Energy efficiency is a growing market, according to the International Energy Agency, which recently released a study reporting the global energy-efficiency market is worth a minimum of $310 billion a year. That’s a huge market for HVAC sales professionals to tap into, but what is the most advantageous way to capitalize on this opportunity?

Judgment-free Zone

There is no room for bias, prejudice, or judgment in the sales world, said Joe Kruger, vice president of sales and marketing, Isaac Heating & Air Conditioning, Rochester, New York. “They [salespeople] can’t sell through their perspective; they have to be able to have an open mind, explain all of the options, educate people on the options, and then narrow it down to what’s best for the people rather than deciding for them,” Kruger said. “The average contractor today goes in and decides on the way up the sidewalk what they’re going to sell. That’s where the disconnect lies — we sell the lowest-efficiency fix because we’re always trying to make a quick buck through the cheapest sale possible.”

Kruger said the biggest mistake a salesperson can make is disqualifying people from certain products based on the age, size, or condition of their homes.

“We started selling high-efficiency equipment in the mid 1980s. We’d go into a small home initially and say, ‘This really is not a good payback house,’ and we would disqualify that household. We do them an injustice, and ourselves an injustice, by not at least putting that high-efficiency product out there just because we thought — as salespeople — this person is not going to get the return on investment because they live in a small house. We found that people have different motivations for buying highly efficient items. It’s not always strictly return on investment; sometimes they just want the very best, or, sometimes, they’re thinking heating costs are going to go up and they want to spend now to defend themselves against this in the future. There’s all sorts of different motivating factors that people have in their heads, and it’s our job to find out what those factors are and present the options — not disqualify people in the process.”

Efficiency Savings as a Side Effect

Andrew Oser, director of sales and customer service, CroppMetcalfe, Fairfax, Virginia, utilizes energy efficiency as a benefit rather than a focus when selling comfort solutions.

“Most customers never actually achieve the energy savings they would expect or were promised when upgrading to a more efficient HVAC system,” Oser said. “There are programs available that tout energy savings and return on investment as ways to help persuade customers to make buying decisions based on energy-efficiency savings, but they do not take into account home-performance issues such as poor duct design, air leakage, equipment tightness, or insulation of the thermal envelope. Home-performance issues can have a dramatic effect on the actual efficiency savings and, of course, the real ROI. Simply going from a 10- to 16-SEER system is not necessarily going to save the stated 25 or 30 percent on an energy bill if the customer’s duct system is losing 30 percent of its capacity due to duct leakage or running 30 percent longer due to a leaky or poorly insulated thermal envelope. The bottom line is, when you guarantee energy-efficiency savings without focusing on home-performance issues, you are going down a road of failure.”

In fact, energy efficiency is not even the first, second, or even third thing Oser’s team mentions when talking to customers. Instead, CroppMetcalfe focuses on comfort, health, and safety. “We want to make sure a customer’s home is comfortable, that it’s healthy, and that it’s safe,” Oser said. “And if you do that, energy savings comes along as a side effect. Sealing up the home and duct system and making those things tighter improves the customer’s comfort, health, and safety, and we’re able to say, ‘Oh, by the way, this work should also reduce your energy bills.’ But we still say ‘should’ and not ‘will,’ as we just can’t guarantee a set result. Our goal is comfort first, as a comfortable customer is a happy customer.”

The Ninja Way

Mark Jewell, cofounder of San Francisco-based Energy Efficiency Funding Group Inc. (EEFG) and, teaches people to drive efficiency by focusing on what motivates decision-makers. Jewell recently published a book of 80 short essays inspired from his daily blog posts focused on how to sell efficiency more effectively. “Selling Energy: Inspiring Ideas that Get More Projects Approved!” was named to the Wall Street Journal best-seller list.
Jewell stresses to his students, whom he calls ninjas, that technical accuracy doesn’t motivate people to pull the trigger on energy-efficiency projects. Customers need to be emotionally and powerfully convinced the efficiency upgrade is absolutely necessary.

“Regarding the term ninjas, people ask, ‘Why don’t you call them gurus?’ I believe you need to be very visual as you describe things, and I don’t know what a guru looks like. I do know what a ninja looks like,” he explained. “It’s easy to picture a ninja going behind enemy lines, using a little bit of magic, a few special skills, and exceptional intellect to accomplish a difficult mission. Our people are trained to get efficiency projects approved, even in very challenging selling environments, so I think the ninja is a perfect image. People really identify with it because they realize, at the end of their training, they have superior skills to get the job done.”

