HVAC Estimator Guide: The Secrets to Creating Quality Residential HVAC Estimates That Close
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Explaining an HVAC job estimate and presenting homeowners with their various options — always working to maximize the upsell opportunity — requires a different kind of skill than repairing an air conditioner or installing a heat pump. Some HVAC service techs don’t excel at communication, which is why they prefer to work in a skilled trade where their hands and knowledge do the talking.
“Good communicators are not always really good on the technical side, or it’s the opposite, and somebody really good at the technical stuff isn’t really good in communication,” says Nikolai Matveev, owner of Cardinal Plumbing, Heating & Air, which operates two locations in Virginia. “There is more communication required on the repair side than actual skill and how to do the job, because you’re going to have to explain it fairly well to justify the price.
“You have to be almost part-salesman and sell your job before you even do the work,” Matveev says. “That’s one of the biggest obstacles, to find the people who can do both really efficiently.”
Help your HVAC estimators exceed your company’s sales goals and expectations by giving them the right tools to craft a simple, uniform HVAC proposal template, one that’s easy to explain and customers can accept on the spot. Here’s a guide to what it takes to create an excellent residential HVAC proposal that increases company profits while making everyone’s job a little easier.
Maximizing Profit Starts with Driven Service Techs & Devoted Salespeople
Hiring the best staff possible, across your organization, forms the foundation of a successful home service company. While smart technology can add incredible efficiency and transparency to your operation, it’s imperative to attract and retain the right talent — employees who show drive to accomplish personal and company goals — to properly utilize those tech tools. You also need the right person in the right job, and that requires some reflection, accurate reporting and making adjustments from time to time.
When Mateev migrated from Russia 15 years ago, he began learning the plumbing trade. After his first entry-level tech job, he joined a smaller company and worked on high-end residential plumbing projects in custom Colorado homes. In 2008, as the economy crashed, Mateev moved to Virginia in search of new opportunities, finding a job at a small plumbing company where he focused on residential bathroom and kitchen remodeling jobs. His fellow technicians eventually left with Mateev to start their own company.
A man like Mateev, with ample drive and ambition, struggles to find the very best employees to match his own expectations. He wants someone who can both sell a product and possesses the technical skills to install or fix anything — a company rep who cares equally about maximizing the company’s profit and their personal income.
“If you are the right person and you’re really passionate about your work, I don’t see why you should make less than somebody. It’s just as an important job as any other job out there,” Mateev says of his work ethic philosophy for the skilled trades, which faces an unprecedented worker shortage across several construction industries in the U.S.
“It’s just hard to find the right people. It’s also really important to send the right person to the right job,” Mateev says. “I wish we had some kind of magic, like a door opens and the guy’s just perfect. Unfortunately, that’s not available, so we just have to do it like everybody else.”
If the service call likely involves selling the homeowner on replacing an expensive HVAC component, the person who shows up to perform the work and present the cost estimation needs to be excellent at:
Explaining the technical how/why/what factors involved in the job
Breaking down the estimate pricing, so the inevitable sticker shock of replacing an expensive HVAC system doesn’t give a hot lead the chills, and
Showing good, better and best pricing options, effortlessly upselling by educating the customer and making them more comfortable with such a big buying decision.
“You definitely want to send a naturally good communicator, because they can sell a job that’s going to be a few thousand dollars. They’re much more efficient when a customer throws them some little objection,” Mateev says. “We want to make sure whoever we send out there, they can explain it really well. If the customer has some kind of concern, they can address those, and by the end of the day, they close the job and make sure everybody’s happy.”
Appoint Specialized Staff to Create HVAC Estimates & Upsell on Big Jobs
When Cardinal Plumbing first started offering residential HVAC services in addition to plumbing a few years ago, the company let all of the service staff sell equipment because they didn’t have any processes established for the HVAC estimating and sales portion of the heating and cooling work. Mateev quickly discovered the residential HVAC and plumbing worlds operate a little differently and existing business procedures weren’t going to seamlessly roll over when the company expanded.
“It just got way out of hand,” Matveev says of his rough foray into the HVAC industry. “They started ordering their own stuff — and they don’t know how exactly to do an offer, or how to do heat load calculations and all of that stuff.”
In addition to stellar communication skills, presenting a quality HVAC cost estimate to consumers requires something else not a lot of service techs have — time. Many HVAC companies find it’s more efficient and much more effective to separate the two jobs, relying on a trained salesperson to evaluate and estimate larger jobs beyond basic scheduled maintenance, such as upgrading an outdated heat pump or replacing a furnace.
Cardinal Plumbing eventually hired a devoted salesperson who receives leads from the four full-time service technicians. He handles the complicated equations for sizing or balancing an HVAC system, then breaks down the details for customers.
“He’s a very experienced guy, so he’s doing all of those heat load calculations and making sure to explain it really well to the customer,” Matveev says. “He’s taking his time and not in a rush, so that’s not a problem. With technicians, when they do sales, sometimes they know they have four more places to go that day and just give the customer one option and go.”
Make HVAC Estimates Easy to Understand and Approve
Heating, air conditioning and ventilation systems are complicated systems critical to keeping a home comfortable, with proper airflow and humidity levels in check. Those factors impact the health and safety of the people living in the space, as well as the efficiency and expense of heating and cooling the house.
To properly install or repair HVAC components, such as adding ductwork for more efficient airflow or fixing a furnace, requires skill and technical knowledge the average homeowner lacks. When presenting an HVAC estimate or trying to get a customer to sign an HVAC maintenance contract, your technician or comfort advisor must clearly explain the benefits of the services or products they recommend and outline the pitfalls of not addressing HVAC issues.
