Many contractors are about to roll into their busiest time of year with the warmer weather approaching. Phones will ring off the hook for tune-ups, replacement leads and service repair requests.
When it comes to Service Management Operations at this time of year, owners, service managers and sales managers (one person may serve multiple roles) wonder how to best handle service calls with older equipment that is beyond repair, or where the cost of the repair, age of equipment and other factors may warrant the customer considering replacing or upgrading their equipment.
I find that contractors nationwide disagree on whether to promote a technician to a sales position to run leads, let all technicians quote equipment on service calls, or hire a professional salesperson from outside the company.
This debate is one that has raged on in the HVAC industry for years, and you can rest assured that this article will only serve to add fuel to someone's fire, but let's just consider some of the following, understanding there are no right or wrong answers, or better or worse approaches. Your approach should be based on you and your co-workers' beliefs and commitments. I'll share mine here.
I work with my contractor clients to make business decisions in this regard based upon shattering customer expectations and providing extraordinary experiences – THE PROCESS. I believe you should always hire for attitude, commitment, desire, outlook and willingness to take initiative and responsibility and hold co-workers accountable to performance. I advocate having a recruiting system and hiring the best people to work in that system given their ability to execute at the highest possible level. If that is a technician or professional salesperson from outside the company or outside the industry, that's who gets the job – THE PERSON
We then match the PERSON to the PROCESS, which are selected based on our beliefs and commitments and the following criteria:
Desire and passion.
Technicians are technicians for a reason. Most have a drive and desire to fix things and work with their hands. They tend to be thing- or task-oriented. That does not mean they cannot work and communicate with people or be taught how to do so more effectively. However, their passion lies in completing tasks, not building relationships, or they would have chosen a different career.
Top-producing salespeople typically are people-oriented and have a desire, drive and passion in building relationships that yield results. They are not task-oriented, which may explain their paperwork.
Words are key.
Technicians tend to talk about equipment and technical things. How much you know does not impress customers until they know how much you care. This approach can intimidate and confuse a customer, making them feel stupid or overwhelmed. A customer who feels this way will do business elsewhere or not at all.
Top salespeople have natural conversations about real concerns, needs, and wants and present differentiated solutions in a user-friendly, non-technical, non-commodity manner that fully addresses the customer's concerns.
Pay me or pay me not – It's up to me.
A salesperson has no reservations about where their next paycheck is coming from as they believe 100% in their ability to generate income in the blink of an eye. Most technicians are accustomed to receiving a weekly paycheck and want this safety net or security blanket. However, most sales positions usually have a performance-based pay system (mostly, if not all, commission), which most technicians dislike since it could result in them going a week without a paycheck.
Always send a professional to do the job.
A technician may be able to work on the equipment and know all the industry lingo and technical aspects of designing, installing, maintaining and repairing a system.
You can train a technician in sales and communication, but their persona is not usually as good a match at leveraging these skills as a salesperson's mindset, attitude and persona.
In my experience, it is much easier to train a salesperson from outside the industry about the industry, products, and services and have success than it is to teach a technician how to sell with a high level of performance. I am not saying you can't do it, but it is rare.
Seize an Opportunity or Serve the Customer?
Whose best interests are we looking out for?
Most technicians end up in sales by default, not design and desire, since they get "promoted" because no one else steps up, they had some success as a technician selling off service calls, or they are technically competent.
The biggest reason for this tends to be the owner's unwillingness to properly recruit, hire, train and coach the best person for the position, as this requires vast amounts of time. If this is the mindset, then are you truly doing what is in the best interests of the customer and putting the company's best foot forward?
Remember, when a customer calls they call for ONE thing – your expertise. They don't want a price, the thing fixed, etc. They want good information and possibly a little guidance to make a good decision. When a repair becomes a replacement situation, the customer is best served by a professional who can assess people, the home, and the equipment application, and design a complete solution to address the safety, health, comfort, energy management and peace of mind desires of the buyer. This professional must effectively communicate all this information in a manner that compels a buyer to act.
As such, this is where I believe and have seen salespeople, more so than technicians, shatter customer expectations, design extraordinary experiences, and allow companies to excel at the highest levels. And that's the objective of business.
Leads versus calls.
There is a vast difference in a technician who is successful selling off service calls and a salesperson having the ability to sell off open leads that come from a variety of sources. Service calls result from non-functioning or not properly functioning components. The customer's initial perception is a potential repair scenario quoted by a service-oriented technician, which makes the technician's ability to communicate openly with the customer relatively easy, even if one of the recommendations is a system replacement.
Conversely, on an open sales lead, with a source other than a referral or current customer, the customer's anxiety level is elevated and buyer resistance is high because the customer perceives the salesperson is going to try to sell them something they don't want, don't need, can't afford or don't understand. Now is when excellent people and communication skills are required most.
You only get ONE shot.
Customers are like comets – they only come around once in a great while. You only get ONE opportunity to make the proper qualification and presentation. A person with good people and communication skills will be more apt to build a bond, rapport, trust, respect and gain a mutual commitment to work with a customer toward a common endeavor than a technically competent individual. The person who best builds the relationship with a prospect usually earns the customer's business.
When a customer calls your company, they want your expertise and are willing to pay for it. If the call is initially for a repair, then a technician is the proper expert. If the call is for replacement or the repair call turns into a replacement opportunity, then a salesperson, knowledgeable in the latest equipment, equipment and duct sizing, installation applications, solving comfort, IAQ and energy concerns, building value and relationships, etc., is the proper expert.
Take your best shot because that's what your customer wants and that's what your company deserves.
Nothing is absolute.
The success that certain companies have converting technicians to salespeople or utilizing selling technicians is undeniable. However, hiring the right people for the right job and training them properly is easier, more cost-effective and results-oriented than trying to train someone, and change that which is inherent to their personality and possibly even their genetic makeup. You can teach many sales traits, skills, concepts and mindsets, but this does not mean someone will adopt these characteristics or that someone else may be better suited as a candidate.
Animal instincts are second nature.
A cheetah cannot change its spots to stripes and become a tiger, even if you have trained the cheetah to mimic a tiger's tendencies and behavior. A cheetah's natural instincts are to be a cheetah, and no amount of tiger training will ever change that.
In sales, top producing salespeople learn sales behaviors and techniques during their training and integrate them into their sales process whereby they become second nature to the point that the salesperson acts instinctively without thinking about the process or next move. This is similar to how technicians can instinctively perform a diagnostic or repair.
People who perform in roles that come more naturally to them tend to perform better than those who adopt roles out of necessity.
Hire PEOPLE and design your PROCESS accordingly.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Drew Cameron, America’s Most Sought After Sales & Marketing Strategy Adviser to Home Services Contractors, is president of HVAC Sellutions & Energy Design Systems, Inc.; the premier alliance providing industry-leading marketing planning, budgeting, content and support; sales recruiting, education, coaching, consulting and performance enhancement for Home Services Contractors; and design and economic analysis sales software for HVAC and Home Performance companies. Drew’s 40 years of experience in all facets of running a residential contracting business helps contractors implement effective lead development strategies and build multi-million-dollar profit-generating home services companies. Drew is a renowned author, educator, coach, consultant, inspirational/educational/”irritational” speaker, software developer, industry philanthropist, and a Tom McCart International Consultant Award Winner as well as a Board member, a Foundation Board Trustee, and a Contractor University Founder & Faculty member for Electric & Gas industries Association (EGIA); a Service Roundtable Consult & Coach Partner & Preferred Vendor; and an Air Conditioning Contractors of America (ACCA) member.