The pandemic changed a lot of things in our society, and for some contractors, that included the traditional in-person sales call. The typical sales call involves a contractor or salesperson visiting the customer’s home to examine the existing equipment and ductwork, conduct the proper calculations, and then present the equipment options in detail. This can take an hour or two, and in the height of the pandemic, many customers were uncertain about all that face-to-face contact.
Some contractors responded by offering other options, such as virtual sales calls or online quotes, which customers found very appealing. They liked being able to quickly connect with contractors and receive an estimate without a protracted in-home visit. With the pandemic easing, many customers still prefer to take advantage of online sales tools, and contractors are only too pleased to oblige.
Virtual Sales Call
When the pandemic hit and the future seemed uncertain, Jennifer Schulte, owner and president of Trusted Heating & Cooling Solutions Inc. in Brighton, Michigan, decided to take a chance and create a virtual estimate option. The company, which she co-owns with husband, Alex Schulte, opened its doors in March 2018, and she saw the virtual estimating tool as a way to keep her business moving forward during the shutdown periods within her state.
VIRTUAL ESTIMATE: When the pandemic hit, Trusted Heating & Cooling Solutions Inc. started offering virtual estimates so customers could purchase new equipment with the help of an online comfort advisor. (Courtesy of Trusted Heating & Cooling Solutions)
“It was not very difficult to implement,” she said. “We had a button added to our website where customers can request a virtual appointment. This takes them out to our Calendly scheduling system, where they can choose a date and time that works for them. Once they book an appointment, we get an alert from Calendly. The customer can choose whether they want a Zoom meeting or Google Meet, and we also offer FaceTime for Apple users.”
During the online appointment, the homeowner is asked to walk around the home, both inside and out, showing the equipment and the electrical panel, as well as any obstacles that may be an issue with a retrofit installation. A Trusted comfort advisor guides them through the process, even having the customer get more involved by having them measure the equipment width, height, plenum width and height, and return air drop dimensions. The comfort advisor then builds a proposal with the customer and presents it to them with a screen share. The process usually takes 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the scope of work.
The estimates are pretty accurate, said Jennifer, but if a potential issue is discovered during the virtual meeting, an in-person visual inspection of the job site may be required to confirm the proposal details.
“We like to be confident that the price we proposed is the final price, unless there is a major discovery made on the date of installation or if the customer wants to upgrade or add a product once we arrive on-site (e.g., purchase a new humidifier, if they declined it during the virtual visit),” she said.
While many customers have taken advantage of the virtual sales call, most still prefer an in-home estimate with a comfort advisor, said Jennifer. She believes that’s because customers appreciate the education they receive during the sales call, as well as the rapport they build with the Trusted comfort advisor. Schulte prefers the in-person sales call as well, as she feels it is a better experience for the customer, as well as her company. But during the height of the pandemic, as well as accommodating the needs of certain customers today, she believes the virtual sales call is a great option.
“It has helped our company because we have had customers specifically contact us only because we offer virtual estimates,” she said. “While the volume of virtual estimate requests is low compared to our in-home requests, I would estimate we have closed approximately 40% of our virtual estimates, which has positively impacted our overall revenue.”
Owner, Delta Home Services
Started in 2003 by the husband-and-wife team of Carlos and Brenda Monreal, Delta Home Services in Phoenix, Arizona, started offering an online quoting option last year. The reason for that, said Brenda, is that people are busy and don’t have a lot of time to wait around for a salesperson to come to their home.
HOME ASSESSMENT: After receiving an online quote from Delta Home Services, a salesperson follows up with a brief in-home visit to perform a Manual J and assess the state of the ductwork. (Courtesy of Delta Home Services)
With the online quoting tool, customers input specific information about their existing system and their home (square footage, zones, etc.) to receive an estimate of what the new system will cost. A salesperson follows up with a brief in-home visit to ensure all the information is correct, as well as perform a Manual J and assess the state of the ductwork.
“The online quoting tool is a very simple process,” said Brenda. “We decided to implement it because we wanted to be completely transparent and upfront with the pricing and options for our customers. Also, more and more customers are doing everything online, so this just made sense.”
The online tool is usually spot on, said Brenda, with about a 95% accuracy rate. The quote includes labor, tax, equipment, and all materials, and the feedback from customers has been extremely positive.
“Customers enjoy the transparency and the pricing, and the ability to see the equipment and options,” said Brenda. “And while there’s an option to put the equipment in an online shopping cart, customers can’t just purchase the unit online. We always go out to make sure that everything is correct before we install it.”
Even with the online quoting tool, most customers — particularly existing customers — prefer an in-home sales call, said Brenda. But even though a minority of customers employ the online tool, she said the number using it keeps increasing.
FACE-TO-FACE: While customers appreciate Delta Home Services’ online quoting tool, most existing clients prefer an in-home sales call. (Courtesy of Delta Home Services)
Brenda believes that contractors are leery of using online quoting tools because they're afraid of giving a wrong quote to the customer. That could break the trust between the contractor and customer, as well as result in one or both of them losing money, she said. But for her company, the online quoting tool has been a success.
“People are savvy nowadays. They know where to go online, and they know what they're looking for,” said Brenda. “I think this tool has allowed us to reach a broader spectrum of customers. It has given us the opportunity to help customers when they need that new system. If you do it right, it's a good tool. Throughout the process, we always tell customers that if they have a question, a technician is available to help. In fact, we have a couple of technicians who are always on call for customers, and they are very good at explaining the process. If you have the right people behind the program, I think it's a great tool.”