A Humungous Lesson

Perhaps the most difficult thing to sell in the HVAC business is a commercial service agreement in the Pacific Northwest. Other parts of the country have extremes -- sweltering hot summers or below-zero winters that force people into taking action. Not so in Seattle. When you get good at maintenance sales there, you can sell anything! Getting lost is a virtue in service sales. I consistently took

Perhaps the most difficult thing to sell in the HVAC business is a commercial service agreement in the Pacific Northwest. Other parts of the country have extremes -- sweltering hot summers or below-zero winters that force people into taking action. Not so in Seattle. When you get good at maintenance sales there, you can sell anything!
Getting lost is a virtue in service sales. I consistently took roads I had never been on in towns I was unfamiliar with. I was cold calling in Woodinville, Wash. Woodinville! Sounds like a town from a Steven King novel, complete with vampires, children with mind control or rabid dogs chasing housewives.
I stumbled across two buildings that were mirror images. They were three-story commercial office buildings, 30,000 sq. ft. each. I learned from experience the secret to cold calling (or "Just walkin' in!" as I liked to call it) was to walk in like you belonged there. Fast, with a file in hand, straight to the elevator.
The mistake most salespeople make is to talk to the first person they see when they walk in. Big mistake. These people are sick of salespeople and some are downright mean. They say things like, "Do you have an appointment?" or "Where's your ID?" I had an appointment all right, with meeting my sales plan.
Up the elevator I went to the third floor, all the way to the end of the building. People in this part of any office building NEVER have visitors. They gladly talk with strangers. If you're nice, they will tell you everything you want to know.
The fellow I spoke to told me everything, as I said, "I was just wondering, who do you call when you have a problem with your air conditioning?" hunched over a little like Columbo minus the cigar.
"Oh, that would be Craig. He is the property manager. I have his number memorized. We call him once a week. This building's HVAC is a mess."
Jackpot! I could hardly contain my glee. "Really, tell me about it."
He was an employee of Humungous Software, whose lease was coming up. The company was unhappy. It leased the whole building and half the other one! Craig agreed to see me because I was singing his song.
"I would like to talk to you about ’tenant retention’ and perhaps demonstrating how we can solve your tenant's discomfort," I told him.
There was a pause and then he said, "Can you come by tomorrow at 2 p.m.?"
"Yes," I said. "See you then." I knew I had made a sale.
I asked several well-structured, open-ended questions: "How old is the equipment?" "How long will the owner keep the building?" "When is the lease up?"
He talked for two hours; I listened actively. Finally, he said, "I would like you to meet Bob. He owns the building. Why don't you put a proposal together and we can meet on Friday at 10 a.m."
Bob was 83 years young. He wore coveralls that were well worn, threadbare. He had on a tie that I am certain was very fashionable when Eisenhower was president. It curled up like Dilbert's tie. It had tobacco stains on it. He just listened while Craig and I discussed the agreement.
It was time to ask "The" question: "What will it cost you if Humungous moves out?"
There was silence. Bob leaned forward, spit some tobacco on the floor and said, "$450,000 over the next five years! Any other questions?"
"Just one more, did you want the agreement billed monthly or quarterly?"
Silence. Craig leaned back. Bob stood up, walked over to Craig and said, "If they solve these problems and Humungous stays, give him another building, the one in Everett." Bob shook my hand and left.
The "Cost of Not Doing Anything Different" was what closed the sale. Four other contractors had tried and failed. Bob didn't look like a millionaire. He owned dozens of buildings and hundreds of acres of land. He was a shrewd businessman that dressed like a handyman.
It was a humungous lesson. One I will never forget. You just never know. Sales is a four-legged chair. Trust, relationship, competency and timing. We ended up with five of Bob's buildings.

Mark Matteson of the Pinnacle Service Group can be reached by phone at 877/672-2001, by fax at 425/745-8981, by e-mail at [email protected] or visit his Website at www.mattesonavenue.com.