

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