What if we told you the best way to make the most of your summer rush is by booking free maintenance calls? That’s right, FREE. If maintenance agreements are the bread and butter of your HVAC service business, you might be shaking your head at this point. But don’t write it off just yet.
Will Smith, VP of Coaching and Training, and Derrek Hofrichter, Business Coach, both of Service Business Evolution (which grew from George Brazil Heating & Cooling in Phoenix), explain how this approach works with a math lesson based on the replacement business model in a recent ServiceTitan webinar. Read on to learn three steps to capitalize on the summer rush.
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1. Capture Customers with Older Systems
The HVAC replacement business cycle goes through four stages:
Years 1-4 (Invest)
Years 5-9 (Grow)
Years 10-13 (Mature)
Years 14+ (Harvest)
To fully realize the earnings potential of an HVAC system, you must nurture the customer through each of these stages.
During the first four years of an HVAC system’s life, the customer should invest in their equipment, and the technician should invest in that customer.
“There are two types of customers,” Smith says. “There’s a proactive customer and a reactive customer. About 30% of the market is proactive. And these people are going to say something like ‘Keep it new’ to your tech. And what’s the best way to keep a system new? Maintenance. So about 30% of customers are going to buy maintenance.”
But for the other 70% of customers, Smith notes they’ll say ‘It’s brand new. Just let it ride. The system shouldn’t break.’
“Once you get into that five-to-nine-year category, 70% of those customers are probably still calling their systems new, but when you start checking the equipment, what they’re going to end up having to admit is it’s neglected,” Smith says. “And so the most important thing we do with this customer is sell maintenance agreements and get that system cleaned up. If you capture these customers with maintenance, they eventually turn into 10-13+ year-old systems.”
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When the system reaches 10-13 years old, customers often ask their technicians to just get them a few more years out of the unit.
“It’s absolutely essential to capture this customer with maintenance,” Smith says.
If the customer doesn’t want to purchase a maintenance agreement, he recommends getting an invite-back using the following script:
I can appreciate that you don't want to buy a maintenance agreement, but you're a valuable customer, and you just spent a lot of money on this repair. We appreciate your business. I think maintenance is important, so the next one's on me. I'll come back next spring and make sure your unit’s tuned up and ready for the summer. Would that be OK?
“Those 10-13-year-old customers are very expensive to acquire,” he adds. “You don’t want them to go anywhere. So get them on a maintenance plan or get an invite-back.”
Summer customers with 14+ year-old units usually ask their technicians to get them through the summer. And just like with the 10-13-year-old units, you want to either sell a maintenance agreement or get an invite-back.
“The reason maintenance agreements and invite-backs are a big deal to that 10-14+ year group is because those groups account for 80% of your company revenue,” Smith says.
Smith refers to this process as pipeline management.
“Pipeline management is where all the 1-4, 5-9, 10-13, and 14+ customers go in and flow through your business,” he says. “The new opportunities come in, and the sold or lost opportunities either exit or leak out. It's a very simple concept, but it has major implications. It's important to understand that you must capture those mature and harvest customers and keep them in your pipeline. If you do this consistently, it turns into a steady stream of new system revenue. ”
Do the Math
To demonstrate how invite-backs work, Smith walks through a few equations.Based on Service Business Evolution’s tracking, 70% of summer customers fall into the mature and harvest categories, with units 10 years or older. The average technician runs five calls a day and works five days a week. That adds up to 100 calls a month, or 300 total for the summer months of June through August.
If 70% of the tech’s calls are for units 10+ years old, it equals 210 systems.
“The question is ‘How many of those 210 systems is your company going to capture and keep in your business?’” Smith asks.
With a very conservative close rate of 10%, and an average ticket price of $8,000, one technician would sell $168K worth of equipment.
“But that’s not even the most important number,” Smith says. “If you sold 20 jobs, you still have 190 customers with old systems flowing through your business. Are you going to capture them and make the most of that summer rush?”
To keep those customers in the pipeline, techs should strive to sell maintenance agreements to at least 40% of those customers, according to Smith.
“And what that means is your technician would've sold 76 maintenance agreements over the summer,” he adds. “And that leaves us with 114 unattached opportunities. It's time to invite yourself back.”
If 80% of those customers agree to the free maintenance, that equals 91 invite-backs and 23 unattached opportunities that leak out of your pipeline.
“23 opportunities leaking out is way better than 114,” Smith says.
After all that, your technician will have booked 167 appointments: 76 maintenance agreements and 91 invite-backs.
Whether that’s a good idea for your business again comes down to the numbers.
“The invite-back is the definition of a free call,” Smith says. “But we know, because we track it, that if we run 167 calls, we’re going to have an average ticket of $200. So if we know that, we can calculate that we’ll generate $33K in service revenue. And with a 10% close rate, we’re going to sell 17 jobs. If you have an $8,000 average ticket, you’re going to sell $136K in replacement equipment. And over the course of a couple months, you’ve generated $169K in business.”
By booking maintenance and invite-backs into the future, techs fill their schedules for the slower months to come.
2. Make it Fun
While capturing future business during the summer rush sounds ideal, it’s not easy.
“When your guys are running full throttle, they’re burnt out,” Smith says. “They’re rushing through calls, not talking to customers, and not building value. They’re not selling maintenance, and we’re not capturing customers.”
To keep technicians focused on capturing customers, HVAC business owners need to make it fun.
“We need to incentivize it. We need to motivate it. We need to inspire action on it,” Hofrichter says.
To empower your technicians to sell maintenance agreements, Smith recommends coaching them to ask a couple of questions:
When’s the last time you had maintenance performed on your unit?
How long do you want your system to last?
These questions tee up your technician to sell maintenance agreements. Another technique is demonstrating the need for system maintenance by cleaning half of the outdoor coil and showing your customer the difference between the clean and dirty sides, or writing their name in dust on the inside unit.
“This will inspire the customer to want to clean the coil, clean the fan motor, clean the duct system,” Smith says. “The impact of the dirt conversation will sell a lot of maintenance agreements.”
Once you give your techs the tools and training they need to achieve success, offer fun incentives to up the ante. Smith suggests technician poker. Give the technicians a goal for maintenance sales, and allow them to win a card if they hit that goal. Allow them to earn additional cards for every maintenance agreement sold above their goal. At the end of the week, the best poker hand wins first place and the highest percentage over goal wins second place.
“This breaks up the monotony of summer,” Hofrichter says. “It adds a little competitive nature to your team, and it keeps the conversation around maintenance agreements.”
3. Celebrate the Wins
Last, but not least, celebrate the wins with your technicians. With the poker game, you celebrate weekly. Smith also recommends texting or calling technicians when they sell a maintenance agreement to let them know you’re proud of their hard work.
>> Want more? Listen to Will Smith on ServiceTitan’s Toolbox for the Trades podcast.
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