Written on: June 27, 2013 by Roger Daviston
Editor’s note: Part I of this article appeared in the June 2013 printed edition of ICM. For the benefit of our readers, we present the COMPLETE article below. Contact information for Roger follows this article.
Relationship opens the door to revenue. Plumbers, and technicians, who focus on the relationship as opposed to the transaction, will have more transactions over time. Technicians must identify with the role of trusted advisor in a relationship (not a salesperson), which means it is your job to ask questions, find pain, and help others make the best choice for themselves—like a doctor. Sometimes, the best choice for them is to say “no” to your recommendations. We all have the right to ask questions of others and we all have the right to say “yes” or “no” to those requests. If you can advise people and lead them to say “yes” or “no,” many of them will say “yes” once you have established trust.
Trust is not established by controlling and eliminating the other’s right to say “no.” Traditional sales methods teach us to present and overcome stalls and objections and make people say “yes.” I believe that if you open up a space for others to say “no,” it allows more room for them to say “yes.”
I own a life insurance policy that I purchased from a man who I have known for a long time, a man I like and trust. In fact, we are very close friends. I purchased this policy from him because of our relationship. However, the company that holds the policy has terrible customer service and communicates everything through direct mail. I needed to notify the company about my change in bank accounts and it took three months and four phone calls for them to finally make the correct change. If it were not for my relationship with my friend, I would change companies; however, my relationship with him is so strong I wouldn’t even consider it.
There are four different kinds of relationships in business and each type needs to be treated differently. These relationships can be defined as suspects, prospects, customers and clients:
Each person you come into contact with is a suspect for your business. You do not know them, they do not know you and there is no established relationship. You can establish that relationship with communication, and good communicators are quick at building rapport. Rapport builds trust. I have a client in Lincoln Nebraska named Harris and he is an HVAC Tech. One day, as he was getting gas, he struck up a conversation with a gentleman who noticed his truck. He was able to set an appointment for a service call and by the end of the afternoon, he had set another appointment for the owner to go out the next day and advise this new prospect on a replacement. The next day, Rick (the owner) sold a nice change-out for about $9,000. Open your eyes, because there are suspects standing all around who have needs to fulfill and money to spend. They are just looking for someone they can trust.
A prospect is someone who has never given you money, but knows who you are and may have called you. These are the new people who call. Your goal should be to establish that relationship of trust. You don’t do this by running straight to the furnace and sticking your head in the problem. You must focus on the relationship, much like you would if you were at a party. You have to learn how to warm up to people and encourage them to talk about themselves. SLOW DOWN, but don’t take more time. There is a great book out there called “How To Talk To Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships,” written by Leil Lowndes. If you can get the prospects to talk about themselves, you’re probably going to turn them into customers.
A customer is a person who has given you money at least once. There is an established level of rapport, but you have not established a trusted advisor relationship yet. Our goal is to nurture them along and serve them with love. That sounds strange, but stay with me. By “love” I mean putting their needs above your needs. Have an attitude of service to many and serve others in love and you will make a fortune over a lifetime. Services to others are like seeds that multiply and grow over time. It takes patience to produce a client.
A client is a person who has given you money several times over an extended period of time and trusts you completely because your past behavior has earned this trust. Businesses that build these relationships over time will encounter a lot of transactions that are easy to make. The relationship is natural, the communication is easy, and sales simply happen. There is no need for a sales process, you only need to advise them and help them make the best choice for themselves. One never has to sell a client anything; they just buy from you.
Please understand the emotional process from the prospect’s point-of-view for a moment. Let’s pretend we are going on our first call to Mrs. Jones. She has no heat and it is very cold outside. She has invited six women over tonight for their monthly quilting club. Does she feel well or does she have anxiety? That’s right, she is very anxious and there are a lot of unknowns.
First, get out of your truck or van immediately upon arrival because she is probably looking out the window and may even meet you in the drive. It frustrates, aggravates, and adds to her anxiety if you sit in your truck. Sitting in the van and doing paperwork or calling the office is a rapport killer. DO NOT DO THIS!
Get out of the truck very quickly with a spring in your step and a smile on your face, because they are wondering what kind of person you are. A good first impression will make a difference and help you. Also, make sure you are presentable, clean, and smell nice. For guys and gals who smoke, the odor is not helping you. If you must smoke, plan to do it afterwards to avoid the odor or get some breath mints.
