HVAC industry experts share best-practice sales approaches
Because of differences in age, technological interest, and disposable income, each HVAC customer is truly unique. Therefore, there is no blueprint readily available that demonstrates exactly how contractors should present smart HVAC products to consumers. This means contractors have to fine-tune and adjust their efforts on a case-by-case basis when it comes to presenting smart products.
Despite all their differences, consumers share a common interest in connected home technologies. A recent study conducted by August Home stated that nearly 30 million U.S. households are projected to add smart home technologies by mid-2017.
So, with interest in smart products rapidly increasing, what best-practice sales approaches can contractors take to ensure they are providing customers with the best options in the marketplace?
LEAD BY EXAMPLE
Rich Morgan, president of Magic Touch Mechanical Inc. in Mesa, Arizona, said his team installed some of the latest connected home technologies throughout its own building so techs can demonstrate the exact functionality of new technologies as well as showcase how they can be controlled remotely on phones and iPads.
“From a marketing standpoint, we publish informational social media posts and blog posts that explain some of the latest and greatest devices and the ‘solutions’ they provide,” said Morgan. “For example, we published a blog post last week that covers smart homes and energy management systems. We used a case study of a BMS [building management system] we installed for a commercial client and shared how the same could be done on a smaller scale in a home. We also use tools like rechargeable Nest demo units to show people the display, features, and feel of the product.”
Tempco Heating & Cooling Specialists in Powell River, British Columbia, Canada, offers Wi-Fi connected smart devices on every sales call. “We ask customers if this type of technology is something they’re interested in, and then we explain the benefits,” said Tye Leishman, company president.
Tablets are another avenue to consider when it comes to showcasing products, videos, and more.
“A tablet is an awesome tool to present these products,” said Steve Moon, owner of Moon Air Inc. in Elkton, Maryland. “We’ve put videos and testimonials on our tablets, and our guys let clients watch the videos while they are working. When they are done, they offer to answer any questions the clients may have.”
FOCUS ON FEATURES
As contractors roll out a variety of high-tech options, most contractors, including have found that customers are most interested in Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats and remote access to their HVAC systems.
“Customers are highly interested in remote access, especially our snow-bird population who wants to be able to control devices and systems at their vacation properties when they are out of state,” Morgan said. “Most people love the idea that they can use their phones as remote controls to adjust their thermostats, lighting, garage door openers, etc. from their couches.”
On the flip side, Moon said he has yet to see great demand for geo-fencing capabilities. “The geo-fencing looks like it’s not getting a lot of traction except from the techie types who want the newest and coolest items money can buy,” he said. “Three months after they buy them, they are not using them and have moved on to the next things.”
Morgan noted that smart diagnostics or troubleshooting features that are more designed for technicians do not often resonate with consumers who have the option to use them.
“With the exception of the engineer types, most customers do not seem interested in the energy-usage reporting features of many smart products,” said Morgan. “We have a few that will thoroughly analyze their daily usage looking for ways to further tweak and reduce their energy consumption, but they seem to be the exception. When I talk with customers after an install, most seem to have forgotten those features.”
Customers seem to have also largely forgotten about the skepticism many once had regarding smart products.
“[Customers can still be skeptical] but nowhere near the frequency we experienced three to five years ago,” said Jim Ault, sales manager at McAfee Heating and Air Conditioning in Kettering, Ohio. “Manufacturers realized they had to shift the focus from energy-savings features to features designed for convenience, accessibility, and ease of use. This shift has attracted more millennials as they continue to grow within the marketplace.”
Morgan added that he doesn’t see much skepticism either. “If they [the customers] are regular smartphone or tablet users, which most are nowadays, they almost expect products to be easy-to-use and expect them to work as advertised,” he said.
In the infancy of smart products, there was a common misconception that smart devices would be used solely by millennials and younger generations. Instead, the smart-product boom has extended to users of all ages. As it stands today, 64 percent of American adults now own a smartphone of some kind, up from 35 percent in the spring of 2011, according to the Pew Research Center.
“Within the last few years, our older clients are accepting and even embracing many of the smart devices much more frequently than they had in the past,” said Morgan.
Leishman said while the approach may change with customers based on their ages, the older generation is getting up to speed faster than many predicted. “The future involves smart products,” he said. “The smartphone is not a fad. The internet is not going to disappear, and people understand that.”
Moon also sees smart HVAC products growing in importance and popularity in the coming years.
“As our equipment becomes more sophisticated and the computer generation takes over, the majority of clients will continue to demand these technologies,” he said. “That is the transition we are in now. Their world revolves around smartphones and tablets, and everything has to be fast. Many prefer to use the internet as a communication medium and will completely bypass a phone call for service. Soon, equipment may schedule its own service and remotely open the door for techs. The credit card gets charged, and homeowners return home in comfort and ease. In this scenario, homeowners may never have to deal with their HVAC systems at all.”