Jim adjourned the weekly service meeting and watched as his technicians gathered in the parking lot for the unofficial service meeting. This is where the grumblers grumbled, the gripers griped, the gossipers gossiped, and the no-drama guys pushed through it to focus on getting their jobs done.
Mountain Air, Jim’s company had recently embraced a “connected home” strategy, where customers could buy thermostats, water alarms, water shut off valves, cameras, light switches, door and window sensors, door locks, and garage door openers that were all integrated through an app the company white labeled. By integrating the connected home monitoring with the company’s standard air conditioning service agreement, Mountain Air could offer an integrated service to its customers that would prevent breakdowns, stop some home disasters like floods, and increase peace of mind. For Mountain Air, it securely tied customers to the company, added to the product offering, differentiated the company from competitors, and created a recurring revenue stream that would give the company a secure future against the private equity owned contractors. The problem was his techs were simply not offering it.
All he wanted was for the guys to hand the homeowner some literature and answer questions, but he wasn’t getting any traction. Was it a problem of understanding the products and the consumer benefits? He didn’t think so.
Bennie, the service manager walked into Jim’s office. Jim looked at him, “Any idea what the buzz is?”
“I think it’s a couple of things,” said Bennie.
“First, they just aren’t comfortable talking about it, so they don’t. If one of them took the lead, the others might follow.”
“And you’re asking them to sell. That’s a four-letter word for technicians.”
“Damn it,” said Jim. “I’m not asking them to sell. I’m just asking them to talk about it.”
“They see it as selling. They like the kits you gave them for their homes, but they’re still reluctant to talk about it.”
“Who do you think I’ve got the best chance of breaking through to?”
“Believe it or not, I think Tony’s your best shot.”
“Tony? He’s the hardest case of all of them.”
“And if we can get Tony to come around, the rest of them will too.”
“Alright. Tell him to come see me tomorrow morning.”
Near the end of the day after his last service call, Tony stuck his head in Jim’s office. “You wanted to see me, Boss?” he asked.
Jim waved him in. Tony was a good-looking young man. He was clean cut and presented himself well. He usually wore a smile and was the type of person other people warmed up to. Jim wished the rest of his techs looked as good as Tony. He realized Bennie was right to pick Tony for multiple reasons. If Tony only tried halfway to talk about the connected home products, people would enroll in the program left and right.
“Have a seat, Tony.”
“Did I do something wrong?”
“No, it’s not that you’ve done anything wrong. It’s what you aren’t doing. Why don’t you talk to customers about the connected home products.”
Tony shifted uncomfortably and broke eye contact. “Boss, I’m a technician. I don’t sell stuff. It doesn’t feel right.”
“You never sell?”
Jim thought for a second. “Tony, you just got married a couple of years ago, right?”
“And you’ve got a new baby?”
“Maddie’s just turned six months,” said Tony with pride.
“Your wife’s Susan, right? How did you ever get her to go out on a date with you?”
Tony laughed. “Well, it wasn’t easy. She’s a manager at a convenience store. I started buying coffee there every morning. I had to persuade her to go to a Zac Brown concert with me.”
“She didn’t want to go out with a customer. It wasn’t easy. Zac Brown tickets helped.”
“So you persuaded her, huh.”
“You mean, you sold her on the benefits of a date with you. I thought you said you never sell.”
“Aw Boss, that’s not the same thing.”
“It’s not? Sounds like selling to me. Look, Tony, everyone sells. You just wait until your little girl grows up and y’all are standing in the line of a store and she sees something she wants and tries to get you to buy it for her. I’ll bet she’ll be a really good salesperson.”
“Probably,” conceded Tony, thinking about how hard it would be for him to say no to his little girl.
“The problem, Tony, is you think sales is something you do ‘to people.’ It’s not. It’s something you do ‘for people.’ Did you know that Tom McCart, the first salesperson in our industry to sell a million dollars a year, way back in the 70s, had ‘Assistant Buyer’ printed on his business cards? When someone asked him about it, he said his job was to help his customers buy the best comfort system for their circumstances.”
“Okay, but I’m not a salesperson. I don’t want to be one. I’m a technician. If a system is really old and the repair is really expensive, I turn it over to Chuck or Todd, just like I’m supposed to.”
“I know. And Chuck and Todd appreciate the leads. But that’s beside the point. I want you to help people.”
“I do help people,” said Tony a little defensively. “I like helping people.”
“I know you do. That’s why I’d like you to let people know about our connected home products. Heck, all you have to do is hand them the literature we give you at the start of a service call and answer questions if they ask. You can even say, ‘They make me give you this’ when you hand them the literature.”
“It doesn’t feel right. It’s like we’re trying to trick them of something.”
Jim leaned back and thought for a second. He felt his phone buzz and touched a button on the side to silence it, then looked up at Tony. “Man, I love this phone. I remember when it was time to get a new one. I went online and read all of these reviews on tech sites. I asked people about their phones. I knew that whatever I got, I would probably be stuck with it for a few years, and I didn’t want to make a mistake.”
“Yeah,” said Tony. “I know what you mean. It gets really confusing.”
“You know what I finally did?”
