Sales is not an evil word, despite what many would have you believe. Without sales, you don’t eat, have a job, provide for your family, or grow to a level of freedom that you deserve when you’ve put in the hard work. However, there is a right way and a wrong way to sell. It must be done with integrity, honesty, and looking out for your customer’s best interests.

I learned these lessons the hard way 20 years ago, and they have stuck with me ever since. When I first began to sell duct system upgrades, I struggled and got discouraged. No one seemed interested. I often felt like I was speaking some foreign language as I discussed the state of their ducts and why they should be corrected.

My frustration led to a life-changing phone conversation. When I made the call, I didn’t expect to discover four reasons I failed selling duct system upgrades. If you struggle discussing or selling duct system repairs to your customers, I hope you can find some lessons from my experiences and struggles.


A Little History

In January 2002, my dad and I took a National Comfort Institute (NCI) Airflow Diagnostics and Balancing class in Louisville, KY. That class exposed us to how to test, diagnose, and repair duct system issues that were hidden from us and our customers. After the class, the first thing we did was to test and fine-tune our own duct systems until they delivered what we designed for. Then we began to test our customers’ duct systems and tried to sell them duct system upgrades to correct the static pressure and airflow issues we found.

My success rate was pathetic. Very few customers bought the duct repairs we offered. I knew they needed these duct upgrades to get the best out of their HVAC equipment, but most of them didn’t think the repairs were important or necessary, as much as I tried to convince them.

Some of our customers replied their systems worked great and they didn’t think they had a problem. Others knew they had problems, such as uncomfortable rooms, equipment problems, or high utility bills, but they were unwilling to invest to solve their duct system problems.


My Phone Call With Rob Falke

I was having no success and was very frustrated. I didn’t know what to do, so I decided to call Rob Falke, the president of NCI, and let him know the challenges I was up against. I hoped he had some answers to my problems.

When I called Rob, he graciously answered, as he still does to this day. I shared my situation and told him our customers weren’t buying any of the duct upgrades we offered. He listened as I vented about our failures and blamed our lack of success on a variety of excuses. Finally, I told him that the skills I learned in my NCI training class didn’t work.

Rob asked me to walk him through how I presented duct repairs to a typical customer. He wanted to know what I would say and how I would say it. I rambled on for a few minutes with all the technical details and specifics I usually offered a customer until Rob reached a point where he said something that shocked me. He said, “Stop. You suck. I wouldn’t buy anything from you either.”

I was furious. I asked him, “What do you mean I suck?” Rob then proceeded to tell me about the flaws in my sales approach and why people were tuning me out. It’s because I wasn’t broadcasting a signal they were tuned into. All they heard was white noise that distracted them.

There were four specific issues he identified. I know if he hadn’t shared these issues with me, I would have continued to blame everything except the real cause.


No. 1: I didn’t speak from the customer’s point of view.

The first problem that Rob noticed was that I spoke from my point of view. He picked up a disconnect in my words that kept me from focusing on the customer’s needs and looking at their HVAC system in a way that they cared about and was personal to them.

My friend and colleague David Holt often says we should “look through the eyes of the customer.” This approach causes you to put yourself in the place of your customers and look at their home and HVAC system the way they do.

I realized my ego was talking. I wasn’t focused on serving our customers with what worked best for them. I was too busy talking about why we were different, what we did better than everyone else, and almost bragging about all the new static pressure and airflow stuff I had learned. That leads me to the next point that hurt my connection with customers.


No. 2: No one understood what I said.

Because I had a lot of new airflow knowledge and testing skills that many of our competitors didn’t have, I was excited to talk about them. In my discussions, I used words and terms that professionals understood, but not most customers. You might use some of them too: static pressure, airflow, velocity, manometer, balancing hood, SEER, AFUE.

Rob helped me see that I was talking above the average customer’s level of understanding. I was too technical in my sales discussions. It was like speaking in a foreign language that someone needed to translate for them.

Little did I know that I suffered from what experts refer to as “the curse of knowledge.” My experience and perceptions kept me from simplifying the concepts I talked about so customers could understand and relate to them. Since they didn’t understand what I said, they made their decisions based on the one thing that did understand — lowest price.


No. 3: My motives were all wrong — I had a bad attitude.

Next, Rob proceeded to point out my bad attitude. Unfortunately, my focus was on outshining my competition instead of serving the customer and solving their problems. I was beating up competitors’ installations and talking about their lack of workmanship. I’m ashamed to admit that I even boasted how I could prove our installs were better than others through measurement.

Such boasting was only to prove how smart I was. It was a selfish approach that took me a long time to come to grips with because at that point, it was more important to me to justify why we were better. I failed to realize that customers would know we were better if I only focused on solving their problems.

Our attitudes are just like HVAC equipment. Attitudes need maintenance to find issues that can hinder their operation and to keep them running at peak performance. When we fail to maintain our attitudes, they can get in the way of who we really are and cause us to act in ways we normally wouldn’t. Rob pointed out something I should have seen and knew in my heart, but I was unwilling to acknowledge it: My attitude needed some maintenance.


No. 4: I asked questions without test results.

The final point Rob addressed in my failure to communicate was how I used questions. I immediately jumped into questions about comfort, dust, utility bills, and long-term equipment issues instead of testing first.

Everything about my process looked suspicious because I was asking questions with no foundation to base them on. Rob pointed out that I was jumping to conclusions and guessing at what might be going on with a customer’s system instead of testing to gather evidence first.

Remember the curse of knowledge? If you went to your physician for an annual checkup and they recommended open-heart surgery after a quick glance, you would be very suspicious. That’s exactly what I was doing to our customers.


The Challenge

After Rob explained why I sucked, he threw down a challenge for me to improve my attitude, communication skills, and to learn how to get better at sales. He reminded me there were ways to solve the issues I had but that it would take a lot of hard work, patience, and study.

I began to see that we often miss sales because we lose sight of the basics. In addition, we forget to put ourselves in the role of the customer. It’s easy to forget we are all customers and not that different from those we serve.