What You Should Know Before Investing in HVAC Estimating Software

ServiceTitanJune 30th, 2020
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The industry experts on our team have noticed something you wouldn’t expect: when HVAC companies go out of business, it’s often right after they’ve had their busiest year ever. As crazy as that sounds, there’s usually a simple explanation: More often than not, these shops simply weren’t pricing their services correctly. 

Whether the trouble was related to sales (miscalculating labor rates or  material pricing, for example), or clerical—disorganized work orders, bid management, or material lists—the more work they did, the deeper in the hole they got. They were losing money sale after sale, without realizing until it was too late.

Contractors who find themselves in this position generally don’t have a well-defined process for HVAC estimatesa system guaranteed to give them a precise understanding of the time, costs, and margins for every job, and which ensures that they price estimates appropriately

When HVAC contractors get in touch with us, they’re usually considering adding an estimating solution to their toolbelt, realizing that as their competitors become more efficient and tech savvy, it’s becoming difficult to maintain—let alone grow—market share without one. 

HVAC estimates are one area in which this is especially true. In this article, we’ll explain exactly how a software solution like ServiceTitan can help contractors implement a well-defined HVAC estimating process to work faster, close more sales, and increase their average ticket price. Specifically, we’ll go over:

  • Potential pitfalls of pen-and-paper HVAC estimates 

  • The benefits of an end-to-end HVAC software solution that integrates estimating into overall business operations

  • Stand-alone HVAC estimating software options

Want to see ServiceTitan in action? Schedule a call with us to learn more about how our software can help you grow your business.

Potential Pitfalls of Pen-and-Paper HVAC Estimates

It wasn’t so long ago that HVAC businesses had no choice but to generate estates manually. Their estimating systems consisted of a pen, paper, clipboard, and—perhaps—a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or two. So it might seem odd to suggest that the pen-and-paper method isn’t up to snuff. And to be sure, if properly and consistently executed, it can be entirely serviceable. 

The trouble is that there are a lot of opportunities for things to go wrong—particularly if a contractor has more than a couple of trucks. These snags might be so familiar by now that they seem like an inevitable part of doing business. This isn’t the case. 

Before we dive into the benefits of HVAC estimating software, let’s quickly review the traditional method of estimating, as well as some of its (avoidable) potential drawbacks.   

The Traditional Method

Pretty much every contractor—or, more likely, their tech—would walk from room to room of every home they visited, taking measurements of ductwork and sheet metal, writing down the location of each bedroom and bathroom, and noting the placement of the existing unit and exhaust fans. If they were careful, they’d probably work through a couple of checklists, making sure they didn’t miss anything and asking the customer questions as they went.  

Then their process would look more or less like this:

  • Confer with the homeowner and present the best options for their home. 

  • Use the binders provided by HVAC manufacturers as visual sales aids. 

  • Provide the contractor and the customer with some kind of agreement, head back to the office, sit down with a calculator and notes from the visit, work up an estimate, and manually enter it into their company’s estimate template. 

  • Ideally, within a day or two, run a copy back to the homeowner. 

  • If a contractor was especially on their game, they might have their tech do the estimate in their truck so that they could provide it to the homeowner before leaving—and then follow up by email with a PDF copy of the HVAC proposal.

After that, if the estimate went unsold—and if the tech was really good—they might follow up once or twice with the homeowner, making note of their subsequent conversations in the file containing the customer’s paperwork. But for the most part, they’d simply hope for the best.

Note: For more on the importance of having a well-designed follow-up process, check out our previous article on designing a world-class HVAC sales process.

The Pitfalls

Before going on, we should acknowledge here that the central procedures described above are essential to any effective HVAC estimating process, software-enhanced or not: careful inspection and measurement of the home, the use of checklists, etc. 

The trouble is that the pen-and-paper HVAC estimating method can cause many of these procedures to go off the rails. Common issues of this kind fall into four basic categories: 

1. Timing

Creating estimates manually is a time-intensive process, requiring a series of cumbersome, repetitive steps. Over the course of a year, the hours that a tech spends punching a calculator; cross referencing forms, catalogues, and spreadsheets; filling out and copying templates; and maintaining an ever-growing set of files are hours that they could be spending making additional calls and winning more business. To put it bluntly, less time estimating equals more time selling. 

