No train, no gain

p>IMAGINE THIS One day John rolls out of bed, steps out onto his front porch to fetch the paper and, while staring into the clear blue sky, thinks to himself: "Yep, today's the day. The weather is perfect, I've got some free time I think I'll fly a plane." What happens next doesn't take much imagination. But too often I see this same crash-and-burn approach in the way contractors run their businesses.

p>IMAGINE THIS … One day John rolls out of bed, steps out onto his front porch to fetch the paper and, while staring into the clear blue sky, thinks to himself: "Yep, today's the day. The weather is perfect, I've got some free time — I think I'll fly a plane."

What happens next doesn't take much imagination. But too often I see this same crash-and-burn approach in the way contractors run their businesses. You see, without any teaching or guidance, John has pretty much zero chance of succeeding. And that doesn't surprise any of us.

Now here's the part you won't like. If you're not surprised that John can't just wake up and fly a plane, why are you shocked when your technicians don't wake up one morning knowing how to sell?

It's an entirely different skill set than putting together, taking apart, diagnosing or repairing a plumbing or heating system. Sure, you have some that are "naturals." But, for the most part, selling, like any other skill set, has to be taught.

This is especially important since now more businesses — that means you! — are relying on technicians to sell everything from maintenance contracts to equipment and accessories once they're in the home. So, if you're blindly sending your guys out to get the job done without training them to sell, then you're losing thousands of dollars in profits every year.

The missing ingredient
Let's be practical, shall we? The reason techs are the logical focus for sales to customers is because they are, most times, the company's one and only chance to enter a home and talk to a customer.

You're there because you've been called there. Your customer has already said, "I need you." What a regular, old salesperson wouldn't give for a gig like that! But this one best chance for selling doesn't belong to just anyone. It belongs to the tech.

Establishing credibility isn't a game of chance.

Unfortunately, people skills are often overlooked in service technician training and that hurts the entire industry. It's ironic that a tech possessing mediocre technical proficiency, and even questionable ethics, can appear more credible by relying on an excellent inhome manner. The tech that might be far more competent can seem less credible because he lacks people skills.

Establishing credibility isn't a game of chance and doesn't depend on the customer. Almost any customer can be won over, and certain techniques can be used to help you do it.

Conversely, credibility is a fragile thing, and there are just as many ways to destroy it as there are to create it. Sadly but predictably, it is much harder to rebuild it than it ever was to lose it in the first place.

Sell with service
Do you realize that the failure rate in sales is 95%? That means that 95% of the people who go into sales fail and get out. This huge majority of non-performers are usually the ones doling out awful advice to you and setting a poor image for the profession.

Many techs have bought into this image, believing somehow that sales is disreputable or that they're "above it" in some way and would never do that to a customer. Bad word choices all around.

You see, sales — in the broadest sense of the word — is what we're all doing in some capacity. Everyone. From the waiter at the nice restaurant to the guy at the tire store to the beautiful actress on a TV infomercial. And especially our children, who "sell" us on the idea that they must have every possible new toygame-candy-clothes-entertainment gadget that has ever been invented and a couple that haven't.

When we get the benefit represented that meets or exceeds the price, we have gotten a good value. Pure and simple, please don't forget: The best and most valuable sales are service.

The power of the upsell
Many technicians shy from upselling. They feel customers will either ask for the upgrade or they will think the techs are pushy if they offer it. Hear me out: If you feel the upgrade/upsell is a worthwhile option for your prospect, it is your duty and responsibility to offer it. Make your techs and salespeople see upsells this way. And here's the way you make them work.

If you have just 20 service calls a day and only 25% of those like you enough to be called "customers," then that's five repeats and 15 new customers a day. Let's say the five repeats only buy the upsell 30% of the time (national average is 60%), and the 15 new customers only buy the upsell 10% of the time. That's 1.5 sales a day of something.

If two-thirds of your actual upsells in both groups buy only $300 of additional product or service (the national average), you'll be seeing $78,000 out of your "repeats" and $78,000 out of your new customers for $156,000 in accidental money you're currently missing. (That is: 1.5 customers a day x $300 x 66.66% = $77,992.)

Bottom line: You can't afford not to train your technicians in selling techniques. It's an investment that makes them better employees and puts more dollars in your pocket. You're turning employees into an untapped profit source that builds their confidence in themselves, your confidence in their abilities and your customer's confidence in your company's expertise. And confidence equals sales. Pretty tough to lose when you're on the right side of the training track.

Adams Hudson is president of Hudson, Ink, a marketing firm for contractors. To learn more about the language of sales, call 800/489-9099 or send a fax on your letterhead to 334/262-1115 requesting the free report, "What You Should Say …" Visit www.hudsonink.com for free marketing articles and reports, or call for a sample of the Spring Customer Retention Newsletter.

TAGS: Marketing