Believe it or not, service technicians can sell

Many folks say that service technicians are our best sales people because customers trust them. Or, rather, techs would be the best sales people if they were willing to sell, which they mostly are not. It would be easier to get a cat to swim than get a tech to sell, even if you're the tech! (Of course there are some who do sell very effectively, and they prove the point.)

Many folks say that service technicians are our best sales people because customers trust them. Or, rather, techs would be the best sales people if they were willing to sell, which they mostly are not. It would be easier to get a cat to swim than get a tech to sell, even if you're the tech! (Of course there are some who do sell very effectively, and they prove the point.)

It's easy to see why a customer prefers a service tech over a "salesman." In the customer's mind the service tech is there to help — period. There's no other agenda: fix it, charge a fair price, and get out. The service tech often is a sort who doesn't say much, so he isn't going to take a lot of time blowing hot air, so to speak.

The customer may have several things in mind (in-floor heating, humidification, air cleaning) that they wouldn't mind buying from an HVAC contractor. But they won't invite in a salesman. For one thing, how are they going to get him out when they're ready for him to leave, but he isn't?

Even when techs are told that customers might welcome their suggestion of additional products or services, it's a rare tech who will actually make a suggestion. Why? There are at least two reasons: a false understanding of what selling is, and a belief that techs don't have what it takes to sell, so why try.

What is selling?
When I was hired into technical sales, I couldn't wait to tell my dad, who was always proud of whatever I did. But dad was an electrician. In the phrase "technical sales," he heard only the word "sales." Tears came to his eyes, and he asked, "Are things so bad out there that you have to stoop to selling?"

Typical of the trades, to dad, nothing was lower that sales. Sales meant being a bad person: tricky, pushy, manipulative, dishonest, fly-by-night, seat-of-the-pants, fear-mongering. Sales meant a fast-talking used car salesman. This is bad selling.

But there is also good selling. Good selling and good service are the same: helpful, honest, informative and authentic. Both make people happy. Both listen, make recommendations, and solve the customers’ problems. They are good people.

In what circumstance might a service tech be willing to sell? Based on the paragraph above, we could say that selling is "helping people find what they need to solve their problems so they can be happy." A service tech already does that. So giving a customer a choice of new products and services could give the customer more of what they want than just fixing the old stuff. Having the choice — not being pushed — certainly won't make them less happy.

Customers often need a professional's help with things they don't know much about. Providing information, answering questions, and helping in decision-making can be called sales — good sales.

The typical service tech, when called out on an old piece of heating equipment, is likely to see it as a fix-it job. The service tech thinks, "Yes I can fix this! I am going to do the customer a favor and save her money. I am not going to try to sell her something new that would cost her a lot of money."

But if a service tech looks at the situation broadly as an opportunity to help, problem solve and make a customer happy, rather than narrowly as a "get it fixed" situation, then the technician becomes an effective sales person. The customer will possibly be delighted to buy something new. Perhaps she stays awake nights worrying if the heat is going to fail because the equipment is so old, and values peace of mind over money in the bank.

The other obstacle to selling for service techs is the belief that they don’t have what it takes to sell. All their lives they have been told they don't have "people skills." They know they can't sell because selling means talking people into things, having a fast answer to everything and handling objections.

But techs do already have people skills. Like everyone else they have co-workers, families and friends whom they interact with all the time. Maybe it doesn't go perfectly, but they get it done. They give opinions, answer questions, deal with "yeh-buts" (handling objection), and figure out how to get things done (close the sale).

When service techs (proudly) think of themselves as the farthest thing from sales, they are thinking of sales only at its worst, the fast-talking trickster. They aren't remembering the super-helpful guy at the work boot store who found them boots not only wide enough, but warm enough too. And when service techs think of themselves as lacking people skills, they aren't remembering that they daily solve problems —yes people problems too — and make people happy by helping them have what they want.

Carol Fey is a degreed technical trainer who has worked as a heating technician in Antarctica. She has published five books especially for the HVAC industry. Her website is: www.carolfey.com.