This is the second 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 covers equipment and system surveying and data gathering.

Wendell Bedell

Equipment And System Surveying And Data Gathering

The main objective when you perform an on-site commercial service agreement survey is to look for profitable business opportunities where there is a match between your company's capabilities and offerings and the unique financial and technical needs and wants of your prospect. You do this by gathering information about the prospect's business requirements and the technical scope of work requirements.

The technical information you gather becomes the basis to determine a unique set of services for which you must estimate costs to deliver them. The costs themselves depend on the equipment size, usage, accessibility, special services, whether you are covering any repair or replacement of component parts, hours of operation, equipment age, and warranty status.

The business information you gather involves the financial transaction side of delivering your services and how you will communicate performance or share in any business risks associated in the delivery of your services.

Therefore, if you perform the technical data gathering poorly, your firm may overprice or underprice its services, which can either lose you the business or, worse, cost you the business. If you perform the business data gathering poorly, you may fail to properly obtain and communicate in your proposal what both parties are expecting. When this happens, usually both parties will suffer before or during the transaction.

Systematic Information Gathering Process

In order for you to develop and estimate a profitable offering and a professional proposal, you need to obtain transaction information that falls into two categories, business and technical. The following systematic information gathering process is recommended.

1. Meet with the prospect to obtain their business transaction requirements:

a. Identify what are his/her mechanical maintenance objectives?

b. When and how must you communicate performance?

c. What security or accessibility issues must be addressed?

d. What are his/her pricing requirements or strategy you must use to win the business? Pricing could be based on any or all of the following:

1) The prospect's budget requirements.

2) The competition and how they are serving them now (good/bad).

3) The transaction terms and conditions expectations.

e. Where is the bill-to location?

f. Where is the actual work location(s) where you will deliver your services?

g. Will the facility make any future changes to that facility that could effect equipment hours of operation, loading, replacements, and space additions that could require agreement adjustments for equipment adds or deletions?

h. What are his/her emergency service response requirements?

i. Can or will the owner/operator wish to provide portions of the services (e.g., filter removal and disposal, condenser head removal, tube punching, etc.)?

2. Survey the facility and equipment to obtain technical transaction requirements:

a. Where is the equipment located?

b. Is the equipment accessible?

c. What are the equipment maintenance tasking requirements?

d. What are the required equipment tasking skill level requirements?

e. What is the required or recommended maintenance tasking frequency?

f. Is there a requirement to perform maintenance tasking during off-hour periods?

g. What are the equipment component repair and replace liability factors? Such as:

1) Equipment age? The older the equipment, the more likely there will be a failure.

2) Operating hours? Operating above normal, the equipment is more likely to fail. For example:

(a) Packaged units normal office operation 12 hours/day.

(b) Cooling or heating only are seasonal operation.

(c) Under-capacity equipment will run above normal design.

(d) Equipment used in unusual applications, such as split system cooling only used for constant loads (e.g., computer rooms or process cooling).

3) Is there any equipment under manufacturer's warranty? Units that are under whole or partial warranty reduce your liability coverage costs.

4) Is there equipment with multiple compressors? The estimating tables are based on one compressor systems. Multiple compressors increase repair and replace risk by 20 percent.

5) What are the emergency overtime coverage periods (e.g., none, M-F, M-S)? The repair labor has to be adjusted to cover overtime costs.

h. Is there any equipment that has difficult accessibility? For each inspection visit you need to add time to get to that individual piece of equipment.

i. Are there unique filter sizes and change frequencies? If so, obtain or create a filter schedule.

j. Are there any special services requirements?

1) Water treatment.

2) Eddy current testing.

3) Vibrations analysis.

4) Oil analysis.

5) Tube punching.

6) Summer/winter switchover.

7) Daily, weekly, monthly mechanical watch tours.

