Von Kopfman spent years working as a successful salesperson in the wholesale food business. However, something was missing; it was time to make a bold move away from food and toward something new. He didn't know it at the time, but Blue Dot Services of Kansas was just waiting for a great HVAC salesperson to turn Topeka upside down.

At their first meeting, not even Blue Dot Services of Kansas knew that Kopfman was the great salesperson the company was looking for when he answered a classified advertisement. In fact, his first encounters with the company landed him a rejection. Then fate stepped in.

"I went through three interviews and didn't get the job. The other guy didn't show up for work, and they called me back since I was the second choice. Three years ago, I knew nothing about the heating, ventilation, and air conditioning business. In fact, I took a 70-percent pay cut when I started," said Kopfman.

In the Topeka market, if a person sells a million dollars a year in the food business, that person is thought to be doing OK. Von Kopfman was doing OK, but he wanted something more. "I didn't have any idea how much an HVAC salesperson should be able to earn. I became the lone salesperson at our company after three guys had combined for only $800,000 [in sales] the year before. The No. 1 guy had sold about $600,000.

"I had been told that $600,000 to $700,000 was very good in this business. Everyone laughed at me when I told Jeff Weinberg, the boss, that I was going to sell $1 million in my first year. I didn't know what I couldn't do, and I wasn't going to let anyone else tell me that I couldn't do it," recounted Kopfman.

Kopfman sold $1.5 million his first year, $1.35 million his second (with only nine days over 90 degrees F), and is on track to break the $1 million mark again in 2005 for residential sales. What's his secret? "Some principles of selling are the same no matter if you're selling food, rubber bands, or HVAC," said Kopfman. "My job is to build a relationship with the customer and tell them every conceivable benefit of the product. I have found that if you are really sincere about wanting to get to know the customer and finding out what they want, people will buy from people they like."

A Lesson In Tenacity

Kopfman's standard sales call lasts 1-1/2 hours. He always performs an estimate while on the first call, and he never leaves without handing a proposal to the customer. According to Kopfman, lots of sales are lost because of lack of follow-up - those are often the sales that he closes while customers are waiting on proposals from other, less organized salespeople.

He said, "If it's worth setting up the call in the first place, it's worth taking the time to do it right." Kopfman makes a point of involving the customer as he performs a thorough load calculation. While he's evaluating the existing system, he takes the customer into the basement with him. He points out every item that is different about the old furnace compared to a new system the customer could buy from his company.

"If they have a standing pilot on their furnace, I explain how the new electronic ignition I offer will be more reliable. If they have a clamshell heat exchanger, I explain how the new tubular heat exchanger will last longer. I also do the same thing with the air conditioning unit. When I'm looking at the ductwork, I show the customer exactly where a humidifier would fit in their new system.

"They might say they don't want a humidifier, and I ask, ‘Why not?' I then explain all the benefits of a humidifier. I never sell people something they don't want or need, but I never fail to explain all the benefits. The customer buys what they want from the person who offers," said Kopfman.

Kopfman now sits on the board of the Topeka Technical Institute. Though not technically inclined, he was invited to join based on his suggestion that the school teach people skills in order to help students interact with the public. "All the technical skills in the world won't help if the technicians can't communicate effectively," stated Kopfman.

With a first-call closing ratio that averages more than 80 percent, and a gross profit on sales that has averaged nearly 38 percent for three years, perhaps students are not the only people who might benefit from some of Von Kopfman's suggestions.

For more information on Kopfman in HVAC sales, contact Mike Murphy at 248-244-6446, 248-244-2905 (fax), or mikemurphy@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 05/16/2005