You've heard about it and read about it a lot. The topic is service technicians selling replacement equipment.

Up until now, I've been content to report on it and read what other contributors have to say, both on this page and in our reader mailbag. Now it's my turn.

I don't like the idea.

Before I explain my reasons, I want to make it clear that if contractors have good success with service techs who double as salespeople, more power to them. I'm sure my column won't cause them to reprint their employee training manuals.

Time and time again I have heard that contractors hire based on mechanical aptitude and attitude. I think aptitude and attitude (AA) are probably the most important qualities to look for in a service tech.

I also know that contractors hire AA people and then ask them to learn or enhance their soft skills - skills like customer relationships and problem solving. I say a tech with aptitude, attitude, people skills, and the ability to solve problems can take a company to the top of the charts.

Now try to throw a new skill at them - salesmanship - and I think the works start to get gummed up. Unless you are a small shop that specializes in service and replacement and does not employ dedicated salespeople, I believe there is no place for techs who are required to sell.

There are small shops where each person is required to "sell" a certain amount of replacement parts, add-ons, and entire systems. At times they are called on to sell maintenance agreements, too. Selling is a part of their job description out of necessity. There is no one else to do it.

But if an owner makes a lot of sales calls or if there are one or more full-time salespeople on staff, why are we still requiring techs to sell equipment? That is not the reason they were hired.

An HVACR service tech has to wear many hats today. He or she has to know about controls, electricity, computer programming, troubleshooting, plumbing, and the list goes on. Techs have to know so much and keep updated so often that their job skills are always a "work in progress." Techs need to be "techy" to compete and be successful.

I believe a tech should be able to recommend replacement options and note each on the customer invoice. He or she should be able to sell filters or other parts that are part of a truck's standard inventory. But that is where the selling should end.

After that, they should give this sales lead to their boss or sales department and let others follow up.

Suspicious Minds

My second reason for not allowing service techs to sell has to do with image.

We have all seen the countless "stings" on our trade by local and national television news shows. Most, if not all, have tried to portray our trade in a negative light by playing up one or two service techs who try to sell unsuspecting homeowners equipment or services they don't need. I might add that most people "caught" on camera are honest and, therefore, not newsworthy enough to make it on the air.

What about the few bad apples? Some people are thieves - plain and simple. They are given the opportunity to sell and, for whatever reason, they abuse it.

Whatever the case, these types of reports in the media have raised red flags in the minds of consumers. They question the tech's professionalism and motives. They grow suspicious when a service tech suggests adding more refrigerant or recommends a completely new system.

In my opinion, these same consumers would be less suspicious if the owner of a company or salesperson, given a lead by a service tech, made a professional sales presentation in a relaxed environment (as opposed to a service tech on an emergency call).

There, have at it.

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or

Publication date: 12/29/2003