[Editor's note: Mondul is a business coach/member with International Service Leadership (ISL). ISL is dedicated to sharing information to help HVACR contractors develop "a great life for themselves and their employees, while generating double-digit net profits."]

During the first three years as a comfort advisor for Bud's Heating and Air Inc. Biff has grown as a professional salesperson. His sales have grown from $380,000 to $492,000 to $610,000 in successive years.

But there is trouble in paradise.

Bobby Bud, who founded Bud's in 1994, is discovering that Biff's efforts generate 78 percent of sales in a year, but the company hasn't been making any money, and the pressures of debt are beginning to take their toll. In the spring, Bobby raised prices 3 percent across the board. This season Biff is beginning to struggle.

If things continue, production this year will be less than last year, even with higher prices.

As Bobby began to analyze the situation, it became all the more puzzling. Biff would tell the customer all about the features and benefits, and let the customer know the right amount of detail on how the benefits would impact the customer's family in their home, but nothing seemed to break the customer loose of the "I want to think about it" posture.

Does this sound like anyone you know or have seen lately?

What They Are Really Saying

Let's toss out some possible issues that may have an impact.

First, most purchasers hear talking about features and benefits as a pitch. Let's stop for a second and remind ourselves how we felt the last time we were pitched. Did it make us feel closer to the salesperson, or were we looking for a way to escape the transaction?

Let's format the second issue in the form of a multiple-choice question. When the customers say, "I want to think about it" to Biff, do they really mean:

A. "I haven't developed enough trust with you yet."

B. "Making a decision is too hard a chore for me right now."

C. "Your price is too high."

D. "You look like someone who beat me up in seventh grade, so I don't like you."

E. Answers B and C.

Studies would suggest that making a large financial decision in a home setting is very hard work. In fact, for many it requires a similar amount of calories (energy expended) as extreme physical exercise. That is to say that when Biff goes into a home and asks a customer to invest several thousand dollars in a system, he has done the equivalent of asking him to do 50 pushups and run 3 laps around the block.

Now we need to ask ourselves this: Have I ever put off extreme physical exercise? For many, "I want to think about it" is actually a delay response to extremely difficult work.

In addition to this phenomenon is the issue of value in relation to price. Biff mistakenly thinks a competitor's price is the biggest issue.

But as we look around the marketplace, it seems so often that the company that has the biggest share of the marketplace is also the highest priced in the market. This raises the question, "How does a company that charges the most sell the most?"

Well, this happens because some leaders of companies recognize one thing: It's not his price in comparison to other quotes, but it is his price in comparison to the value of his product. If the value is higher than the price, the customer will understand Biff's offer to be a good transaction.

So, E is the correct answer. Customers want to delay hard work. And the price is too high for the value demonstrated.

Questions Are The Answer

Bobby noticed during his ride-alongs that Biff would make sure the customer knew what features would impact the customer the most.

So he would begin to describe what a particular manufacturer had built into their equipment. It never dawned on Biff or Bobby that the "pitching" turned customers off, and actually left the impression with some that Biff worked for the manufacturer.

Many customers felt he was the manufacturer's advocate instead of their advisor. So, the first thing Bobby had to do was show Biff how to be a customer advocate in the communication process.

When questions are asked that have to do with the equipment performance, comfort or health of the family, and economics of the household, the customer will begin to know that Biff cares. It's only then the customer will care how much Biff knows.

For instance, when Biff saw a mercury switch thermostat, he would quickly and enthusiastically delve into the benefits of a digital thermostat, and the options that go with a programmable t-stat.

In the future though, Bobby will have Biff ask a question when he sees the mercury thermostat on the wall. The question might be, "Do you ever notice that it gets cold in the house before the heat turns on, and maybe a little stuffy before it turns off?" And the customer will think for a while and say, "Yeah - how'd you know that?"

Biff needs to avoid the temptation to pitch, and instead just explain what happens in a mechanical thermostat, and that friction and dust can make it hard for the t-stat to be precise. Then he can briefly indicate the new system will have a different kind of control system that will help eliminate that problem.

Other questions might be:

  • Has the return noise always been this loud? (We know it has, but we just need to ask the customer if he would like it fixed.)

  • Do your kids spark? (We can have some fun, too.) Obviously this would give the customer the chance to indicate that static electricity is a problem that needs to be fixed.

  • Does it seem to get dusty soon after you have cleaned the house?

  • Does anyone have any allergy symptoms?

  • Does the supply air noise cause you to have to increase the volume on the TV?

  • Has anyone explained why there is a dark rim in the carpeting at the baseboards? (This indicates a negative air pressure that causes the carpeting to act like an air filter.)

  • Have you noticed your fuel and power bills getting too high?

  • Does the furniture split and floors creak in the wintertime?

  • Does anyone wake up with headaches or dry sinuses?

  • As you enter the cold room ask, "Has this room always been colder than the rest of the house?" (Again, we know it has been, but that's not the point.) Biff can deliver high value when the installers are able to fix a problem that was perceived to be unfixable.

  • How long do you expect to live in your home?

  • What did you have budgeted for the project?

  • Did you have a particular brand in mind? Even if there is, we have the opportunity to get the customer focused on the application (80 percent of the equation), as opposed to the manufacturer (20 percent of the equation).

  • It looks like you may have shed blood trying to change your filter. Would you like a rack that would make changing the filter easy?

  • Would you like the crew, while they are here, to move the condenser out from under the window? It would probably be less noisy for whoever sleeps in that room, as well as make it harder for anyone to break into the house through that window.

    Can You Live With It?

    Those are just a few questions, and Biff will find more. As you review the questions, it is easy to understand how Biff will be perceived as caring and customer focused by his customers. Tension is reduced, maybe eliminated - which makes decision-making easier and allows relationship to play a larger role in the buying process.

    Quick review: Less tension, less work, and more income . . . I think I can live with that.

    Next month: It's so hard to find good people today.

    Mondul is coach/member with ISL. He can be reached at nita.brooks@islinc.tv.

    Publication date: 01/24/2005