8) Are there any subcontracted services (e.g., water treatment)?

k. Are any special tools or equipment rentals needed (e.g., lift, gantry, etc.)?

l. What is the distance from the trade labor start point to the actual work location?

m. Is parking available or do you have to cover parking costs (e.g., traffic tickets per visit)?

n. Is the facility accessible to your trade labor to get to equipment under your service agreement, or will it require access delays (e.g., prison security checks)?

No matter what facility you're creating a service agreement proposal for, an on-site equipment and system survey is required. Simply taking an equipment list to estimate and propose a service agreement eliminates your opportunity to find a way to differentiate your offering from the competition by finding signs of poor maintenance and/or inappropriate services. If you fail to do this differentiator search, then you give the prospect no real reason to take a chance on switching to your company.

Although it is a good idea to obtain the facility mechanical plans as a standard practice, it may be necessary for some complex or multi-building facilities to obtain the building plans in order to identify the exact quantity and locations of equipment. For new buildings that you plan on proposing for your services, it is recommended that you do so before the construction is a third of the way completed. The best place to obtain system and equipment data is in the building plans.

Conducting The System/Equipment Survey

You will find that most HVACR equipment has nameplates which contain the equipment's make, model, year built, and capacity (size). In some cases these nameplates have been removed by an unscrupulous competitor or are badly faded due to sun damage or are simply painted over by mistake. For those pieces of equipment where the manufacturer's nameplate is not available, you may need to identify equipment information on the facility mechanical plans or you can use the equipment components to identify its capacity or size. For example:

  • Air handler units and fans - Identify size via fan motor horsepower rating.

  • Reciprocating cooling systems (packaged rooftop units, chillers, split systems) - Identify size via compressor horsepower rating.

    You will find that in some cases you may have the make and model numbers but not the capacity or size information. The best way to obtain the capacity or size information is by contacting the manufacturer. Most manufacturers have Web sites where information on recent models of equipment is available. We recommend that you develop a manufacturers' reference library of product cut sheets to quickly obtain data for older equipment.

    Where you start the building survey depends on the building type and/or its design complexity. Since 90 percent of all commercial buildings use packaged rooftop equipment, you will usually start at the roof and work your way down to the lowest level.

    For multi-facility or multi-story facilities, the mechanical rooms or central plant areas are logical starting points. Starting at the central mechanical area provides the salesperson with a better picture on how the conditioned air and/or water is being distributed throughout the facility(s). Having an understanding of how the HVACR system is laid out enables the salesperson to look for and ask pertinent questions related to system operating and maintenance tasking requirements.

    Use A Service Agreement Survey Form

    One important insight about customers is that no matter how low your selling price, the customer will not buy if they feel that the risk is too high to do so. To assist contractors in gaining trust for you and your company, BSI provides its contractor subscribers with its Facility and Customer Survey Form. The survey form also provides you and your company with a vehicle to achieve your sales and customer objectives.

    Sales Objectives
    The survey helps you in the sales process by providing you with a:

  • Means to project a professional image.

  • Systematic process to gather customer and technical information.

  • Means to demonstrate performance of your total system approach.

  • Means to educate and move the customer from lowest cost option to best option.

  • Means to determine how much dissatisfaction is present with the customer's present situation.

    Customer Objectives
    The survey helps you demonstrate that you have a professional service agreement business delivery process that will deliver upon the customer's expressed or implied requirements that include:

  • Receiving priority response.

  • Avoiding expensive equipment or production downtime.

  • Maintaining proper comfort and indoor air quality.

  • Reducing energy waste.

  • Extending equipment asset value.

  • Obtaining the lowest possible costs.

  • Eliminating business and technical risks.

  • Protecting manufacturer equipment warranties.

  • Meeting OSHA and other regulatory requirements to maintain equipment at original design specifications.

  • Maintaining healthier living or work environment.

  • Having standby technical support during critical events and/or plant shutdown maintenance periods.

  • Providing supplemental technical or repair support to in-house operations.

  • Gaining access to high skill level labor resources.

  • Other unique personal requirements.

    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: 04/18/2005