Welcome to the first of what we hope will be many advice columns byThe News’contractor consultants. This issue’s topic offers tips on selling accessories and components, also known as add-ons.

We have made one change to our panel of contractor consultants. Laura Pearman has been replaced with Harry Friedman, general manager of N&M A/C & Heating/Blue Dot, Sarasota, FL, a residential and light commercial contractor.

Residential contractor views

Scott Getzschmansaid his employees are encouraged to suggest options and available add-on products at every opportunity.

“Service techs are encouraged to share our maintenance agreements on each call,” he said. “They are also asked to share our indoor air products, which include filters, UV lights, humidifiers, and our duct-cleaning services.

“There is no real pressure to sell or to make the customer buy. We are just making the customer aware of choices they have to improve their system and quality of life.

“Our comfort advisors are encouraged to listen to their needs and offer solutions to their concerns. We find that many competitors only want to sell equipment — not solutions.”

David Dombrowski said he feels many customers are not informed of the availability of specialty items in the market that might make their homes more comfortable and efficient.

“Our people look for common-sense, solid, practical items,” he said. “We discuss electronic setback thermostats in homes with two systems and/or a working couple. We discuss health concerns, such as filtration and humidity control. We discuss bringing systems up to current code, and common-sense items such as float switches.

“Some items sell themselves, but we always must review them for the issue of customer care. For example, it may not be in the best interest to offer a stay-at-home elderly couple a setback thermostat when they possibly should be offered a thermostat with a larger digital readout.”

Steve Miles said he believes the first requirement for successful add-on sales is to educate all of his employees, including office personnel and technicians, so that they believe in the benefits add-ons provide to the customer.

“I try to encourage our representatives to suggest add-on equipment by asking questions such as, ‘Does anyone in the family have allergies? What are they allergic to? Do you ever notice dryness in your nose or throat during the winter? Do you have any static electricity problems?’

“Customer response is usually positive to suggestions that they see a benefit from.”

Tom DiPietro concurred that IAQ is a hot button and should be discussed with the customers — using proper names and terms.

“We have the customer fill out a questionnaire during our presentation, listing the five most important benefits of a new system,” said DiPietro. “Without a doubt, IAQ comes up in the top five every time.

“We find that customers welcome IAQ suggestions and try to find ways to purchase recommended equipment.”

Moreover, “Customers are glad that we explain their options even if they do not elect to purchase an item.”

Bob Dobrowski said that having add-on products in the truck, ready to sell, is often advantageous.

“Programmable thermostats, smoke alarms, and CO2 detectors are all available at any local hardware store,” he pointed out. “Have you noticed these items are sold for less than what we sell them for? You will not move these add-on products if they are not on the truck when offered.

“A lack of products are like the service call you failed to book.

“Our customers are becoming self-educated,” he continued. “So selling by the seat of your pants will not get it anymore. I suggest to anyone offering add-on products to step up to the next level — our customers will demand that we have product knowledge.”

Harry Friedman said that offering value-added products and services are important parts of the sales process.

“Sometimes the sale of value-added products is what makes the profit margin tolerable in today’s competitive marketplace. Customers want choices. Offering informed options gives the customer a sense of control over the decision-making process.

“Rarely is there ever any negative feedback from a customer for offering a product or service that will help them.”

Commercial Contractor Views

Jeff Somerssaid that technicians should be empowered to sell. They should be given fixed pricing and the ability to custom-quote customers who want additional products and services.

“During the sales presentation, we advise customers of the high-quality pleated filter that we use,” he said. “In addition, condensate pan treatment is offered and usually included in our maintenance contracts.

“Scheduled, prepaid coil cleaning is also offered. Additional products suggested are digital thermostats, low ambient controls, and automation system support and maintenance.

“Most of the customer comments are regarding price and what the improvement is going to do for the system and occupants of the building.”

Bill Flynn said he likes the idea of partnering with vendors to offer a nice, neat package to customers. He believes in single-source solutions. For one reason, he said add-on products are usually not prevalent in commercial sales:

“You need a consultative sales approach where you identify the buildings’ needs and provide a comprehensive solution,” he said. “By partnering with other qualified vendors, you develop a bundled package of products and services that achieves the customer’s objectives.

“This package can include traditional hvac products and services, as well as some creative ones, such as roofs and windows.”

Tom D’Agostino said that suggesting add-on products produces astounding results, because the customer develops a faith in the technician.

“Hvac service work is linked closely to our performance service contracts,” he added. “The pull-through dollars generated is at least 2 to 1. This means customers have the opportunity to ask for additional work by our technicians several times each year.

“We will, very often, sell humidifiers, setback thermostats, new furnaces, plumbing repairs, and additional service contracts.

“All we ask of our technicians is that they sell fairly and honestly and to put themselves in the shoes of the customer.”

Hank Bloom said that customers are often very busy, tied up in their own world of business. That’s why they appreciate people who look out for their business.

“We encourage our employees to sell during all sales presentations, service calls, and in project planning stages,” he said. “We encourage them to sell in the field because the best salespeople are the ones who are on the job [at the time].

“We’ve asked them to sell refrigerant retrofits, equipment changeouts, automation and controls add-ons or upgrades, IAQ add-ons, or monitoring devices.

“Offer lifecycle paybacks while being a single-source provider — and don’t point fingers.”