This is the first of a four-part series on selling commercial service agreements. This series is designed as a complete A-Z on how to sell and organize for commercial service agreements. This article discusses preparing for service agreement surveys.

Wendell Bedell

Preparing For Service Agreement Surveys

First of all, a commercial sales rep does not sell things to their customers. Sales reps provide options to problems that their customers have through a consultative approach and our customers choose the option that best meets their unique business and technical requirements. In selling a commercial service agreement, the sales rep's primary job is to develop new business by seizing upon our prospect's mechanical maintenance opportunities. Sometimes we are called upon to provide supplemental and in other cases the complete on-site mechanical maintenance staffing.

The service agreement programs we develop to solve their unique problems require that we have an in-depth understanding of our maintenance product offerings. For each type of equipment and how it is being used, we must know what maintenance tasking must be done, how often, and what programs will best meet the customer's financial and technical requirements.

HVACR equipment and systems are building owner assets that must be maintained to assure equipment lasts as long, or longer, than it is being depreciated. Here are some important facts that you can use during your customer development process:

1. The depreciation range is usually 15 years for most HVACR equipment and 25 years for boilers and chillers. If maintenance-related catastrophic failures are proof, their existing maintenance program is not working.

2. HVACR equipment represents 15 percent or more of the owner's operating and energy budget. Poorly maintained equipment can cause this to increase 20 percent or in some cases exponentially.

Therefore, our primary objective when consulting for our clients is to determine how the equipment is being maintained and whether the program they have is adequate or is actually being done. Here are some encouraging facts to help convince you to concentrate on the service agreement business:

1. Studies have shown that 60 percent of all building owners are unhappy with the delivery of some or all aspects of their HVACR services, which means that you have an excellent chance of winning their business if you can demonstrate that you can deliver better than the competition in those areas where they are dissatisfied.

2. Unless you go through the trouble to find areas where you can demonstrate a difference, like looking for signs of poor maintenance or offering programs that better meet the customer's business and technical requirements, you will not be successful at finding where your competitor is falling down. In many cases, even the customer is not aware of problems until you bring them to their attention.

3. Here is another proven reason why you should go through the effort to do fact-finding: Quality is only seen when it is compared to the competition.

Equipment Surveying And Maintenance Requirements

To assist you to better identify the various types of HVACR equipment in the field, you should have a survey form (which we will cover in greater detail in Part 2) and survey tools to access, open, and view general equipment system condition information. You are simply looking for signs of poor maintenance and comparing their existing program with what the manufacturer or industry best practice recommends for maintenance tasking procedures.

For example, you will find, 60 percent or more of the time, evidence of a competitor's poor maintenance practices such as:

  • Missing or inappropriate filter types and/or sizes;

  • Dirty coils or heat transfer surfaces;

  • Leaks (e.g., air, oil, water, glycol, chemical);

  • Missing system components (e.g., compressors, fan motors, linkages);

  • Broken parts;

  • Safety or EPA violations (e.g., electrical panel missing, belt covers missing, broken ladders);

  • Extended operating cycles due to inappropriate equipment application or undersizing;

  • Inappropriate maintenance frequencies (too many or too little); or

  • No access to equipment or unsafe access (e.g., units over stairwells or electrical equipment).

    All of these situations enable you to present and demonstrate how you can better deliver your services (versus the competition) to prevent these problems from occurring.

    Developing An Equipment Reference Library

    It is recommended that you develop an equipment and product reference library so you can quickly identify the following:

  • Equipment capacity and specification data (cfm, tonnage, horsepower, Btu, etc.).

  • Filter size and recommended efficiency ratings.

  • Available equipment and options.

  • Recommended equipment maintenance tasking and procedures.

    Today, most equipment manufacturers have moved to provide online data sheets for their equipment and product offerings that are available in downloadable Acrobat PDF file format. You will find enough information to support your program recommendations or to support your findings of competitor poor practices.

    Field Survey Tools

    You do not have to be an engineer to perform a good system survey of condition. Your job during the initial survey is to identify signs of poor maintenance only. Naturally, the first mechanical inspection done by your service technician will identify broken components and other system problems.

    The following survey tools are recommended for service agreement sales reps:

  • Flashlight to see into equipment cabinets, coil housings, and other poorly lighted areas where equipment can be found, such as crawl spaces and above dropped ceilings.

