As 13 SEER becomes the entry-level standard, residential HVAC buyers are being polarized into two groups: those buying equipment and those investing in comfort. Equipment buyers either can't afford better comfort, or choose to spend their money elsewhere. Those who invest in comfort are willing to pay more to get the level of comfort they want.

The most important challenge facing HVAC contractors is deciding which group to serve. Sell equipment or comfort?

Equipment buyers typically buy price. Companies that make any money on equipment jobs usually have the lowest costs. If you're a contractor with a real office; new, well-stocked trucks; highly trained, clean-cut people; and a full range of employee benefits, selling equipment in this manner in the 13 SEER world may not be right for you.

Fortunately, when given all the facts, a large number of buyers will gladly pay for superior comfort. The highest comfort comes from benefits only available on top-of-the-line systems and accessories. Selling superior comfort at two or three times entry-level equipment prices requires in-depth understanding of what I call Max-Comfort© selling skills and sales strategy.

Find Max-Comfort Buyers

The key to helping Max-Comfort buyers find you is highly focused direct mail. Use direct mail to contact owners of the highest-priced homes in your area, from 12 to 22 years old. The largest homes typically use more energy, have more comfort issues, and are owned by people with more discretionary income. Vary your message, but maintain a recognizable theme as you mail to the same address at least six times per year. This strategy should:

  • Help homeowners recognize their discomfort.

  • Create desire for superior comfort.

  • Position your company as the "trustworthy comfort experts" to call now.

    Help Techs

    The long-term success of every HVAC business depends on its ability to provide service after the sale. Highly qualified technicians who do this are extremely hard to find. It's counterproductive for technical specialists to be asked to become part-time comfort consultants.

    What makes sense is helping technicians recognize Max-Comfort sales opportunities that can be referred to the sales team. Training should discuss buying behaviors of Max-Comfort customers and allow techs to identify dissatisfied customers interested in improving their homes and lives with better comfort - regardless the age or operating condition of their current HVAC equipment.

    Utilize A Dedicated Sales Force

    Almost anyone can sell an entry-level air conditioner when the old one fails on a 95°F day. Due to its higher price and longer installation time, a Max-Comfort system requires much greater sales skills. As the sale moves from low-cost, minimum-solution equipment to Max-Comfort, buyers require more time, information, and reassurance.

    If the comfort consultant has non-sales responsibilities, it's likely the individual won't spend the time necessary to complete an accurate heat load calculation, properly inspect the air distribution system, or help buyers custom-design their ideal comfort system.

    Establish Trust-Building Procedures

    The establishment of trust is the foundation of Max-Comfort selling. Trust is extremely fragile. It can be built or lost during any step of the sale, from taking the first call to sending the final bill. Everyone with any client contact must have a written procedure that helps them focus on building trust and confidence throughout the sales process.

    A homeowner talks to contractor Dan Troyer (right) about her heating and cooling needs. Troyer, owner of Danco, East Peoria, Ill., believes more time has to be taken to educate the customer concerning the features and benefits of higher-efficiency systems.

    Follow The Max-Comfort Process

    Without a consistent, proven sales process, every salesperson would miss unseen problems and hidden sales opportunities.

    Step 1: Discover current discomfort. The first step in the Max-Comfort selling process is simply a conversation with new friends. Smart questions are used to allow buyers to detail their current situation; visualize ultimate comfort, and build desire to invest in Max-Comfort now.

    Step 2: Discuss life-enhancing benefits. A Max-Comfort system does much more than keep people warm and cool; it enhances their emotional and physical life. Tell customers how they'll receive peace of mind with superior equipment, installation, and people. Detail unique features their friends will be excited to see. Help them visualize what living in a Max-Comfort home is going to be like.

    Step 3: Create desire for Max-Comfort now. Price is the first obstacle to change. Near the end of your presentation, show how estimated energy savings and long-term financing makes Max-Comfort an extremely wise investment.

    The buyer's confidence steadily improves as the person sees firsthand the comfort consultant is genuinely working in the buyer's best interest. After giving homeowners an opportunity to buy, expect questions, concerns, and objections. The confidence gained is rapidly lost if the consultant uses manipulation, pressure, or worn-out sales phrases.

    The best way to deal with hard questions is to review the buyer's expectations and assure the homeowners they're making a wise, life-enhancing decision. The sale is closed when the Max-Comfort benefits outweigh the price.

    Manage The Max-Comfort Process

    The biggest mistake most top-flight HVAC firms make is not properly managing their sales process. Everyone at every level of management must understand the Max-Comfort selling process. To gain insight, every manager must attend and participate in the same sales training as the comfort consultants. What gets managed, gets improved.

    The three most important processes to be managed are lead generation, selling price, and closing ratio. Every lead must be tracked by source, cost-per-sale, and percentage of goals met. Average selling price allows management to tell, at a glance, how well Max-Comfort selling is working. Closing ratio reveals the effectiveness of each consultant and indicates which lead generation methods produce the best results.

    Choose Wisely

    Selling in the Max-Comfort arena is hard work. It requires an investment in time, money, training, and management. The good news is most of your competitors aren't willing to make the investment. For them, it's easier to "bid and hope" than to hire, train, and improve.

    If you refuse to accept average, don't want to compete with the crowd, and feel you should be rewarded for the value you provide, then Max-Comfort selling is your ticket to an exciting and profitable future.

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

    Publication date: 09/12/2005