Thirty-five years ago when I joined this industry, people who bought air conditioning for their home didn't care much about noise, air filtration, or operating cost. They just wanted cold air.

In many parts of the country, the demand for add-on air conditioning far outpaced the number of HVAC contractors in business to install it. On hot summer days, people were more concerned about when the air conditioning could be installed, not how much it cost.

In those days, the sales force was typically a male owner. Period. His sales process was simple. When he found time to squeeze it in, he'd run out, measure the house, and work up a bid. On difficult jobs, he'd do the math in the office, stick an off-the-shelf proposal in the mail, and wait for the customer to call. The law of supply-and-demand made selling cold air pretty easy.

Fast forward to today. Most homes already have central air conditioning. Most people aren't in the market for a new comfort system, as long as their old one keeps blowing cold air. Unless prompted, they don't think about air conditioning until it quits working. When it breaks, the phone book is full of firms willing to fix the old one forever.

To succeed today, you have to create your own opportunities, build your own momentum, and follow a proven sales process. Note: There is a huge difference between sales training and a sales process. Sales training is an event that teaches skills. A sales process is an ongoing strategy that supports behavioral change.

A good sales process should include everything from finding the client to getting the referral.

The Problem With Sales Training

Immediately after attending sales training, most graduates are like roman candles, full of energy and headed to new heights. Unfortunately, if there is no process in place to reinforce what they learned in training, over time most consultants start down the nasty path of least resistance. When this happens, sales slide and customer satisfaction and margins erode.

In truth, a sales process is no longer an option.

Consider this double whammy:

1. Minimum efficiency is up 30 percent and entry-level equipment costs are up 40 percent to 50 percent. New entry-level equipment costs more because it uses more copper, steel, aluminum, refrigerant, and packaging materials.

At the same time, installations cost more because it takes longer to install a bigger indoor coil and modify old ductwork. Thus, the job takes longer because less equipment fits on a truck and more people are needed to move it.

2. Consumers have less usable income. Under the new federal bankruptcy law, consumers who make minimum credit card payments have less disposable income. Instead of making a minimum monthly payment of 2 percent, the minimum payment doubled to 4 percent. An $85 credit card payment is now over $170 per month. With the cost of gasoline up 50 percent this year, consumers who drive also have less discretionary income to spend.

Try This

Here's an interesting research project. Ask five friends or neighbors this question:

"Imagine it's 90 degrees outside with 90 percent humidity. The compressor on your 15-year-old air conditioner breaks. You can spend $1,000 for a new compressor and get cooling tonight or wait two days and invest $5,000 for greater comfort and much lower energy bills. What would you do?"

Today most consumers have more things to buy than money to spend. They will only trade their hard-earned paycheck for a new comfort system if it becomes a top priority. Priorities and sales increase when sales consultants help buyers become logically and emotionally involved. A proven sales process is required to consistently sell at the level smart consumers want to buy at today.

Management's most important decision is this: Business is fueled by profits; profits come from sales; and the sales process employed determines sale size and margin. Therefore, choosing the right sales process could be the most important decision management ever makes.

Your buyers determine your process. For instance, if you're selling bottom-tier goods to entry-level buyers, the sales process is simple: Always have the lowest price.

The premium buyer is on the other end of the scale. The process for selling high-end products to premium buyers is a precise balance of logic, emotions, and trust. The more you move toward selling the premium buyer, the more important your sales process becomes.

Steps To Follow

In the end, the right process must be:

1. Universally employed. A surprising number of businesses encourage everyone on the sales team to attend different types of sales courses. Everyone ends up on a different page. Without a common sales process, effective coaching, accurate measurement, and good management are impossible.

2. Acceptable to clients and consultants. Today's buyers refuse to be pressured into buying, and sales consultants find pressure tactics distasteful. Worn-out closing methods can cause instant sales death. The entire sales process must makes sense to everyone from the newest hire to the seasoned veteran.

3. Easy for management to support. Management must fully understand the sales process before they can effectively support and manage it. To learn the process, management must attend the same training as the sales team. When management and consultants learn together, most organizations experience an immediate lift in customer satisfaction, morale, and profits.

Every serious sales process should include tools to help management measure and support the individual and the process.

The bottom line is this: Don't waste your time and money on sales training until management decides to implement a sales process to support it.

Steve Howard is president of The ACT Group, Inc. He can be reached at 800-515-0034 or

Publication date: 10/31/2005