  • Camera to take pictures of signs of poor maintenance. Digital cameras are preferred for ease of incorporating pictures into a proposal.

  • Klein 10-in-1 multi-tool to open up cabinets to check filters, coils, and make/model numbers.

  • Survey forms and pencil to record equipment and system data.

    The above tools will allow you to see into equipment and record signs of poor maintenance. The survey forms will allow you to gather information in a logical manner for input into your estimate. Combined, these tools will allow you to develop profitable and professional service agreement proposals. (Contractors can receive a free downloadable copy of a field survey form by e-mailing and including in the subject line "FREE Service Agreement Survey Form" along with your name, company, and phone contact information in the body of the e-mail.)

    Now let's take a look at packaged rooftop units, which represent over 90 percent of all commercial HVAC equipment, and discuss where to find signs of poor maintenance.

    Packaged Rooftop Units - Constant Volume - Single Zone - includes Heat Pumps

    Signs of poor maintenance:

    1. Covers missing, screws missing (usually on roof).

    2. Dirty coils, leaks, or noisy belts.

    3. Maintenance supplies or equipment refuse in or around the unit.

    4. New compressor(s).

    Maintenance questions to ask:

    1. Comfort problems?

    2. Accessibility?

    What to do with the information:

    As indicated earlier, 60 percent or more of the time you will find blatant evidence of poor maintenance. In many cases, you will find evidence of recent catastrophic failures like compressor replacements. The case can be made that a replacement in year five of 15-year equipment is evidence that their existing program is not working. We will cover positioning strategies later in the series.

    Sales Rep Customer Presentation Package

    Our customers typically are professional businesspeople and cannot afford to have you waste their time telling your company story. Therefore, you should develop a PowerPoint presentation to be printed out in color and insert it into a landscape desktop presentation folder to present to new customers. The idea here is to present your process and do so by keeping your message on each slide very brief with no more than three to four bullet points. A best practices service agreement presentation is outlined below:

    1. Objective of call.

    a. Introduce you (the prospective customer) to our company.

    b. Identify your business and technical objectives.

    c. Survey your HVACR equipment.

    d. Explore options with you to optimize your maintenance budget.

    e. Present the best program to meet your needs.

    2. Company introduction (example).

    a. We're a 34-year old commercial service company.

    b. We have consistently grown each year due to our competitive programs and services.

    c. Our company has continued to invest in state-of-the-art technology that allows us to deliver the highest level of service with the lowest possible cost.

    d. Our focus on training and employee development programs assures the delivery of safe, reliable service.

    3. Customer requirements (customize this for your target market).

    a. Our clients' goals are to:

    b. Avoid expensive downtime.

    c. Maintain proper comfort and indoor air quality.

    d. Reduce energy waste.

    e. Extend the equipment asset value.

    f. Obtain the lowest possible costs.

    g. Eliminate business and technical risks.

    4. How you will be meeting their needs.

    a. For each requirement you should address how you will meet them via benefit selling

    b. Examples:

    c. Reduce expensive downtime by providing manufacturer's recommended maintenance tasking.

    d. Maintain proper comfort and IAQ by maintaining your equipment at original design specifications.

    e. Reduce energy waste by tuning equipment and cleaning heat transfer surfaces.

    5. Cost analysis without proper maintenance.

    a. Show chart or graph.

    6. Cost analysis with proper maintenance.

    a. Show chart or graph.

    7. Our strengths (recap of benefits summary).

    a. Examples:

    b. We are organized to meet the unique needs of your industry.

    c. Our computer-based business delivery process assures efficient, quality service.

    8. Next steps.

    a. Survey your equipment to verify program maintenance tasking requirements.

    b. Identify options to improve equipment performance or reduce operating costs.

    c. Upon completion of survey, explore your options prior to finalizing program scope of work.

    d. Develop final program and present.

    Wendell Bedell is president of Building Services Institute Inc. For information about Building Services Institute's residential and commercial business development education series, marketing methods, pricing software, Residential Thrust or Commercial Thrust membership program, and PowerMax coaching/mentoring support services, visit or call 800-240-2823. Bedell can be reached directly at 866-557-1611.

    Publication date: 03/21/2005