Will paying techs on straight commission cause otherwise ethical people to commit fraud? That is one question many contractor owners ponder and debate.

My experience has been that the overwhelming majority of service techs are honest to a fault. About the only thing they could be accused of consistently misleading people on is pretending they know more than they know, which is human nature and not a crime.

My job is to teach techs how to sell more, which is easy. The struggle is getting them to want to sell more.

Televised "sting operations" make consumers believe that dishonest selling tactics by service techs are the norm. However, my experience of having spent 30 to 40 weeks per year over the past 13 years performing technician sales training by running service calls with service techs all across the country causes me to ask, "Where do they find these guys?"

I just don't see it.

Having declined an offer by a television network to assist in a sting operation, I'll explain their procedure in setting up these projects. They contact ethical contractors in an area for a list of unethical companies they believe are likely candidates for such an operation. They not only inquire as to what companies to call, they ask which specific techs (with bad reputations) to request for service.

You'd think that, with that kind of information, the deck would be stacked in their favor. Despite this, it's not uncommon for a shortage of negative referrals to make it difficult to find a city in which to run their operation. When they do find an area where they determine a high likelihood of success, after surreptitiously taping dozens of service calls, they occasionally are unable to catch anyone doing anything unethical and scrap the project.

Wolves In Sheep's Clothing?

Techs working on straight commission are not always "wolves in sheep's clothing" or salespersons masquerading as techs. Setting aside the few companies with a company culture of total thievery, I find that straight commission techs working in ethical companies tend to be at least as technically proficient and honest as techs who are paid on an hourly basis, if not more.

Sounds odd, doesn't it? I was as surprised to learn this as you.

Techs making serious money on straight commission usually have nowhere else to go to make the kind of money they're making, so they tend to stay with the company, which is good. As a result, they will defend the company fiercely against anyone whose actions run the risk of getting the company investigated and closed down.

This is not a "theory." This is fact.

Because of the stigma attached to the sales profession, at the first straight commission shop I visited to ride along with the techs for a week (I do all of the selling while the tech riding with me observes), the techs immediately took me aside and made it clear to me that if I lied to or cheated any of their company's customers, I would have them to contend with. They went on to say that under no uncertain terms was I to say anything or do anything that would jeopardize their company's image.

My understanding was that this was the standard "new guy treatment," and I support them in it.

During the week they watched me like a hawk and, since techs working on straight commission are not paid to run callbacks, they double-checked all of my work for quality. I'll add that, in view of this, they were not prone to pretend to know how to do things they didn't know how to do, thereby further reducing callbacks.

There is a lot more to be said on the potential upsides and downsides of this topic. E-mail me with your comments and we'll cover this topic in more detail in another issue.

Guest columnist Charlie Greer is president of HVAC Profit Boosters Inc. He can be reached at 800-963-4822 or Charlie@hvacprofitboosters.com.

Publication date: 11/10/2003