There are three things every sales ninja needs to be effective: a 15-second elevator pitch, a one-page proposal, and a one-page financial analysis that uses the proper metrics. “The elevator pitch is key. You need to have more than one,” Jewell said. “I tell my ninjas they need a whole quiver of precisely sharpened elevator pitches so they can pull out the 15-second value statement that will most resonate with each particular prospect,” he said. “If you were to walk up to a director of sustainability and have to describe what you did for a living, you might say, ‘I design and deliver HVAC solutions that make your people more comfortable and productive while reducing your organization’s carbon footprint.’

“A study done by a Stanford researcher several years ago found that senior decision makers make an average of 150 decisions a week, and that more than half of those decisions are made in nine minutes or less,” he said. “If you show up with a complicated HVAC proposal — keep in mind your prospect may not even know what the acronym HVAC means — and you try to have him make a decision in nine minutes, his decision will likely be, ‘I don’t have time to read this.’ That’s one reason there are so many 100-page proposals out there gathering dust.”

The financial analysis is just as important because a true sales professional needs to be able to make a compelling case to justify the project. “Most decisions are made emotionally and then justified financially. The ability to tell stories and having a sense of humor are important because they get people emotionally engaged enough to even want to consider the financials,” Jewell said. “Once you get to the numbers, though, you need to migrate the conversation from simple payback to the metrics that get heavy-first-cost, premium-efficiency solutions approved.”

Open Ears, Shut Mouth

Rob Pulsifer, vice president of energy solutions, Hill York, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, a graduate of Jewell’s weeklong Efficiency Sales Professional Certificate Program Boot Camp, found the training so beneficial he arranged for Jewell to come in and train more than 35 Hill York employees over the course of a two-day seminar.

“We’re a 76-year-old mechanical contracting firm, and we saw tremendous results,” Pulsifer said. “Two of us had gone to the weeklong boot camp. The immediate results in sales and process change were phenomenal for our organization.

“We were going through a cultural change — shifting from a pure mechanical contracting mentality to a more holistic approach, so when we made that commitment, we decided we needed to train the entire company. If we were going to be able to make this cultural change, we needed everybody resonating at the same frequency, having the same dialogue with the customers at their individual level.

Pulsifer said one of the keys to selling efficiency effectively is listening and focusing on the customer.
“You must let the customer talk about his or her business and not your own,” he said. “I know from experience, when you talk about you and what you can do, benefits, and features, it’s unmoving — and, really, I think, uninteresting — to clients. They want to know how you can help them in their businesses.”

Optimizing Efficiency

Knowing how to sell energy efficiency is so important to Honeywell Intl. Inc. that the manufacturer recently developed its Energy & Environmental Optimization Program (EEO) to help contractors and dealers using Honeywell products sell energy-efficiency projects more effectively. The program includes a combination of training and other learning tools, and those who complete the training receive EEO program certification.

“We put this together to recognize what was happening in the energy-efficiency market,” said Jack Connell, energy business development leader, Honeywell Environmental and Combustion Control. “One is the trend toward a greater recognition on the part of owners and other stakeholders that energy efficiency is important. The environmental quality of the physical space they live, work, and learn in is important.

“By and large, the contracting community is stuck in the technical approach of focusing on energy reduction as the main purpose for a project rather than all of the other benefits that could come out of a project,” Connell continued. “So, between those two things, there’s the recognition that we really need to do something to train our contractors and dealers to approach that business opportunity differently.”

The program, which began in 2013, is working out well, according to Connell, who said it has garnered tremendous feedback from the contractors and dealers earning certifications.

“One of the things we focus on is the importance of reframing the conversation around the customer’s business needs,” Connell said. “Not focusing exclusively on the technical benefit of energy reduction, but rather on how an energy-efficiency project would help the customer’s business — either through top-line growth from improved marketing, increased retail sales, increased tenant retention, increased enrollment, or reduction of risk in anything related to indoor environmental quality — can help convince customers to invest in energy efficiency.”

Publication date: 11/10/2014 

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