Why Home Performance Sales Needs a Deep Retrofit
There are approximately 134 million single-family homes in the United States today. According to experts at Home Performance with Energy Star, since 2002 through June of 2016, only 559,260 of these homes have been retrofitted for performance through the program. We have refined the building science, developed the tools, and are entering hundreds of thousands of homes each year, thanks to outreach and the power of the Internet. HPwES has done a terrific job creating a brand and identity for home performance. However, I cannot help but think—Why has the overall industry had so little impact on home energy retrofits?
Chris Lytle, acclaimed sales trainer, educator, author, and one of my personal favorites, writes in The Accidental Salesperson, “Customers want to do business with the very best salespeople. Today, to succeed in sales, you need knowledge, skills, and the proper attitude” (see “Foundations for Success”). Too often in the world of home performance contracting, the ongoing emphasis is placed on the technical aspect of the business, leaving sales professionals without the platform, training, and development they need. The sales department is often treated like the red-headed stepchild, pushed aside and ignored. While many organizations do place a focus on sales, it seems to me that the majority of home performance business owners and managers do not understand the nature of in-home sales training and thus do not give it the proper time and attention.
I think the home performance industry would benefit from showing business owners and managers how investing the time to properly train salespeople—in the art of sales, sales process, and sales language—is critical to the success of their businesses. If we want to promote performance retrofits, we have to change the environment for sales training in the home performance industry.
The Common Scenario
As a home performance sales consultant, I am often hired to “help with sales.” What is interesting about the vagueness of this request is that generally the owners, the people who hire me, don’t know exactly what they need help with. They just know that with their current volume of sales opportunities they should be closing more deals. When I try to identify the source of the problem, I generally hear responses like “I don’t think our salespeople are experienced enough.” “I don’t think they’re following up the way they should.” “I don’t think they’re aggressive enough.” Do you see the trend?
When you look at sales in any organization, I believe it’s important to consider two factors: salespeople and sales management. Most organizations I encounter have no sales management. If you have no real sales management—the people who are responsible for and accountable to the salespeople—then how will problems be identified and addressed? If you don’t have a platform for sales management, you’re setting up your salespeople for failure by allowing mediocrity, frustration, and repeated mistakes to proliferate.
Most home performance companies I encounter do not have a dedicated sales manager. They have an owner who is wearing too many hats—construction, auditing, sales, and just about anything else—so by default he or she acts as a pseudo-sales manager who offers little help or support to the salespeople. At almost every industry conference I attend, there is a session track entitled Sales and Marketing. Why are sales and marketing combined when they are two completely different things? Sure, they are related, and messaging should be consistent from marketing to sales, but the two practices are separate business functions. At the very least we should have separate conference tracks; even better would be three: Marketing, Sales, and Sales Management. We cannot expect business owners to focus on sales management when industry leaders and conference planners don’t do so.
My first two experiences as a consultant highlight this issue. I was working with two midsize home performance companies, with four or five salespeople each. We started each project by having me ride along and shadow each salesperson to see how he was selling in the field. I had very similar experiences with both companies. The guys had a great handle on the building science and tech aspect of the role, and they loved what they were doing. But with a few exceptions, they came across as inexperienced and untrained salespeople. They were fighting an uphill battle from the minute they got to the door. When I asked what their sales training had been, they said, “I just shadowed the other guys a few times and then started going myself.” My bet is that this is the extent of sales training in most home performance companies. Make sure they know what they are talking about and can do the paperwork. Then let ’em go and hope they get better over time.
The fact of the matter is that if you are not trained properly from the beginning and given the foundation to operate at a high level, you might not get better. Or worse yet, you will simply operate with mediocre results for a long time, getting more and more frustrated until you eventually quit. You wouldn’t let an installer just watch how to dense pack a house a couple of times and then let him go, right? No; there is too much at stake—the wall could blow out, the pressure could be off, the fill could be incorrect. You would train and monitor and coach that installer until you were satisfied that he knew exactly what he was doing. The same approach has to be taken with sales. Training is critical to growth, and training has to come from management.
See figures on the number of homes in the U.S.
See figures on number of retrofits are from HPwES 2012: *The Home Performance with Energy Star program.
A Call to Action
I was recently curious to see what Wikipedia had to say about the term deep energy retrofit. I liked this simple description: “Deep energy retrofits achieve much greater efficiency by taking a whole-building approach and addressing many systems at once.” Right now, many home performance businesses are operating at poor efficiency because they are not properly addressing sales management—an integral part of the home performance business ecosystem.
