How can you expect to have a service-oriented business with people who don't want to serve? I hand out a flier called "What is a Customer?" at my sales seminars. I'm amazed by the number of people who come up to me and ask for another copy or talk about the contents of the piece. We have gotten so far away from customer service in the HVAC industry that we need to increase awareness about the value of customers.

In my customer-service seminars, I see people in the audience who do not have a sense of what is required to give good customer service. These people answer the phones and convey the image of your company. Customers get a first impression of how the rest of the company will react to their needs from them. So often, people answering the phones are the most important link in the service chain. They're also typically the weakest link, because of a lack of training.

You need a company truly focused on the customer. A company fully aware of customers' needs helps create the foundation necessary for them to feel secure and salespeople more confident to close sales.

The sales staff needs to be trained in the skills and techniques required to close the sale. Not only must they have the knowledge, but be able to apply it in an effective manner.

The secret of selling is to find out what the customer wants and sell those products or services that fill that demand. Sounds rather simple, but many salespeople really try to steer customers to their way of thinking, instead of listening. I like to think of salespeople as "buying guides." It's up to them to help customers to solve their problems and suggest possible solutions.

Selling requires understanding prospects. Make them customers before you finish your first meeting. The impression you create in customers during initial calls will last for a long time. If you create the wrong impression, you may never be able to change it.

Emotions

Everything is sold on an emotional level. You must find out what the prospect's emotional button is for that item. Finding this special magic button requires skill and practice, but it is worth the time. "Feature-and-benefit" selling is the only way successful salespeople maintain profits and customers.

When I think of features and benefits, I think about the story of the drill bit salesman. He was selling the drill bits by talking about the construction of the drill, the cutting edge, the tempered steel and the special features of the point. But he was having little success until he met a fellow drill bit salesman and asked him what he was doing wrong.

"You don't sell the features of the bit, you sell the hole it creates," the older salesman said.

For people in the HVAC industry, that means you don't sell the condensing unit or the heater; you sell the comfort they will provide.

Selling requires that you understand the product or service features and how they benefit the customers you are helping to buy. It is through this pattern you will find the most success. To discover customers' buying motives, you will need to find a way to have them talk to you. You will need listening skills that will make customers feel comfortable and able to relate to you. You also need to create an atmosphere where you and customers will be able to communicate - an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect.

In this "comfort zone," you'll see what customers want and how to make the offer. I like the idea of either using personal interviews or focus groups.

The personal interview is not just a normal sales call. The purpose of the interview is to learn about clients and what they want from you. The result should be a complete company profile and a definition of their buying motives. To acquire this information requires careful planning. The meeting should be without interruptions, which may require an off-site location. This interview should establish how you will manage clients and how you will satisfy their demands.

The key to a successful interview is complete and open communication. The result will be strong relationships.

The questions should be general and not have a specific job in mind. It should be understood the purpose is to make sure both parties are thinking alike. Taking the time to do this prior to an actual sale will increase your chances to close.