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Telling the Home Performance Story

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I last wrote about selling home performance by first identifying, then presenting a solution to a specific problem in the article “Selling the Home Performance Solution to Customers”. Identifying the problem and a solution is just the first part of the home performance (or any) sales process. Today I will take that sales process one step further. In the book “What Great Salespeople Do – The Science of Selling Through Emotional Connection and The Power Of Story,” the authors Michael Bosworth and Ben Zoldan tell us that selling isn’t only about solving problems or providing solutions. Selling is influencing change.

This is a particularly interesting and powerful statement in terms of home performance. Often times the solutions we offer in the world of home performance are out of the normal scope of what people would expect from an HVAC contractor. We must first change the way people think about a particular problem before they will accept the solution we offer them. To discuss how humans react to change, Bosworth and Zolden present research on how passengers on a sinking ship react to available lifeboats. They noted that most passengers will choose to wait until the last possible moment to leave the sinking ship to board a lifeboat, many even waiting until it is too late. What is the reason for this behavior? According to their book, it is the fear of the unknown. They tell us, “Passengers are able to rationalize not getting into the lifeboats by kidding themselves, by inventing scenarios in which the ship might stop sinking. Their line of thinking is, ‘This ship is above water.’ Or, ‘I don’t know anything about that lifeboat.’ And even, ‘I’m not jumping until I have too.’” Many people would rather risk drowning than deal with an unfamiliar concept.

This concept brought to mind some home performance sales failures early in my career. After presenting all of our wonderful scientific findings, and outlining the many ways we could improve the home, I would often hear, “We’re going to hold off right now.” My favorite were those clients where I demonstrated how their problems could only be solved by home performance measures. However, since they were expecting furnace/AC replacement, or duct modifications solutions, they still choose the familiar (and destined to fail) HVAC only solution. I would leave thinking, ‘Why? How could that be possible after everything I told them?’ In fact, early on the majority of our “wins” came from those people who were about to drown. Unusable second floors, unbearable winters, bills so high they had to do something.

Over time I began to notice something else. For clients who were not in immediate danger of drowning but still needed a lifeboat, our successful sales were to clients who were directly engaged in the discovery process in their home. They followed us around and wanted to know firsthand how everything we did related to their home. After a year or so in business, we had some nice success stories of saving clients who were drowning, or near drowning. Once we had testimonial stories as support we could repeat their stories to clients with similar problems, often leading to a sale. Not consciously recognizing why this worked, these successes prompted us to change our sales process and incorporate these elements. Much later I delved into the world of sales-psychology to truly understand how to be better at sales, and not just the technical evaluation of a home.

Coupling my experiences with an understanding of sales as “influencing change,” I found that to be truly successful in home performance sales we have to recognize a few basic premises. First is that we are in sales. Unlike typical HVAC sales, home performance sales are largely proactive, and not reactive (unless you happen to get that drowning client we talked about earlier). We are also often asking clients to discard decades of common knowledge passed down through generations, and think about their home and comfort in a totally different way. We are asking them to change the way they think. How do we accomplish this?

There are three things we must make happen to be successful in invoking this change. Although each of these is worthy of an entire standalone article, I will briefly outline how they will help in our quest to sell change.

We need to become story listeners!

The clients we want to change need to be able to tell their story and be heard by someone who is truly listening. In the book “What Great Salespeople Do,” the authors tell us, “Real emotional connections, the kind that can lead to change, are forged when people truly feel listened to.” You really should read the book. It will change how you feel about sales and many other things you do.

The client needs to be directly involved in the assessment discovery process.

I can not stress the importance of this conversation enough. “Hello Mr. Smith, now that we have decided what assessment package is right for you, let me ask you, do you and Mrs. Smith usually make major household decisions together? During the assessment of your home, we’re likely to discover some things that I think will be important for you both to see. Is there a time block convenient for both of you?” This does two main things for us. First, it lets our clients know that we consider our service valuable enough to expect to have both decision makers present. Second, and more importantly, we can hear from both decision makers firsthand how whatever problem that brought you to the home affects them.

As we go through the audit process, actively engage both parties and encourage participation. Get the thermal camera in their hands, let them hold the hood as you measure air flow in the room that’s hot all the time, hand them a tablet to watch discoveries in the attic or crawlspace from your Wi-Fi headcam or cellphone, but most importantly through this whole process, listen! Listen with your ears and your brain to hear when they tell you how the things you discover affects their life. This allows us to be genuine and build a connection with them, using the assessment as a conduit by which to do so. We need to also listen with our eyes. Watch for telling expressions when our clients have that ah-ha moment, and visibly start to change the way they think about how their home works and understand where real comfort and health come from.

We need to become intentional storytellers.

As we listen to our clients stories and begin to understand what makes them tick, we must keep in mind that even in sales an emotional connection is a two way street. When the chance arises, without blocking their story or cutting them off, offer the same genuine interaction about our experiences. When the time is right offer your solution with, “Let me tell you a story.” See what happened there, no matter what your interest was up to this point, those six words just doubled your interest in what I was going to say next.

“What Great Salespeople Do” tells us about the power of a story, “As humans we are natural storytellers, and story listeners. When we hear, ‘can I tell you a story?’ we unconsciously tell ourselves, ‘Oh it’s just a story, I don’t have to do anything or decide anything!’ We are story learners, biologically wired to survive by learning through narrative.” In the same manner, we can offer real home performance solutions to specific problems by saying, “Let me tell you what we did the last time we ran into this.” Or, “I had another client with this same issue. I can share with you how I helped them.” By doing this, you allow your client to let their guard down and learn to change from other experiences.

In summary, when we connect with our client’s values through listening, involve them in the discovery process, and allow them to learn from others experiences, we can build a true emotional connection. This sets the stage to tell the home performance story that our client really needs to hear. Through the exchange of stories, clients will feel familiar enough to comfortably change the way they view the problems and solutions for their homes. This ability to influence change will result in a measurable increase in the number of whole home retrofits for satisfied clients.

Jeremy Begley

Posted In: Building Performance, Residential Buildings

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