Technician Selling – Part of the Solution

Tired of losing customers? Worried about lost volume, record high prices, and pressure from discounters? Experiencing increased natural gas conversions? Your Technicians are an integral part of addressing all these issues facing you today. But here is the dilemma: you have trained them to fix things, but not to interact with the customer and sell, sell, sell.

Has this happened to you? Mrs. Jones is a long time loyal customer and she calls in one day to close her account. You get on the phone and ask Mrs. Jones why she is leaving you. She relates that she had an A/C problem this past summer and replaced her system. The HVAC company recommended gas and she replaced the furnace and A/C at the same time. The kicker is she never knew you worked on A/C; your Techs never recommended new equipment or mentioned A/C services to her. How about Mr. Smith, another longtime customer who had a problem with his boiler. He called the local plumber instead of you, (possibly because your Tech didn’t want to do the work) who recommended a new gas boiler because his was 30+ years old and inefficient. Your Techs never recommended new equipment or let him know you do plumbing work.

As I travel and meet with marketers today, I hear an increasing frustration with their Technician workforce. Their businesses are under pressure, they are losing sales and customers, and when they bring this up, the Technicians say “what you want from me, I’m doing my part. I’m running calls and doing tune-ups.” When marketers challenge them to recommend repair vs. replace, offer indoor air quality options and recommend billable work the Technicians say, “Not my job. You didn’t hire me to be a salesman.” But it is their job and will be going forward. You have to recruit, hire, and train Technicians with selling skills to compete and thrive in today’s environment.

You need to change your hiring practices. Stop hiring the “other guy’s” Technician. Unless the business went under, why would you hire his cast off? Get off the treadmill of swapping Technicians with your competitor and start hiring with new skill sets in mind. Interpersonal skills, selling skills, and a desire to delight the customer should come before training and certifications. Interview and reference questions should focus on these important skills and abilities. Ask the candidate questions such as how much did he sell in the last 12 months? How much time does he spend during a service call talking to the customer? What does he think about the new equipment available? Does he recommend it when appropriate?

When I meet with Technicians I hear these typical objections: I wasn’t hired to sell, I fix things; we charge too much for our equipment and services; if we replace a lot of older equipment, they won’t need me anymore; there’s nothing wrong with the older equipment, you’re asking me to sell customers things they don’t need or want. It is essential that you break down these objections. The simple facts are that you charge a very fair market value for your equipment and services, in some case you aren’t charging enough. Here is the kicker – if you aren’t selling, then someone else will, and you will lose the customers and the sales. Technicians have to sell (only when appropriate, honestly, and ethically), and if you have some that won’t, you need to replace them.

Here is a suggestion: the next time you need to hire a Technician, recruit an experienced HVAC Tech from one of the local HVAC companies. You typically have some recruiting advantages: you guaranty 40 hours a week (a lot of HVAC companies don’t), a good wage and benefits, and the opportunity to sell, sell, sell. You can teach the oil side more easily. Not to mention, a good HVAC Tech is not only competent technically on A/C, gas, and heat pumps (all your oil burner guys are too, right?), he already knows how to sell or he wouldn’t have lasted at the HVAC company! I’ve done this successfully a number of times and the best part is, once on board, they start influencing their peer group. The HVAC Technician gets it; he is trained to sell and has good interpersonal skills to delight the customer. Some of your Oil Burner Technicians will never get this and you have some hard choices to make so your business can compete and thrive. Start now. The next Technician that quits or retires, hire an HVAC Technician and watch what happens.

Sales training for the Technicians is very important. There are some great vendors out there that can provide it and you should augment with your own success stories. Lead-tracking is a must: leads need to be tracked, assigned to a Technician, and an outcome achieved. Incentive plans are critical to the success of the program. Incentives need to be tracked and paid in a timely, accurate manner. Nothing kills morale more with your Technicians than if they think they aren’t getting paid. The beauty of the incentive plan is that the Techs can give themselves a raise! How many times have you had a conversation about a raise in the Tech’s hourly rate? Do you base it on time with the company, performance, or licenses held? Times are tough and giving raises isn’t easy. Use the incentive plan to let the Techs give themselves a raise with no limits!

Profitability in your service department has never been more important. Keeping the competition out of the basement is critical and involving your Technicians in the selling process is integral to this. Full-service dealers must treat their service departments as stand-alone profit centers, much like an HVAC company does. Your Technicians must sell. You need to train them and set expectations. Remember, if you don’t someone else will.

By Tim Quinn