My first sales job included room and board and paid $195 a month. For that princely sum, I got to sit in the back of a low-flying DC-3 slowly circling the swamps and jungles of South Vietnam. The mission was selling hostile prospects on the idea of giving up and going home. It was called psychological warfare.

Before each flight, we'd sit at the end of the runway while the pilots went through the checklist. It's hot in the Mekong Delta, especially sitting inside a black, uninsulated aluminum tube. In all the sorties #272 flew, not one person ever asked the pilots to skip the checklist and take off. It was important to all of us they didn't forget anything.

A safe takeoff is always the first step in every successful mission. In the HVACR business, mission success is measured by profits. Profits are determined by:

  • What you sell,

  • How you sell it, and

  • Who you sell it to.

    Before taking off into 13 SEER world, please go over this checklist to make sure you don't forget anything.

    Mark this down. Every sales consultant must be able to:

    Justify Higher Prices

    1. Before the 13 SEER mandate, it was fairly easy for a service technician to tell a customer, "I can either replace the bad compressor for $1,000 or install a 10-SEER unit for $2,000."

    With much higher equipment and installation costs for entry-level 13 SEER, the message changes to, "I can replace the compressor for $1,000 or install a 13-SEER unit, coil, and sheet metal for $3,500."

    As the repair or replace gap widens, profitable sales must shift from technicians selling boxes to trained professionals selling customized comfort. Contractors who sell entry level 13 SEER like they sold 10 SEER face the aggravation and liability of repairing worn-out equipment.

    Warrant Waiting Longer

    2. Every 13-SEER system requires the correct indoor coil be installed. Instead of a service technician installing a 10-SEER condensing unit in one day, the job now requires a skilled sheet metal technician be dispatched to properly install the new indoor coil. Instead of getting cooling tonight, buyers may wait 48 hours or longer.

    Contractors who install a 13-SEER unit without the matching indoor coil face lawsuits for mold and misrepresentation of energy savings.

    Sell Complete Comfort

    3. Hooking a 13-SEER outdoor unit to the existing indoor coil is playing Russian roulette with five full chambers. Most of the time it won't cool to the buyer's satisfaction. After three or four service calls to "balance the charge" or "adjust the airflow," it's finally determined the problem can't be solved without installing the right coil.

    While the contractor and distributor point fingers, the homeowner has called the manufacturer, Channel 14's investigative television reporter, and a dozen or so friends. The costs associated with each problem could be staggering: lost time, paperwork, equipment concessions, goodwill, receivables, and possibly lost future business.

    Sell Without Energy Savings

    4. For years our industry has used energy savings to make top-of-the-line, two-stage, variable-speed comfort extremely affordable. Unfortunately, today an energy savings-based sales process doesn't create enough excitement and logic-fueled inertia required to move buyers from the 13 SEER minimum solution to amazing top-flight comfort. In Dallas today, for example, a buyer moving from a 13-SEER unit to a 17-SEER unit would save only $137 per year.

    Customize Comfort

    5. Comfort means different things to different people. Everyone wants something special from the most vital system in the owner's home. Buyers want customized comfort around their requirements, desires, and dreams. The better the seller addresses the buyer's desires, the more premium margin systems sold.

    Make The Installation Matter

    6. The buyer must be made aware that the installation, more than any other factor, determines the final comfort, energy savings, and customer satisfaction. Unlike basic products that come fully assembled and ready to use, a new comfort system must be installed one at a time by highly trained professionals in the field under adverse conditions. A better installation is always worth more money.

    Sell The Best Comfort They Can Afford

    7. Three things must be in place before people buy: They want it; benefits exceed price; and they can afford it.

    In most cases, the higher the efficiency, the higher the comfort. The power of selling comfort peaks when the seller offers exactly the benefits the buyer desires. The level of desire determines the likelihood, size, and margin of the sale.

    Help Buyers Think Ahead

    8. A 13-SEER system is the wrong efficiency for consumers who live in areas that have long cooling seasons or exceptionally high utility rates. Electric rates in many parts of the country could double over the 20-year expected life of a well-maintained comfort system. They're not just buying comfort. They're selecting their power bill for the next 20 years.

    Sell Enhanced Health

    9. According to the American College of Allergists, "50 percent of illnesses are caused or aggravated by poor indoor air quality." No one is better qualified than HVACR contractors to provide healthy homes. The No. 1 reason indoor air quality accessories aren't sold is because sales consultants don't talk about them or are afraid to add them to the sales price.

    Offer Unlimited Choices

    10. Today's buyers hate false sincerity, phony games, and manipulation. Any sales process that uses manipulation or tries to place the buyer into one of three boxes must be avoided at all costs. The buyer's confidence in the seller, not manipulation, closes sales today and brings profitable referrals tomorrow.

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

    Publication date: 11/28/2005