PITTSBURGH - It's a different world out there. Paradigms are shifting. And, the sooner contractors realize this and adapt to the changes accordingly, the sooner they will succeed in selling in the post-13 SEER world.

So are the thoughts of consultant Vicki LaPlant.

"Paradigm selling in a new paradigm world is about customer education, HVAC company differentiation, value-added service, and about your profits," stressed LaPlant, one of the speakers at the Masters of the Game Conference, put on by Lennox and HVAC Learning Solutions. "There are going to be so many different challenges ahead. Competition is coming from everywhere. For instance, other industries are getting into indoor air quality. Some carpet-cleaning companies are getting into duct cleaning. To combat this, you have to let them [customers] know you have the answers for them."

To stimulate some thinking, LaPlant pointed out a quote from French novelist Marcel Proust, who wrote: "The voyage of discovery lies not in seeking new horizons, but in seeing with new eyes." Translation: Rather than see obstacles, see new possibilities.

"This is a great time to be in business," said LaPlant. "It all depends upon how you look at it."

Educate The Masses

Besides the 13 SEER paradigm that is approaching this industry, LaPlant said contractors should not forget the multitude of opportunities that come with indoor air quality (IAQ), the other paradigm. Industry estimates put the number of people who suffer from allergies at more than 50 million, with more than 20 million people who suffer from asthma, she said.

"A lot of people do not know what we can do for them," said LaPlant. "Mrs. Homeowner only believes you sell warm air and cool air. The products you install, they think, are just like a refrigerator. You bring it in, set it up, and on you go. ... It's going to take education."

Education, she pointed out, is a two-way street. Contractors, in her estimation, must realize the increased influence women have as consumers. If this paradigm is not observed, it could be disastrous, she said.

"Don't overlook the woman," warned LaPlant. "Don't overlook the power of the woman."

Quoting research conducted by the Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA), LaPlant said most customers seek two to three bids for HVACR equipment because there is a trust issue to overcome, most homeowners do not know what HVAC should cost, and there is a lack of information out there.

"One of the equations for success with mastering the woman consumer paradigm is to use non-technical language that educates," she said, pointing out that an outside condensing unit has many names. "Why not just call it an air conditioner? There are two parts to this air conditioner. One remains inside; the other, outside. ... Make it simple so that Mrs. Homeowner understands." Of course, the same strategy could be applied to men as well.

Turning to a different survey conducted by Emerson Climate Technologies, LaPlant noted that 77 percent of homeowners with air conditioning have never heard of a SEER rating, much less know what it means. One of the better explanations she heard, she passed along to her audience.

"SEER is a government-mandated efficiency standard. All our air conditioners are measured by the same standard. The term SEER stands for Seasonal Energy Efficiency Ratio. A higher SEER unit requires less electrical consumption to satisfy your home's demand for cooling. So, you get the best electrical."

Consultant Vicki LaPlant (above) believes it’s a great time to be selling. However, contractors must be offering customers choices and providing proposals that fit today’s multitude of lifestyles, she said.

Sell Yourself

Because 75 percent of people are visual learners, LaPlant suggested contractors educate the public using visual measures.

"Remember, you are selling an intangible," she said. "What you are really selling is convenience."

Some of the sales tools available include company and manufacturer literature, the Good Housekeeping seal, and a company information sheet. The latter contains pictures and more pictures of your company, plus the company's vision, or passion, statement. She provided some strong passion statements she had heard over the years, including, "We like what we do. So will you" and "Our family of employees will take care of your family."

"You are trying to build an image," she explained. "Plus, these tools help service techs. There are some excellent service techs, but they need help in selling the company. This info sheet with that passion statement will help."

Offer Multiple Choices

Another selling paradigm that benefits the customer is offering multiple choices. LaPlant suggested sticking with the good-better-best selling approach, but not have it driven strictly by energy savings. She wanted the audience to provide the customer with choices, an explanation for price variance, information as to what is different about each offering, and offering packages that fit different budgets.

"Paradigm selling identifies the uniqueness in each customer, and each customer's home comfort needs," she said. "The basic comfort package would be enhanced based on the customer's unique lifestyle needs, including monthly budget, family and children, pets and grandchildren, professional interests, environmental issues, and retirement."

In other words, if these lifestyle issues are addressed in the sales process, LaPlant said customers might not seek other bids. For instance, one equation for success with women concerned with the monthly budget, she said, would be to stress convenience choices and efficiency.

"The basic comfort package could be enhanced with maintenance agreements offering an extended warranty," she said.

When it comes to women concerned with family and children, LaPlant noted that one of the package offerings could include media filters, electronic air cleaners, UV lights, duct cleaning, dampered indoor air intake, extended warranty, and programmable thermostats. For those women who are concerned about the environment, a package could include the importance of efficiency, refrigerant choices, IAQ, and other indoor health choices. Meanwhile, the busy professional woman could be sold on maintenance agreements, extended warranties, programmable thermostats, IAQ, media filters, and electronic air cleaners. Turning her focus to the status-conscious homeowner, an offered package could include a heat recovery ventilator or energy recovery ventilator, humidifier, dampered indoor air intake, maintenance agreement, electronic air cleaner, extended warranties, and programmable thermostat.

"Another selling paradigm affecting our industry is the ever-growing number of retired homeowners," said LaPlant.

"Retired women consumers are interested in efficiency choices, as well as comfort and convenience choices."

To this segment, LaPlant suggested including easy-to-read thermostats in proposals, plus zoning, upgraded filtration, humidifier, programmable thermostat, maintenance agreement, extended warranty, and monthly payments.

"[Proposals] can be different for every customer, but it has everything to do with lifestyle," she said.

Addressing Oil, Gas

In regard to heating, an emerging paradigm today is increasing oil and gas costs. According to LaPlant, oil is projected to increase 31 percent, while natural gas is projected to increase 71 percent.

"The efficiency and comfort of furnaces are more important than ever," she said. "Homeowners faced with increased oil and gas costs will be concerned about monthly budgets and increased efficiency choices."

Some of the ways to address these needs, she said, are to offer increased efficiency equipment, extended warranty, programmable thermostat, monthly payments, and two-year maintenance agreements.

"Proposals that consider multiple needs, provide the customer with additional choices, as well as focus on each individual customer's lifestyle will help you master the new selling paradigms," she concluded.

Publication date: 12/19/2005