Let me give you an example to illustrate my point. Some years ago, I had to call a plumber and within the first 10 seconds, I had a terrible experience in my kitchen as he talked. He was 20 minutes late and did not call. When he arrived at the door; I could smell onions on his breath and see fresh ketchup on his shirt. I even knew which BBQ place he had eaten at because I recognized the distinct odor. All he said was, “Sorry I’m late; I just ate lunch.” My mind went blank. I did not listen to anything he had to say and certainly was not going to hire him. He was probably a nice gentleman, but it started out all wrong. Bye-bye relationship and bye-bye money!
When you walk out the door, assuming you have solved the customer’s problem, do you know how they are feeling? Are they feeling better? Certainly. In the above example, let’s pretend that you fixed Mrs. Jones’s heat and heroically rescued her party. She gives you a tip of $40, you walk to your van and you sit in her driveway for 10 minutes doing all your paperwork, calls, and all the work the office requires you to do. You also wait on your next call.
Meanwhile, Mrs. Jones wonders why in the world you are sitting in her driveway. She might think you are casing the neighborhood. Perhaps she thinks you didn’t charge enough and are coming back in for more money. Who knows? But it’s not helping you. Please leave immediately. The customer feels good; don’t blow it with this mistake.
Women in particular have told me that this bothers them. I’ve ridden on thousands of service calls as an observer and this mistake will cause people not to call back. Respect their space and leave. If necessary, pull down the road out of site to do any necessary paperwork or phone calls.
Be kind and express gratitude. These people have asked you into their home and have given you an opportunity to serve them. They actually write your paycheck, whether you know it or not. Without this opportunity, you might be sitting at home unemployed. Be sincere. Thank them for allowing you to come out and remember, it’s all about them, not you. You are there to serve them. I usually say something like this, but it’s important to be yourself: “Thanks for letting us come out this morning and we really appreciate it. How can I best help you today?”
Let me illustrate this point. I trained a new electrician for a company and on his first call, I told him to let me be the voice and he could be the hands. The person we were visiting was a new prospect who called because he received a direct mail piece. When he invited us in, we chatted in the hall and then I asked him the question. “Thanks for inviting us out. Tell me how we can best help you today?” His response was instant connection and rapport. He relaxed and said, “Wow, nobody ever cares. I really appreciate your attitude.” We fixed four electrical problems and sold a $398 whole-house service agreement for HVAC, electrical and plumbing. It was a nice ticket for over $1,500. But there was no selling; the customer just picked us after we established the trust through rapport at the door. Sometimes it happens fast.
No Rapport, No Trust! No Trust, No Relationship! No Relationship, No Transaction!
Do What They Called You to Do
We do not have the right and it is not appropriate to bring up other issues in the home until we have solved the problem for which we were called. This can come across as self-serving and stinks of sales. Now I know that every call is different and people and situations are complex; but, in general, focus on the problem at hand and present your solution and receive their agreement.
If you were to go to the doctor with a sore throat and he started endorsing their new health and wellness program before he looked at your throat, and then prescribed something for you, it would be inappropriate. Stop selling and start serving. But stop fixing then leaving. Serving involves asking questions and finding needs.
How and When to Explore Further
Art and I were called to a client’s house to fix a leak in a sink and a faucet. We focused on that, presented the repairs, and got permission to do the work, which we completed. The customer was happy. Now, we could ask other questions and find more pain, which we did. This is what it sounded like after we had been there an hour and had fixed two problems:
Roger: “Mrs. Smith, did you know that we do heating and AC work?”
Mrs. Smith: “No.”
Roger: “I’m just curious. Do you have a company you trust that takes care of your systems?”
Mrs. Smith: “ No.”
Roger: “You have lived here five years and you don’t have your systems serviced?”
Mrs. Smith: “Am I supposed to have them serviced?
Roger: “You change your filters, right?”
Mrs. Smith: I have filters?”
When we found the filters, she exclaimed, “Yuck, that’s disgusting!”
We had found more pain and she had money, so guess what she purchased. That’s right—an HVAC service agreement on a plumbing call. The situation resulted in a very nice ticket of over $1,500. Serve, serve, serve. We helped this client by taking care of her initial problem and discovering other issues. The key here is discovery. We never pushed; we simply asked good questions and discovered more pain that was less obvious, but still existed. This is what a good, trusted adviser does.