Chris Graham, who runs a one-man air conditioning and refrigeration business in Texas, explains the key to upselling as an HVAC technician is to present homeowners with the facts in an easy-to-understand and presentable way, explaining how the age of a system or a home plays into the repair or replacement and what tasks need to be done in order to save money down the line.
Graham ranked as top seller at the last two HVAC companies he worked at before starting on his own, and says not having an established estimating process and not being knowledgeable enough are the two biggest mistakes technicians make when entering a home and attempting to upsell services or products to customers.
“Look at the whole picture, for installation and just for everything,” Graham says. “The equipment age and the home age, and wrap it all up into a presentation, and it sells itself, basically.”
At Cardinal Plumbing, Mateev requires his field technicians to present customers with multiple options for each portion of the job estimate, and emphasizes the importance of explaining to the customer the often-complicated cost estimation.
“They’re required to give the customer a couple of options and educate them,” Mateev says. “We don’t leave customers in the dark. We want to make sure we’re taking advantage of every call we go to, and that it’s benefiting the customer.”
A well-written, detailed estimate helps your residential HVAC customers understand the costs associated with the repairs, equipment upgrades or maintenance work your sales rep recommends, along with how labor and part pricing factors in. It’s imperative they break down the estimate in a way that’s easy to follow and transparent, so customers feel comfortable signing off on the work right away. To create quality HVAC estimates for residential customers, follow these guidelines:
ServiceTitan Tips to Mastering HVAC Estimates that Convert Sales
Provide the customer with a mobile pricebook that shows multiple predetermined options, presenting the good, better and best solutions and what’s involved for each choice.
Utilize flat-rate pricing that includes the labor, materials and HVAC equipment rolled into one cost for each kind of service you offer. Make it clear to the customer what’s included in the total cost, including any discounts or coupons used.
Itemize estimates with everything included — so it’s transparent and easy to understand what’s involved in the HVAC job.
Include in your pricebook photos and detailed descriptions that technicians can use to walk customers through a job estimate, educate them on what’s involved and why it’s important, and present the various options to upsell.
Tie estimates directly to your pricebook to ensure pricing stays uniform across the company, and for more accurate business reporting and sales data analytics.
Utilize a mobile app so your technicians can remotely access and present the pricebook on a tablet while in the field, then easily create an electronic estimate that the customer can accept on the spot.
If the prospective customer needs more time to consider your HVAC proposal, send them a digital copy of the estimate they can approve easily when ready. Send automated reminder emails or text messages to follow up on open HVAC estimates.
Close the Sale When Giving HVAC Cost Estimates
You’ve explained to the homeowner the details of the recommended repair or replacement work and presented them with a detailed estimate. Now comes the most important step of the HVAC estimating process — getting immediate approval so your team can go to work.
Closing the sale before your technician or sales rep leaves the home is your best bet at winning that job. As more time passes, people forget or get busy and that priority quickly slips down their list.
Cardinal Plumbing invests in weekly training sessions for the technicians and salespeople to work on improving communication skills, the art of upselling, and how to explain complicated HVAC topics to customers so they can close more contracts.
They also use ServiceTitan software to run detailed reports on each team member’s performance to see how much revenue each technician generates, average ticket price and closing rate with customers. Managers use those reports to identify ways to strengthen performance, such as making sure the techs present multiple choices in every estimate.
“And they have to call in every time a customer declines us,” Mateev says. “We want to make sure all of the options were presented and all discounts were given, and everything was explained well.”
Use Technology to Support Your HVAC Technicians & Streamline Business
The digital estimate the techs can quickly create on their iPads gives customers an easy way to review the proposal and quickly sign off on the work, which automatically alerts any relevant install techs or managers of new sales.
If a tech or salesperson can’t get a customer to commit immediately, proper follow-up procedures become critical. Determine who is responsible for following up on open estimates and put a system in place to document notes detailing every interaction with a customer.
By automating some of the lead follow-up process, customers receive emails or texts to remind them of the estimate awaiting approval and give them a way to conveniently accept the HVAC bid online. That frees up your technicians’ and office staff’s time to answer questions from potential customers.
“A lot of customers need time to swallow that pill, and so we need persistence in following up. Call back time and time again to see if there’s more information we can give them,” says Barry Palmer, CFO and co-owner of All Pro Air in Riverside, California.
“Persistency is definitely a big key component,” Palmer says of how to successfully close an estimate or bid. “At the end of the day, the customer is trusting us to help guide them in picking the best system and solutions for them.”
At All Pro Air, the technician who created the estimate is responsible for following up, and because they know their paycheck depends on it, they’re good about documenting it. They check to make sure all of the customer’s questions are answered and gently remind them to take action.
“They know who they need to follow up with, and so they can log that data into ServiceTitan. Make the calls, resend quotes or make new quotes,” Palmer says. The interconnected software manages customer profiles, reporting data, field dispatch, incoming calls, staff interactions, and automatically sends customer reminders.
Mateev implemented ServiceTitan technology more than three years ago, and he says now that they’ve streamlined their business processes on the HVAC side across the company, it comes back to finding the right people to do the work well.
“Basically, creating the systems was the hardest for us — something that makes it all replicable and repeatable. It slowed us down,” Mateev says. “Now, we’re focused on creating a system for hiring and making sure everybody out there is doing the right job. We can track the KPIs, the key performance indicators on guys, and really see how they’re performing.
“It seems we have all our ducks in a row with that, so now the object is to just get more of the right people in the trucks and let them do the work, because we have more than enough work,” Mateev says. “There are still a hundred other things to oversee. If you don’t have the right procedures, then even if you hire the right people, they still aren’t going to be very productive.”
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