Jim laughed out loud. Barb was his wife and it was well known around the company that Jim pretty much did whatever she wanted. “I did actually. She wasn’t any help. I ended up going to the phone store.”
“I walked in and asked for the guy who’d been there the longest. Turned out the ‘guy’ was a young woman named Jill. I asked her to explain the pros and cons of each phone. Do you know what she did?”
“She started asking me questions.”
“She asked me what I did for a living. Then, she asked how I used my phone, where I used it, and how much I used it. She asked me what type of computer I used. She asked me what apps I used. She asked me about my budget. Only then, she started showing me the phones.”
“She was selling you.”
“Yes, in a way. I asked for the most experienced person because I wanted the person with the most knowledge. Jill knew her stuff. What she was really doing was helping me find the right phone for me, for my circumstances. I didn’t really think of her selling me as much as helping me.”
“Okay, but you walked into that. You were asking for it. Nobody is asking us about the connected home crap.”
Crap, thought Jim to himself. Man, this kid has an attitude. He said, “Well you know why no one asks about it?”
“Because no one knows we offer it.”
“Because we’re a heating and air company, not a connected home company.”
“Actually, we’re both. And who is better than us to talk with our customers about connected home products? Do you think some kid with a few hours of training, going door-to-door cold calling, knows anything about the comfort system? Thermostats are part of almost every connected home solution. How many times have you run into a screwed-up system because one of the connected home yahoos didn’t understand HVAC controls?”
“A few,” admitted Tony.
“That’s one of the reasons we should be letting our customers know about what we can do.”
“I’m just putting myself in the customer’s shoes, Boss. I wouldn’t want someone pushing these things on me, so I’m not pushing them on anyone else. You know, the Golden Rule. Do unto others and all of that stuff.”
“The Golden Rule works great until you run into a masochist,” quipped Jim.
“Masochist. Someone who seems to enjoy pain and suffering. You know, a Lions fan.”
Tony chuckled, thinking about Bennie, the company service manager and a major Lions fan who went through agony every football season.
Jim said, “The Golden Rule is to treat people like you want to be treated. The problem is everyone’s not you.”
“The world would be a better place if they were,” answered Tony deadpan.
Jim laughed. “Oh yeah. I can just imagine a world of Tonys.”
Tony couldn’t hold it and chuckled with Jim. “Okay, maybe the world’s not ready for that much Tony-ness.”
“So instead of the Golden Rule, why not practice the Platinum rule” asked Jim.
“What’s the Platinum Rule?”
“Treat people the way they want to be treated.”
“Well, just how do I know how people want to be treated?”
“Ask them. Why do you think I ask everyone in the company to make a vision board,” asked Jim, referring to the individual vision boards along one hall of the company. Each vision board contains images of things or experiences the employee wants.
Jim could see Tony was thinking. “The vision boards help me know how to help everyone achieve the things they want through the company.”
Jim paused before continuing. “I want to add something else, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.”
“What?” asked Tony a little defensively.
“Remember Francis, the tech I fired?”
“What about him?”
“What did he do?”
“He sold people stuff they didn’t need, like when he talked that old woman into replacing a two-year-old heat pump. This is exactly what I’m talking about. This is why techs should never sell.”
“Are you saying all techs are like Francis?”
“No. I’m not anything like that SOB.”
“I agree. You aren’t like him, which is why he’s not here and you are. The old woman just wanted to be comfortable. The problem was inadequate return air. Francis knew that. I know he knew that, yet he never discussed it with her. The only choice he gave her was a new heat pump or nothing. What do you call that?”
“Dishonest. Unethical. Crooked,” said Tony.
“How about arrogant?”
“Yeah, that too.”
Jim took a deep breath. “You know, you’re just as arrogant.”
“Me? What are you talking about?”
“Are you sure you can take it?”
“Yeah! I want to know how I’m arrogant.”
“You’re just as arrogant as Francis, but in a different way. You act like you know better than our customers what they will want or don’t want and what they need or don’t need, so you never let them know what their options are, and what’s available. That’s making a decision for them. That’s arrogance.”
Jim watched Tony fume. This was touchy. If he handled this the wrong way, Tony would quit. That might not be a bad thing if Tony was influencing other techs the wrong way. Still, it was hard to find techs. Jim much preferred keeping Tony.
After letting Tony stew for a minute, Jim said, “I know you’re mad. I just want you to think about it. And, have I ever asked you to do something unethical?”
“So go home and think about what we talked about. Okay?”
Tony was mad. He wasn’t quite steaming mad, but he was close. He thought about quitting. It would be easy to get a job with another company. But, he wondered, would it be any better?
Rudy left a year ago, telling everyone about all of the money he was going to make. Reality differed. He didn’t make much more than he did at Mountain Air. Plus, he worked his butt off. Rudy complained about the constant pressure to boost his average ticket. To a point, Tony understood the need. It cost a lot of money to position a fully stocked truck with a highly trained technician at a customer’s house. Every extra dollar generated on a service call was important. But pressuring people wasn’t something most techs wanted to do or were any good at.
When he got home, Tony greeted Susan, his wife, and went to check on his daughter, Maddie. She was in her playpen, batting at a mobile. Tony felt himself calm a little after watching his daughter. She was so cute!