The pen-and-paper approach often creates a lag between a company’s visit to a home and the delivery of an estimate. An HVAC purchase is often a decision that homeowners make quickly, within 12 to 24 hours of receiving an estimate. Frequently, they’ll arrange to have two or three contractors visit their home in a single day, and quickly select their preferred company. If one of those companies doesn’t drop off their estimate until a day or two later, it significantly lowers their chances of getting the job.     

2. Presentation

As we mentioned, to avoid such delays, some contractors who use pen and paper have their techs draw up proposals in the truck. And while this does cut lag time, it can also have the effect of appearing ad-hoc—an improvised quick-fix rather than a cleanly-executed plan. 

Creating estimates in the truck also requires techs to handwrite their proposals. And, however unfairly, a messy-looking estimate can reinforce a homeowner’s sense that a company might not quite have its ducks in a row, leading them to choose a competitor with a more streamlined approach—even if they’re pricier or less experienced. 

3. Organization

Similarly, entering a home with an armful of paperwork and product binders can make even an expert HVAC technician appear disorganized. And there’s no doubt that juggling reams of paper in the midst of inspecting a home and interfacing with a potential customer can really cause a tech to become flustered and mixed up—potentially leading them to make mistakes like skipping steps in the home inspection, mismeasuring portions of the property, or forgetting to ask important questions. 

Relying on paper records also creates opportunities for things to get lost or destroyed—in the back of the truck, in the washing machine, by spilled coffee at the office. We hear, too, from contractors who’ve had techs deliver estimates without making a copy for themselves, so that they don’t have any record of the proposal—what price they quoted, what costs were included in that price, what HVAC system the customer asked for. 

Without enduring the embarrassment of asking the customer to remind them of what, exactly, they proposed in the first place, the tech has no way of following through on the bid—even in the event of a sale. Following up on unsold estimates is a practice that many HVAC techs have trouble implementing, and pen-and-paper proposals don’t help. With paper estimates—unless the tech has a phenomenal memory, or a very effective reminder system—keeping track of and pursuing all of the outstanding bids in their portfolio can be a near-impossible task.          

4. Miscalculation

By the time a tech using the pen-and-paper method gets around to actually calculating an estimate, there have already been numerous opportunities for human error introduced into the process. If the tech became flustered during the home visit and missed a measurement or forgot to ask an important question about the homeowner’s preferences, for example, the resultant proposal is going to be skewed—priced too high or too low, or perhaps inclusive of HVAC equipment ill-suited to the customer’s particular needs.

The potential negative consequences are clear enough: 

  • Jobs lost due to overpriced estimates

  • Revenue lost due to underpriced estimates 

  • Reputational damage caused by appearing less than professional

And there are also plenty of opportunities for human error in calculating an estimate—arithmetic mistakes, inputting the wrong variables, punching “7” on the calculator instead of “9.” 

The Benefits of an End-to-End Solution Like ServiceTitan  

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Down below we’ll have a look at a few standalone software solutions for HVAC estimating—software products that (more or less) address estimating alone. There’s nothing wrong, per se, with this kind of solution. But if a contractor decides to use one, that means they’re going to need other methods to address the other elements of their business (e.g. dispatching, follow-up, etc.). 

Whether they’re using a handful of software products or more old-fashioned methods, a patchwork of disconnected solutions, rather than a single, end-to-end solution, does create opportunities for errors: 

  • Mixed-up passwords that leave techs locked out of one software subscription or another, delaying delivery of an estimate

  • Miscommunication between supposedly complementary software products

  • Human error caused by confusion arising from having to toggle between various analog channels and software solutions

In effect, contractors using this kind of approach often don’t have a true process for HVAC estimates or a system to give them a precise understanding of the time, costs, and margins for every job (to ensure they price estimates appropriately).  

As important as a clean, branded, professional-looking estimate is, aesthetics aren’t much help if the steps that led up to that estimate are full of glitches. The most effective HVAC estimates accurately express the results of an integrated, well-defined, and comprehensive project management process. And that’s why, in our experience, many of the best HVAC contractors are those who handle their estimates through an end-to-end solution like ServiceTitan.   

With ServiceTitan, contractors get all of the tools offered by the best standalone HVAC estimate software: 

  1. Customized inventories of products and services, complete with price lists, eliminating the possibility of costly math errors. 

  2. Educational product details and photographs, allowing techs to “wow” homeowners with digital plans. 

  3. Good, better, best customer-facing presentations designed to increase ticket price averages. 

  4. Branded proposals that can be created and emailed on-site—and pursued via follow-up. 

  5. Access for homeowners to HVAC financing options.

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Powerful as these features are, they represent simply one part of a larger, well-oiled machine, one which can ensure that the estimates contractors deliver are representative of best-in-class operations. 

