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HVAC Contractors: Use Comparison-Speak to Build Credibility with Customers

By Pam Duffy, AHR Expo Expert Council

As the HVAC industry evolves further in response to new market opportunities, sustainability initiatives and changing consumer demands it’s easy to be left at a loss of how to cut through the marketing speak and deliver benefit-driven information to your customers. Putting in the extra work to fully understand how to translate product features into real-world customer benefits will give you an edge in the market. Below is a discussion on how to navigate an industry of new and old considerations across customer demographics. Follow along to understand how you can shift your strategies to build customer relationships through simple communication training of your sales staff.

Pam Duffy, P.E.
Pam Duffy, P.E.

Define Your Competitive Edge through No-Nonsense Delivery

Is it just me, or does every HVAC product on the market have the same features?

Tell me if you’ve heard this one before: “Our new, highly-efficient product provides homeowners with a simple, flexible, and cost-competitive solution.”

Does this sound like a product line you offer? Truth be told, this description could apply to any number of products. For example, a system that offers “zoning” could be anything from a sophisticated ductless system to a simple air conditioner with manual air dampers.

Here’s the problem: today’s customers are the most educated customer base we’ve ever experienced. With access to information at our literal fingertips in our smartphones, customers can fact-check a sales pitch in an instant. HVAC repair and replacement is an expensive investment for most customers to begin with, so it’s understood that they want to know exactly what they’re paying for.

If you state that a product is efficient, customers want to know: How efficient and what are the benefits? Compared to what? Does it cost more, if so, what’s the price difference? Do I really need it?

If you’re not being clear with your customers, you can trust that they are getting their information elsewhere – perhaps even pulling purchase decision information from your competition.

There are simple improvements to your sales information delivery that can help to move past the jargon and build meaningful conversations with your customers that leave them feeling well-informed and satisfied in their decision. In short, you can build credibility – and become the authority – by being honest and transparent.

As mentioned, using vague terms to describe a product as efficient, variable, or flexible tells the customer very little. The way to fix this is to always speak in terms of comparison. By speaking in comparisons, you will educate the customer on all of the options available to them – not just the one you’d like to sell. This is a critical step in achieving value in customer satisfaction.

If you’re not comfortable speaking in comparison, here are three ways to help get you started.

1. Stop Talking Features and Benefits and Start Talking Sell Points and Personas

If you’re speaking to a customer about a solution they are just one step away in the sales funnel from making a purchase. It’s important at this stage that you carefully consider what you say and how you say it.
Consider this: most brochures you’ll hand a customer have a long list of features and benefits… those features are often phrased in comparison to an older version of that same product or directly to a competitor’s product – “Even quieter!” or “More flexible than ever!”

But the homeowner doesn’t care if it’s “even quieter” than a previous generation of a product that isn’t in the consideration set they are making for their home. Focus on the information your homeowner actually wants and needs: what options do you recommend; what specifically makes you recommend these based on my needs; how much does it cost?

Hone in on information by defining the sell points for all the products in your portfolio. An easy way to do this is to determine the five whys for each of your products:

  • Who would most want or need to purchase this product?
  • What type of situation is this product most suitable for?
  • Why would they need this product?
  • When can we promise to deliver this product to the customer?
  • Where are most of the customers geographically located who need this product?

Notice the emphasis on the extremes in these questions. The goal is not to answer in general – “who could use or purchase this product” – but rather “who MOST wants or needs this product and why.” This is critical to defining the true selling points of a product.

By taking this approach, your team will be able clearly to describe the important reasons behind a recommendation because they have clear guidance as to why to recommend it in the first place. You might even consider building a questionnaire that will help both you and your customer come to a decision on the right choice for them.

2. Group Your Product Offerings using Tiers

Instead of confusing customers with an onslaught of product brochures covered in brand names, shiny logos, and pretty pictures, consider packaging your products into tiers. Most homeowners are able to easily pick up the concept of Good, Better, and Best – or Bronze, Silver, and Gold.

By grouping your offering into rungs on a ladder, you’re giving the customer a baseline to compare products against one another. The key to this approach is to ensure your groupings offer key differences. Perhaps package A is best for the cost-conservative homeowner, package B is best for the energy-conscious customer, while package C is most suitable to the customer seeking a quick turnaround.

With this system, customers can easily determine the difference between your products and make informed decisions on which products best fit their needs.

3. Give Three Options Whenever Possible

When ordering drinks at your local coffee shop, why is it so many of us opt for the medium size? A small seems too small, and a large seems, well…too large.

When we are given three options, often we are seeking the Goldilocks “just right” feeling.

No one wants to miss out on an upsell, but the goal should not be to dupe your customer into buying the highest-margin product by failing to tell them about a more cost-effective option that likely checks off the needs on their list. Provide customers with three options: something that doesn’t quite meet their needs, something that over-delivers, and a solution that falls in the middle. Because you have tuned in to exactly what the customer needs, selling the middle option in comparison to the other two should be simple.

If you are the service provider for all three options, this strategy gives you an added bonus. If the customer chooses the more elaborate option, you’ve earned more. If they choose the less desirable option, they will know up front what they’re getting and perhaps sacrificing – and you’ve earned their trust in the process.

What does this sound like? The common, although tired, sales pitch I shared at the beginning turns into a richer conversation once you’ve added comparisons. In this example, I’ve uncovered that the customer is most concerned with the ability to stay comfortable in their home, with affordability being their second concern.

“The package I’d like to offer you today is our Premier package. Your upstairs and downstairs will have individual thermostats, which I know is what you were looking for. I’d like to share with you some other options for your consideration. Our Platinum package would give you even more comfort options: every room could have its own set point. The higher price could be offset with some rebates, but it is more expensive than the Premier package. Another option is our Economy package. This is the most affordable of the three, but it doesn’t come with the zoning you asked for. Given what we have discussed so far, I think the Premier package most meets your needs.”

By defining the sell points for your products, grouping them into tiers, and offering at least three options you can successfully provide the customer with a well-thought-out and easily understandable reasoning for your recommendation.

Resolve to make comparison-speak a habit in your organization and your customers will see you as a more trustworthy source of information for their buying decision process.

Duffy will discuss this topic at the 2020 AHR Expo, to be held in Orlando, February 3-5. Attendees can register for free on the AHR Expo website, https://registration.experientevent.com/Showahr201/.

About Pam Duffy, P.E.

Pam Duffy, P.E. is the Owner of Spark One Solutions, LLC based in Dallas, TX – a marketing and business solutions consulting company based serving HVAC businesses.

She serves as a member of the AHR Expo Expert Council – a collaboration of HVACR experts and thought leaders launched by the AHR Expo in 2019 to educate and stimulate discussion concerning the biggest issues impacting the industry.

She has a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Central Florida and is a licensed PE. She has 10 years of experience in the HVAC industry and is most well-known for bringing new HVAC products to life.

As a seasoned product manager, Pam has been responsible for strategic direction, product roadmaps, new product development, launches and sunsets, and ongoing product category support.

Pam serves on many boards and committees in ASHRAE. Pam was President of the Atlanta Chapter during 2013-2014, during which they won the Chapter of the Year award. At the Society level, Pam serves on the Communications Committee and Student Activities Committee, and is a member of several Technical Committees.

Outside of ASHRAE, Pam is a Life Member of the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and has been named to both the Consulting-Specifying Engineer’s list of 40 under 40 as well as the NEWS’ 40 under 40.

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