Apparently, he didn’t calm enough for Susan. At dinner, she asked, “So what’s up? Is something going on at work?”
Wives, he thought. It was like she could read his mind. “They’re just pissing me off,” he said.
“Jim wants me to push the connected home crap on customers?”
“What do you mean, ‘push?’”
Tony sighed. “They want us to hand out literature and talk to customers about it.”
“Why not? It’s awesome. At least, the stuff Jim had installed here is. Whenever someone rings the doorbell and I’m at work, I can talk with the person through my phone. The thermostat automatically turns up when we both leave the geofence and turns down when one of us returns. That’s saving us a lot of money on the power bill. Plus, I love the extra indoor camera because it helps me keep an eye on Maddie after I pick her up from daycare.”
Tony just stared at his wife. When Jim unveiled the connected home program, he had a rep work with every tech to install a basic package on another employee’s home. The guys in apartments or rentals got a more limited package. Jim did the same thing with service agreements. Everyone in the company who owned a home had a service agreement, but techs weren’t allowed to maintain their own systems because, as Jim says, they would never do it. Left to themselves, techs have the most poorly maintained comfort systems in town.
“Hello,” said Susan, snapping Tony out of his thoughts. “Earth to Tony.”
“We had setback thermostats before. I don’t see how that saves us money.”
“Pffft,” said Susan. “We may have had them. We sure didn’t use them. I don’t think they were ever programmed.”
Susan cocked her head at her husband. “Hey, wait a second. You haven’t even opened the app, have you?”
“Sure I have.”
“Hand me your phone.”
“I’m not going to hand you my phone,” said Tony, reaching for it.
Susan was too fast. She grabbed his phone and knowing his password, unlocked it. She looked up after fiddling with it for a few minutes and handed it back. “There, I’ve set it up so you get notifications on the app. You’ll know when the doors opens, when the doorbell rings, and when there’s activity on the cameras.”
The next day Tony heard a click on his phone when he was at a stoplight. He thumbed down the notice. The door to the garage had opened. Apparently, Susan was on the day to daycare with Maddie. About a half hour later he checked the app again and saw that after Susan left the geofence, the setpoint changed 82 degrees.
Throughout the day, Tony watched the app as a package was delivered. When Susan returned home with Maddie, he was able to watch his daughter crawl around on the floor. Grudgingly, he had to admit it was cool.
The next morning, Tony gathered his paperwork before approaching a home on his first service call. He stopped for a second and as an afterthought, grabbed the connected home flyer, which he handed to the homeowner.
After the work was complete and Tony was collecting payment, his customer, Mrs. Teal asked him about the connected home. “Can you tell me about this?”
“It’s some new stuff the company is offering. You know, cameras and sensors and switches and stuff. So, you can follow what’s going on in your home.”
“Does it work?”
“Yeah. I’ve got it at my home. Here, you can see where a guy dropped off a package yesterday,” said Tony, showing Mrs. Teal the recorded video on his phone.
“What else can it do?”
“Well, we can put a sensor on your doors, so that you get a notification whenever they’re opened.”
“My liquor cabinet door? I mean, I have a teenage son and believe in ‘trust but verify’ when it comes to teenagers.”
Tony laughed, “Sure. We can do that.”
Despite himself, three of Tony’s customers bought connected home packages that week. Mrs. Teal was already a service agreement customer and it was just added to her existing service agreement. The other two bought the connected home/service agreement bundle.
When Jim saw Tony at the shop on Friday, he could hardly contain himself. “Tony!,” he shouted, “My man. Getting some connected home spiffs this week. Tell me what happened.”
Tony knew this was coming. “Aw Boss. It was like this. I hadn’t really used the stuff, but Susan had and she loves it. She kinda sold me on using it and the product sort of sold itself after that. So I admit, it is pretty cool and pretty useful.”
“Susan, huh,” said Jim. “Well, I guess it is true. Everybody sells.”
“Whatever you say, Boss.”
Jim went back to his office. He tried to recall the conversation he had with Tony that seemed to go better than he thought. He wrote…
- Sales are not something you do to people. It’s something you do for people.
- Everybody sells.
- Fundamentally sales are helping people.
- The platinum rule is to treat people the way they want to be treated.
- Withholding information and options from customers is arrogant.
- Ultimately, sales is the transference of belief and you must own a product to believe in it.
If you enjoy Comanche Marketing and would like to see it continue, drop a note to Matt Michel.
Matt is the 35th and youngest person to be inducted into the Contracting Business Hall of Fame. The Air Conditioning Heating & Refrigeration NEWS presented Matt with the 2018 “Legends of HVACR” Award. Contracting Business Magazine named Matt one of the 22 most influential people in the history of the residential HVAC/R industry. Contractor Magazine named him one of the 18 most influential people in the history of the plumbing/hydronics industries (Matt is the only person to appear on both the Contracting Business and Contractor lists). The Air Conditioning, Heating & Refrigeration NEWS named Matt one of the top five business advisors in the HVAC industry. He can be reached at email@example.com or by mobile at 214.995.8889.