The most recent online survey conducted by Emerson Climate Technologies revealed 34 percent of contractors expect HVAC equipment sales to decline next year because of the mandatory introduction of 13-SEER air conditioning equipment. This figure is up from 27 percent in the first survey. (For more information on the Emerson "Get SEERiousâ„¢ About 13 SEER" surveys, see the story "Emerson Releases 13 SEER Survey Results" in this issue.)

Less than 30 percent of contractors are fully prepared to enter the new world of 13 SEER. Those who are ready understand how to sell the highest efficiency comfort customers can afford. This group has been selling 13 SEER and above for years.

On the other hand, over 70 percent of contractors will need help selling higher efficiency equipment. When new skills are needed, most contractors look to their equipment distributor for training. A quick way for distributors to discover who needs help is to determine each dealer's:

  • Current percentage of 10 SEER sales.

  • Number of outdoor units purchased without matching indoor coils.

  • Ability to deal with price objections.

    Higher Prices

    Because these more-efficient systems cost more, 19 percent of respondents are concerned about the higher selling price of 13-SEER equipment. Price was the main reason 12 percent planned to aggressively sell 10 SEER after the 13 SEER requirement takes effect in January.

    Many people fear higher prices will drive consumers towards repairing instead of replacing worn-out equipment. Contractors concerned about price objections often give customers a choice between replacing the old compressor and installing a new condenser for a few bucks more.

    As 13 SEER becomes a reality, the gap between repair and replace becomes much wider. Without the right skills, replacement opportunities take the path of least resistance. Unless something changes now, a lot of companies may find it easier to keep the old stuff limping along, rather than dealing with 13 SEER price objections.

    Everyone who sells anything in this industry needs to know price is not the only factor. If it were, people wouldn't buy in the first place. What matters is discovering and providing the benefits each buyer desires. When given compelling reasons, 80 percent of today's consumers will wait longer and pay more to get what they want.

    Something Has To Change

    Ten percent of respondents rated mismatched systems as their top concern. If a 13-SEER unit is mismatched by hooking it to the old indoor coil, the buyer loses efficiency, capacity, and reliability - if it works at all.

    Indoor coils take time to install. Instead of a service technician installing a 10-SEER condensing unit the day the old one failed, 13 SEER usually requires an installation technician. This specialist must be dispatched to the job, where he must design and fabricate ductwork, then install the coil.

    Because only certified technicians can handle refrigerant, it's likely a service technician must return to start and run-test the new system. Instead of getting cooling tonight, buyers may wait one day - or two days - longer. The toughest objection isn't price; it's having to wait for comfort. If the seller can't provide compelling reasons for buyers to wait, they won't.

    A lot has been said about selling in the 13-SEER world. The typical themes are "sell up," "sell accessories," and "sell high-efficiency comfort." With less than 30 percent of contractors doing this now, it's unrealistic to expect the other 70 percent to start selling whole-house comfort when many struggle to sell a new coil with a 10-SEER condenser. Unless the average contractor's sales skills improve, expect more consumers to choose to repair, not replace.

    Our industry is at a crossroads. If something doesn't change now, we will lose equipment sales next year. Distributors are in the best position to help contractors profitably grow replacement sales. As 2006 unfolds, two types of distributors will emerge - those who train their dealers to sell and make replacement sales happen, and those who don't and ask, "What happened?"

    Steve Howard is the founder of The ACT Group. He can be reached at either 800-515-0034 or

    Publication date: 07/11/2005