As an industry, we have to start thinking differently about sales. Salespeople want the training, and they want to improve their performance. People entering our industry can have a successful experience with sales if they are provided with the platform for training and development. By creating an infrastructure that stresses the importance of sales training and management, and by making those tools and resources easily accessible, we can change the trajectory of our salespeople from day one and have the impact we desire on the home performance industry. So I say let’s do just that—let’s retrofit the sales environment!
Foundations for Success
In The Accidental Salesperson, Chris Lytle highlights three things that are needed to succeed in sales today: knowledge, skills, and attitude. It takes a high level of all three to make an in-home sale. As owners and managers, we can’t just expect people to succeed in sales because they’ve “done sales before” or “are good with people.” Success comes from proper training and management. In other words, you have to know what to do.
“Selling is teaching. Teaching is selling. An educated customer buys your value proposition, whereas an uneducated customer buys on price.”
Good home performance sales should be a consultative, education-based selling process. It should maintain a delicate balance between the technical and the simple. First, salespeople need building science knowledge. I believe that salespeople in our industry do have this knowledge, since most of them are auditors. But they also need to know how to educate customers in a way that doesn’t overcomplicate things. They must know how to choose the right language and the right supporting tools to convey a given value proposition. This knowledge has to be taught and managed. One of the most common practices I see in our industry is hiring “experienced” salespeople, and then just assuming that they know what they are doing. This rarely works, and even when it does, the learning curve is steep and success for that individual comes much more slowly than it should. Experienced salespeople should be given the proper training and management to understand the consultative nature of home performance.
“You take your career to the next level by taking your relationship with each client to the next level.”
People buy based on three things: need, solution, and emotion. As long as there is a product or solution to fulfill a particular need, people base their buying decisions primarily on emotion—they buy if they trust and feel a strong rapport with the salesperson. This underscores the importance of building relationships. One of my greatest sales mentors once asked me, “Can you consider yourself a relationship expert?”. The way in which the question was framed made me stop and think. Building strong relationships was something I felt I was naturally good at, but with more coaching and training I started to realize that building strong relationships quickly is a skill that most people do not have. As in-home sales professionals we are tasked with the challenge of building relationships many times a day. In order to do this, you need an extremely high level of awareness—awareness of your client’s psychology and of your own psychology as well. These are skills that can be learned, but not without training.
It requires focusing in on the psychology behind the words you use to communicate with clients. It requires people to think and behave differently.
“Your objective is to set high standards for yourself and your sales career. You set high standards so that you can achieve your objectives.”
Sales is tough. A colleague once told me, “ We gotta be up beat, not beat up!”
Managers also need to make it fun, and salespeople need to be happy. Sales is stressful, tiring, and taxing on the mind. If salespeople aren’t enthusiastic and excited, why should their clients be? If they don’t have the right attitude, why should their clients? This is why smart companies employ recognition and bonus strategies. People inherently want to express themselves and to be recognized; when those ideals are present, it creates motivation and a desire to improve.
In many ways sales is like sports, which is why you often hear owners refer to their sales force as the sales team. A great sales team is one in which members work hard to perform their best individually in order to achieve both personal and team goals. What’s at stake is the overall growth and advancement of the organization. What is the coach’s role on a sports team? One might say to manage motivation, expectation, responsibility, discipline, will, and desire. In business, this is the role of a sales manager. It’s unrealistic to expect that people will set high standards for themselves when left to their own devices. In fact, most people tend to do the opposite. Salespeople tend to set standards they view as acceptable, which generally means average. Sales meetings, goal setting, pipeline management, self-reflection, constructive criticism—all these help salespeople want to set high standards for themselves, achieve their objectives, and take their careers to the next level.
Experience is critical when it comes to management. Often in home performance, business owners do some of the sales, but they have almost never gone through sales management training. Training others calls for its own set of disciplines, skills, knowledge, and strategy. I understand that many owners feel they aren’t making enough money to justify paying a dedicated sales manager. But in many cases, if training is done correctly, the increased sales and margin will offset the sales manager’s salary, and will put the company in a better position to succeed. Small-business owners who choose not to hire a sales manager should at the very least learn how best to train salespeople, and should implement a management process that supports continued training. I believe that sales management should become a part of the collective consciousness of our industry.
Lytle, Chris. The Accidental Salesperson. New York: AMACOM 2000.
It is also available for purchase on Amazon.
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