If we pay attention to the mistakes we make, we can usually learn a valuable lesson. While we can and do learn from our mistakes, it’s much easier to learn from others’ blunders. In last month’s article, I shared four reasons I failed selling duct upgrades so you could avoid them. The reasons were:

  1. I didn’t talk from the customer’s point of view.
  2. No one understood what I said.
  3. My motives were all wrong — I had a bad attitude.
  4. I asked questions without test results.

Rob Falke, president of National Comfort Institute (NCI), challenged me to do something about these four issues. Let’s look at three lessons I learned while tackling Rob’s challenge, as I set out to improve my skills selling duct upgrades.


No. 1: I needed to study sales.

After licking my wounds, I discovered the first thing I needed to invest in was more time studying sales. I had no formal sales training because I thought it was a waste. Maybe you can relate to this mindset. Sales doesn’t have to be hard, but you need the fundamentals to succeed. I knew I needed a way to speak from the customer’s point of view and in simple terms.

My first stop was a book that Al D’Ambola, my first air balancing instructor at NCI, recommended to my class. It was “The Greatest Salesman in the World” by Og Mandino. I had previously bought the book and left it on a shelf until that day. The book has 10 scrolls that outline important traits the greatest salespeople have. It also prescribes a reading pattern for morning, noon, and night that the reader should follow to instill good habits. I dug into the book and worked the principles in the scrolls into my days.

Next, I made a call to Dominick Guarino, CEO of NCI, for his advice. I told him what I was doing, and he recommended I buy another book. It was “How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling” by Frank Bettger. I couldn’t find it locally and had to order it from a local bookstore. It was worth the wait. From this book, I learned the value of enthusiasm, that people hate to be sold but they love to buy, and that people buy for their reasons — not yours.

With this new knowledge, I would study one principle per week from these books and then try to use it during the week. I didn’t do everything at once, just one lesson at a time. Sometimes I did great. Other times, I fell flat on my face. Instead of getting discouraged, I tried to treat it like a game. I documented what worked and kept doing those things. I also documented what didn’t work and then adjusted so I could improve on those things or decide to do something different.

I encourage you to find sales authors that resonate with you and study their materials. If you have a hard time finding a starting point, try the books I referenced and then add in Dale Carnegie’s book “How to Win Friends and Influence People.” As you study sales strategies, you’ll find that some will fit your personality and others won’t. Stay true to yourself and use what works best for you.


No. 2: I needed to improve my attitude.

While studying sales, I was also working to improve my occasional bad attitude and mistaken motives. Admitting that your attitude stinks is a blow to your ego and pride. Many people can’t get past this step. I know I almost didn’t. It was hard to see my mistakes because I was too busy focusing on everyone else’s, which was nothing more than a diversion.

As I read “The Greatest Salesmen in the World,” I noticed my attitude improved and my pride diminished. Slowly, I accepted that not only was I the problem, but I was also the solution. The habit of reading created an awareness of my attitude. Before, I would blame others. Now I tried to understand why I reacted like I did and aimed for a positive outcome each time. I didn’t always hit it, but I slowly improved.

The combination of studying sales and attitude changed how our customers responded to me. They were more than willing to listen to me and even got enthusiastic about the state of their duct systems. Instead of focusing on what was wrong, I focused on what we could make right.

To improve my attitude, I followed the same practice I did while studying sales. I followed a trick I learned in “How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling” from an example Ben Franklin used to follow.

I got 13 index cards and wrote out one trait I needed to improve on each card. I carried a card with me during the week to make myself aware of the trait I was trying to develop. Before each call, I would pull out the card and read it. Once the week was over, I would pick another card and work on that trait for the week. After I finished all 13 cards, I started over and went through them again. In the end, I worked on all 13 traits four times during the 52 weeks of a year.

If there are traits you would like to improve, try using some index cards. You don’t have to use 13; you may decide on only using one or two. With all that you have going on during the day, it’s easy to forget the basics. The index cards help jar you out of your rut and prompt you to think about what is so easily forgotten.


No. 3: I needed to test before asking questions.

Asking questions before I had any information didn’t work well for me, so I flipped the steps and tested my customer’s system before I asked questions. Then, I interpreted the test results to determine which questions I would ask.

This change caused me to better understand the customer’s needs and also helped me get closer to their real issues. Instead of guessing and asking random questions, I knew what was important to them, sometimes before they knew it. The test results helped narrow down their problems so I could ask the right questions.

Two of the most common tests I used were static pressure and duct temperature testing. These tests were simple and fast. They gave me a better view of what was happening with the duct system, which is where I was trying to focus my attention. It changed the discussion so the customer could understand its impact on their comfort and consider the duct system as well as their equipment being the HVAC system.

I found that testing gave our customers proof of my statements. Providing real data with easy-to-understand comparisons removed opinions and puts the focus on results. This educational approach became fun and turned the calls into an experience. It put the customer in control and made it personal for them and their home.

Instead of trying to sell something, I was trying to teach. As I taught, I also learned. I saw the customer’s needs through their eyes and learned to express solutions in ways they could relate to. It may sound silly, but I tried to talk with them like I would want someone to talk to me in my home.

If you have trouble connecting with your customers, try testing their system before asking questions. Use the test results to lead your questions as the reason you’re asking. There is a cause-and-effect relationship you can use to tie your measurements to their problems. Try it instead of grasping for problems that they might not have.


Get Out of Your Way

It’s possible that as you read this article, you may have thought the steps I used are ridiculous and won’t work. I can only speak from the results. They worked for me, and I believe they will work for you. But, if you’re happy with your results, keep doing what you’re doing. If not, what do you have to lose?

My original problem selling duct upgrades wasn’t what NCI taught me — it was me. I just blamed the process instead of the person. My lack of ability and focus on my customer’s needs were the real issues for my lack of sales. Once I got out of my way and improved, I found people really were interested in what we offered.

When people don’t understand what you say, they often revert to what they understand, and that is money. They go with low price and usually make the wrong choice. That’s what originally happened in my situation, and I don’t think I’m alone.

Our industry has a big problem blaming customers for going with the cheapest price when the real problem is people don’t understand what we’re saying. We’re too busy focusing on SEER, AFUE, energy efficiency, Btus, airflow, and all the tech-y stuff that excites us, but a customer doesn’t understand.

Your customers want answers to their problems and for you to deliver the results they’re looking for. That’s it. Be the person who provides those answers in a way that’s easy to understand, and people will beat a path to your door. If they don’t understand what you have to say, you will suffer from your inability to communicate, just like I did.

Remember, we miss sales because we lose sight of the basics and forget to put ourselves in the customer’s role.