With ServiceTitan’s alert feature, contractors can give their techs the best possible chance of sales success, providing customers a precise, accurate window for their appointment in real time, so that they haven’t become frustrated—and less purchase-inclined—by the time the tech arrives for a field service call. 

ServiceTitan also provides techs with tons of detail about every home. It even allows them to listen to the owner’s initial call with their company’s customer service rep, so that they’re well-educated about the customer’s current system, as well as their needs, wants, and complaints.      

Many ServiceTitan subscribers also use this information to guarantee that things go exactly according to plan after their techs get to a property. It allows contractors to require their techs to proceed methodically through one or more checklists, taking measurements, locating key structural elements, and querying homeowners about their needs. That way, when it comes time to actually create an estimate, they can be certain that nothing important was missed. After they’ve provided an estimate, techs can use ServiceTitan alerts to stay on top of follow ups. When they make a sale, they can use the software to collect payment, too.  

Note: Want to see ServiceTitan in action? Book a demo for a full product walk through with someone on our team.

Standalone Options for HVAC Estimating Software

Having said all that, we understand that there are contractors out there who are hesitant about modernizing too much, too quickly, or who feel especially vexed by estimate-specific issues. As we noted above, there are a number of software estimating tools on the market designed to address estimates alone. Below, we provide a brief overview of three such options. 

Proposal Kit 

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Proposal Kit isn’t specific to HVAC businesses. It would work just fine for sheet metal contractors, carpenters, or anyone in the construction industry. But with an affordable $79 flat fee, it can be a good option for HVAC contractors who are just getting a business off the ground, or who are otherwise working on a tight budget. 

With templates that can be customized with a company logo; calculator tools; a library of basic contract and invoice types; and step-by-step instructions to help subscribers make the best use of all of the above; Proposal Kit can help HVAC contractors avoid some of the more basic mistakes we mentioned earlier: messy-looking proposals, mathematical slip-ups, missing copies of outstanding estimates.

Proposal Kit is, however, a document-focused tool. If an HVAC contractor is looking for a software solution that can assist them in streamlining their sales process, they will likely need to shop for something more advanced.   

HVAC Estimates App

At $19.99 per month, or $99.99 annually, the HVAC Estimates App—available from the ARI company—got their start with an app for Auto Repair Invoicing and offers considerably more bells and whistles than Proposal Kit. As its name suggests, the HVAC Estimates App is industry-specific. It offers a mobile interface outfitted with intuitive menus that feature common HVAC job types, a customizable database for parts and services, and a catalogue of forms from which techs can create professional-looking estimates on-site, during home visits—limiting opportunities for the kinds of errors that can lead to losing bids and money. 

The HVAC Estimates App also enables contractors to follow up on unsold estimates via email. 

Sales Builder Pro 

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Of all the standalone HVAC estimating software tools currently available, Sales Builder Pro, which is made by Mitsubishi Electric, is one of the most advanced. Offering a sleek mobile interface complete with all of the features included in the HVAC Estimates App, Sales Builder Pro also provides a host of additional useful components. 

Notably, the software gives contractors and techs a variety of tools—videos, educational product details, renderings showing how HVAC units will look at a given home—designed to improve close rates and boost average ticket prices. 

Conclusion

There’s no doubt that standalone estimating software can benefit HVAC contractors, addressing many of the pitfalls of the pen-and-paper method that we’ve discussed. For contractors who aren’t quite ready to take a great technological leap forward, they can be a solid first step. But estimate-specific solutions can also create new problems of their own—not infrequently replicating the same issues they were meant to fix. 

If a contractor is using standalone estimating programs, it means they’re probably using a variety of other solutions to address the other essential elements of their business: dispatching, home inspections, follow-ups, processing payments, and the like. The upshot is often that they don’t truly have a well-defined process for HVAC estimates in place, so much as a patchwork of less than well-coordinated quick-fixes, with numerous opportunities for things to go awry. 

In our experience working with hundreds of contractors, we’ve observed that those who use an end-to-end software solution like ServiceTitan find that it helps them maintain an integrated system for HVAC estimates that’s guaranteed to give them a precise understanding of the time, costs, and margins for every job, and which ensures that they price estimates appropriately every time.  

Want to see ServiceTitan in action? Schedule a call with us to learn more about how our software can help grow your business.

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