With the 13 SEER minimums in effect in 2006, contractors should concentrate their efforts on differentiating their products and services. Here Tommy Castellano (right), owner of Castellano Air Conditioning & Heating in Tampa, Fla., talks to a customer about the benefits of his 15-plus SEER Affinity™ unit.
Many contractors have asked the question, "How do I sell up when giving a proposal to a homeowner?" In reality, what they are really asking is this: "How can I convince the homeowner that the extra money they will spend for a high-efficiency piece of equipment or add-on accessory will be justified?"

Another way to sum up this scenario is to use the phrase "value proposition." In other words, if the value proposition has a significant enough payback, the homeowner may make the investment.

Keep in mind that the payback doesn't necessarily have to be in dollars and cents, either. The payback may be in comfort, quiet, peace of mind, trust, or a number of other parameters. Unfortunately, the HVAC industry has relied too much on selling up based upon efficiency alone, rather than on customer-focused features and benefits.

Many contractors believe that it takes someone with special talent and sales ability to master the art of selling up. However, this is simply not true. In fact, selling up should be considered more of a science than an art.

Anyone can sell up, as long as a selling system is in place within the contracting organization. The selling system allows the comfort advisor or technician to ask the right questions and provide the correct answers when they are questioned themselves. The comfort advisor or technician needs to be trained to the point that there is no guesswork involved in the process. Many things need to take place within the contracting business in order to turn the selling up process into a science.

Be Prepared

First, there has to be a defined, written process for the comfort advisor or technician to follow. The process taught at York Unitary Products Group (UPG), for example, involves 15 steps:

1. Sales lead dispatch - Getting the comfort advisor to the job.

2. Greet customer and develop rapport - Building the relationship.

3. Customer assessment - Conducting a needs analysis and questioning.

4. Technical assessment - Defining the job and on-site requirements.

5. Presentation - Involving the customer and presenting the options, positioning.

6. Closing - Attempting one-call close, asking for the business, getting the deal.

7. Complete customer paperwork - Completing the administrative paperwork.

8. Call production coordinator - Scheduling the installation immediately.

9. Assemble leave-behind package - Creating the customer package, materials, forms, and financing.

10. Conclude call - Taking care of final relationship touches; saying thanks for the business.

11. Complete other paperwork - Writing a thank-you card, completing internal company paperwork, and obtaining commission.

12. Assemble customer package - Assembling warranties, guarantees, and supporting documents.

13. Call lead coordinator to debrief - Reviewing sales calls, debriefing form and data, and next sales call.

14. Mail thank-you card.

15. After the sale follow-up - Doing a quality walk-through, making referral request, and presenting thank-you gift.

Have Support Materials Ready

Secondly, the comfort advisor or technician must have the proper support materials to ensure the sales process goes as planned. Ultimately, the process should go so well that the comfort advisor or technician not only has an opportunity to sell up, but also does such a good job in the process that the business has intrinsically built additional leads. The goal here is for homeowners to tell their friends that they have finally found a professional HVAC company they can trust, who knows how to communicate.

Support materials include a Preston guidebook, which defines all systems and capacities, a laptop computer and software, and

a business card. Also included should be a credibility booklet, which is a presentation manual that contains:

  • A description of the company.

  • Insurance and licensing certificates.

  • A list local of community associations to which you belong.

  • Photos of your personnel and company.

  • Education for your employees and certificates earned.

  • Good installation pictures.

  • Bad installation pictures.

  • Testimonials.

    Other examples of support materials include door hangers with marketing flyers, a sales commission form, a quality inspection booklet, a happiness rating, and referral request form.

    A company folder should be provided to contain all the materials provided to homeowners. We include consumer educational materials such as:

  • Homeowner questionnaire form.

  • Even-temperature guarantee (within one degree of comfort).

  • Best value (lowest cost guarantee).

  • Quality and service guarantee.

  • Customer guarantee form.

  • Full home comfort consumer education brochure.

  • Consumer product literature.

  • Investment agreement.

  • Proposal.

  • Financing paperwork.

  • Engineering home survey form (job details).

  • Short-form load calculation.

  • Operating cost comparison (utility rates payback sheets).

    In the future, contractors will need to focus on the customer-focused features and benefits of their products, rather than efficiency alone.

    Ask Questions

    A key component to the support materials is the customer questionnaire. Many comfort advisors and technicians simply don't ask enough questions.

    However, if the comfort advisor or technician follows the process and asks these questions, the selling-up scenario becomes as simple as offering options, based on how the homeowner answers the questions. The goal here is be just as effective on a sales call on a busy, hot Friday afternoon as you are on your first call on a cool, slow Monday morning.

    The homeowner should fill out the questionnaire. During this time, the comfort advisor or technician can measure the house and perform a technical assessment. The questionnaire forces the comfort advisor or technician to become a professional in two areas that are often very difficult for a salesperson to follow:

    1. Don't assume you know what customers want before you speak with them. Only 11 percent of all consumers buy on price alone. That leaves 89 percent of the market that will move up, based on your value proposition.

    2. Be quiet and become an excellent listener. The customer will tell you what you need to know.

    Once the comfort advisor or technician receives the feedback from the questionnaire and begins to build rapport with the homeowner, he or she can begin the art of selling. But, it still needs to be kept simple. A good, better, best system option is a good example.

    Fast-forward to 2006 and 13 SEER minimums. This story will change for air conditioners, heat pumps, and complete-system selling. Furnace change-out up-sells can still be sold on a payback calculation and life-cycle costs in 2006 and beyond. However, air conditioners, heat pumps, and complete systems that were once sold as good, better, best, based on payback, will be much more difficult.

    For example, that scenario prior to 2006 may be based on 10 SEER being a good system, 12 SEER being a better system, and 14 SEER being the best system. In 2006, the entry level of efficiency becomes 13 SEER. What will the selling story be? Will 13, 15, and 18 SEER become the good, better, best scenario?

    With the initial cost of the equipment being much more significant on the higher levels of SEER, efficiency payback will become tough to sell, even in hot climates, and will completely go away in climates such as the Northeast, Northwest, and the inter-Mountain West.

    Rather than dwelling on the negatives of this situation, contractors should concentrate their efforts on differentiating their products and services. Never before in the HVAC industry has there been such an opportunity for contractors to focus on marketing their quality of services, rather than equipment performance alone. This marketing effort will be needed in order to survive.

    Plan, Plan, And Plan Some More

    So how does a company differentiate in 2006 and beyond? The need for tiered options will still exist, but there will also need to be additional accessories and services to go along with that discussion.

    Regardless of the location and regardless of the new approaching standards, comfort advisors and technicians can begin to see the key to selling up begins with planning long before the sales call is ever made.

    Good leads are tough to come by, but keeping the customer's best interest in mind at all times, along with having a solid sales process in place, can make the selling-up process that much more of a science, rather than an art.

    Jeff Revlett is training manager, North America, York Unitary Products Group. He can be reached at 405-419-6416 or jeff.revlett@york.com. Some materials from this article provided by Net.Prophet, a York UPG licensed business solution library.

    Publication date: 06/27/2005