Where to Present the Repair
The furnace, boiler, sink, toilet or whatever is broken is the source of the client’s problem and anxiety. It’s good to talk with them about their pain in front of the problem, but it’s not good to present the solution standing over the problem. We must interrupt the pattern by moving them away from the source of their anxiety. Go anywhere, just move. The customer will be much more open to your solution if you can help them change their state. This is simple to do; just ask them if you can go to a comfortable place so you can spread out your book, papers, or work sheet.
This strategy also applies to salespeople. Once, Pat and I were on a referral to recommend replacement options for a new system. We were getting nowhere. We had very poor connection and little rapport. As we stood in front of the old furnace, Pat pointed out a serious problem with the water heater vent and the lady went into a panic because her mother almost died from something similar. We had found a major need, but had no rapport, which is unusual.
The customer’s arms were crossed and she was not very talkative. Pat made a rookie mistake and started trying to make her feel better by talking about solutions while standing in front of the water heater. He went into presentation mode while the customer was closed off emotionally. It was going poorly. I was able to get the customer to walk outside to the backyard and she relaxed. We talked about the birds singing, the nice sunny day, and then she began talking about the room addition that they dreamed of. At that point, we were able to reset and come back to meet with her and her husband. This never would have happened in front of the water heater.
How to Approach the Subject Service Agreement
I believe it is best to wait until the end, after the customer is feeling better emotionally. Once you have fixed their problem, they will be more open to listening to you. Always take the customer around and show them what you have done so they can see it. A picture speaks a thousand words and they will have positive emotions about what you have done.
You are now Superman or woman to them and they are ready to pay you back with money. I have seen customers get out their checkbook and start filling it out. They want to pay you and this is a great time to ask permission to show them how they can save before they write that check. Simply ask for permission to show them—then show them. In my experience, a technician with good communication skills can achieve a 60% conversion rate if it’s done this way. Do not go in pitching a service agreement at the door unless that’s why they called you out.
Don’t Miss the Replacement Opportunities,
Set Appointments for Later
I do not know why this works, but I know it does. I had to knock on doors and hope people would let me into their houses to sell HVAC. We learned how to do it by experimenting with different behaviors. We found people were most willing to set non-threatening appointments for later. Therefore, we learned how to set appointments.
Setting an appointment is a qualifier, much like a service call fee for plumbing is a qualifier. If you wave that fee, it is much more difficult to bring in the repair. If you don’t set the appointment, it’s much more difficult to make the sale when the customer is not in a lot of pain. It’s easy to make a sale in extreme weather and it doesn’t make sense to set an appointment in this context. However, the weather is not extreme most of the year. When someone has a repair, all you have to do is ask them if they would like to set an appointment to have a comfort adviser (or whatever you call them) come out and go over options for replacement. You’ll be amazed at the number of people who will change out systems that could be repaired.
The appointment helps them get comfortable with the idea of replacement. We got so good at setting appointments that we decided to just go on in the house and not wait. When we made this change and skipped the appointment setting process, customers would back and out and change their minds. I think it was too much too fast.
Need vs. Want
Rick, my client in Nebraska, told me that he could not believe how many people were purchasing systems that they really don’t need. So should we sell people things that they don’t need? My wife Inna does not need any more shoes, but we still buy them. I don’t really need an iPad™ but I want one. Tell people that they don’t need a new system but they may want one; they are much better and more comfortable. In reality, we may not need air-conditioning. It’s strictly a want. It hasn’t even been around 100 years.
You’ll have to Learn How to Answer
This Question to Set Appointments
How much does a new system cost? They’re very expensive! And that’s true. Don’t be afraid to be bold, but at the same time, humble and not rude. A very high percentage of the time, you’ll get this question.
It’s not time to give a presentation. We do that later and give them options if that’s what they want to do. If they push for budget, tell them it’s like asking how much a car costs. There are lots of options and ranges. If they are afraid to take a look, maybe we should just fix it and forget the appointment. It’s really up to them.
Influence people with integrity and allow them to say “no.” Communicate with them in an open, honest and natural way. They will make the best choice for themselves and you’ll keep a client for life.
Roger Daviston can be reached at: