They Have Enough To Do Already

I enjoyed John R. Hall's Dec. 29, 2003, editorial ["Add Another Log To The Tech Selling Fire"] regarding taking your mechanics and making them sell. As a wholesale distributor, we see that it's already hard enough to grow good mechanics without adding another aspect to their daily routine. Pay your people well for what they do well and do not try to make them something they are not.

Frank Meier Jr.
Meier Supply Co. Inc.
Johnson City, N.Y.

Don't Tarnish The Industry's Image

I wanted to compliment John R. Hall for speaking out on the issue of service techs selling ["Add Another Log To The Tech Selling Fire," Dec. 29, 2003]. I agree with all of the points he made.

I believe our industry is too much at risk, whether deserved or not, to take a chance on giving the appearance of "forced selling." This is exactly the type of conduct that had once caused the furnace business to be considered among the most sleazy. One tactic used by a disreputable company was to send a "service rep" to a random home and offer to check the furnace for free. If there wasn't something wrong with the furnace when they arrived, there would be by the time the guy "checked" the furnace.

It has taken many years to try to eliminate that image. We cannot risk getting that tarnished image back by making it a requirement that service techs sell. I was surprised to find several years ago when we hired a former consolidator's service technician that they were paid strictly on commission on the service call. Thus, it was very much in their best interest to sell parts or new equipment. When an individual's compensation is based on how much he can sell, the human tendency is to do what is best for yourself as the technician, rather than what is best for the customer.

We emphasize to all our people - service and sales - to only recommend what is best for the customer. In the long run, I believe that approach will be the best for the company and its employees.

Butch Welsch
Welsch Heating & Cooling
St. Louis

Techs Who Don't Really Sell

I read John R. Halls' piece ["Add Another Log To The Tech Selling Fire," Dec. 29, 2003]. Here are a few comments.

Good for you, John; I do agree. What is important is that during this debate that has been going on for years, the one thing that I find is no one has defined "tech selling."

What I mean is that in the trades we abuse terms and definitions, creating our own (i.e., If you had asked if my techs sell, I would have answered, "Yes they do." In reality, after reading your piece, I awoke and now would have to reply "No." This sounds a bit confusing, I will agree, but let me explain.)

My technicians, like all, do not have the time to spend with the customers to properly sell a new furnace, air conditioner, or HRV, etc. What my techs do is create the conversation with the customers and bring in the lead. So they are really field lead generators. Now, don't get me wrong, they do sell furnaces and other equipment from time to time, but this is not the norm.

Often our techs have built over many years a trust with a customer and suggest a new furnace, humidifier, or whatever, or they may make the inquiry. Many times the customer wants them to price it out and do the work. In these cases if possible, I will work out over the phone with the tech the price and we do the job.

Other times, it requires that I meet on the job with the tech and he speaks to me about what the customer wants based on his conversations. We confirm this with the customer, and I let the tech present the price.

Tech selling to me is when I walk into my competitors' offices, and the first thing you see is the huge white board with all the techs listed and all the sales and targets printed out. Sorry, I do not agree with this approach. I have to agree with John: Service techs are not salesmen and salesmen are not service techs. But there is an area in between, that gray area that we often find ourselves in where we do at times cross this line, but there is usually good reason.

Anyway, it's hard enough to get service techs to bring in leads and speak with customers to uncover their needs, let alone become proficient salesmen, too. Maybe the reason why we get such a bad name in the eyes of the consumer is that we reward bad behavior. We set techs up and send mixed messages. If they want to make more money, many contractors tell them to sell more parts/equipment, then they pay high commissions for these sales. It does not take a rocket scientist to understand the more parts and equipment that they sell, the more money they make.

Many start and advance quickly, sometimes selling the customer parts that are not required. Sometimes they replace perfectly good belts, pulleys, motors, heat exchangers, and equipment when nothing was wrong. This is unethical, but they had the lure of money, a strong motivator, dangled in front of them. And meeting after meeting, they sat there getting crap for declining sales and [were told] it was their fault, etc., which is a slippery slope.

I have to tell you that we do pay a small amount if a tech sells an air conditioner, for example. If they sell it without me having to go out to the home, we pay them $40 Canadian and if I have to go out, we reduce that to $20 Canadian. In the last two years we have not paid anything. Why? The techs do not fill out the paperwork and turn it in. This is their job.

When asked about it, many times they are not interested in it because they get their wage and it [making a sale] does not happen very often anyway. They bring in the leads and do not want to get into the details.

Today, an average, good, solid sales call and in-home full evaluation takes two hours. If techs took the time required, we would never get the service work completed. We do not pay commission on parts, just equipment and, as I said, it doesn't work. Maybe it's because of the ethical workplace that we have created and insist upon.

I hope you find these comments helpful in getting your mind going to define these terms. What do you think? Am I off base? I think that many contractors are like me; they say their techs sell, but really they don't.

D. Brian Baker, CMS
Custom Vac Limited
Winnipeg, Manitoba

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Publication date: 03/01/2004