Marketing • Productivity • Management • Operations • 61 minutes

Weldon Long: How an Ex-Con Became a Sales Superstar

June 23, 2020

Episode Overview

Thinking about what to think about can transform your entire life. At least it did for Weldon Long, speaker, mindset and sales expert and New York Times Bestselling author of The Power of Consistency. After spending much of his adult life in prison, Weldon’s incredible success story truly demonstrates the power our mindset can have — and how changing it can alter the entire trajectory of our lives.

Advice from his father

Less than two years before he started his own HVAC company, Weldon Long was 39 years old, broke and living in a homeless shelter after having just been released from prison.

His fortunes have changed since then. Today, he’s a New York Times best-selling author and highly sought speaker, trainer and consultant. That HVAC company he started? Long grew it to $20 million in revenue in just five years, after it was named by Inc. Magazine as one of America’s fastest-growing companies. 

It’s an amazing life story for someone who was in and out of state and federal prisons from 1987 to 2003.

“I was a ninth-grade dropout,” he says. “I was a punk and a thug and a first-class loser.”

On June 10, 1996—a date Long recalls very clearly—he was 32 and starting a seven-year prison sentence. He got the news that his father had died.

“I started thinking about a conversation I had with him a couple weeks before he passed away,” Long recalls. “I was bellyaching about being back in prison, complaining about my life and blaming everybody else.”

His dad told him: “Your life could be worse.”

That didn’t make sense to Long. He was in jail for the third time. Had no education. Never learned a trade or a skill. And, he’d fathered a 3-year-old son that he’d abandoned.

Long’s father continued: “You know son? You’re still breathing. And as long as you’re breathing you’ve got a shot to change your life. But you’ve got to do it.”

Those were the last words he ever heard from his dad.

“I decided within a few hours of my father dying that I was going to change the course of my life,” Long says. “I made two very simple commitments. I was going to be a man my father could’ve been proud of, and I was going to be the father that my little boy deserved.” 

He set out on a journey. 

“My master plan was to study and find out what really successful people do and start doing that instead of the crazy stuff I’d been doing,” Long says.

Getting focused

Long spent his whole prison term changing his thought process and learning to focus his life.

“I wrote out what a perfect life for me would look like,” he says. “I put toothpaste in the back of this sheet of paper I had written it on. I stuck it on the wall of my cell, and spent the next seven years meditating on it, visualizing it and acting consistently with it.”

He left prison a changed man.

“It’s all about mindset,” Long says. “Today, so much of my teaching, my speaking and my writing, is about the mindset of overcoming challenges. To thrive in the face of adversity. It’s such an important part of business, and really, life in general.”

Long believes there’s one thing in particular that sidetracks people in business and in sales.

“It’s not a lack of ability, a lack of desire, lack of skill,” he says. “It's a lack of focus. People get distracted by BS. They get distracted by unimportant things.”

He doesn’t—not any more. That was one of his former self’s core problems.

“I just stay fiercely focused,” Long says. “I’m a bulldog on execution and just staying with things.”

Getting into the trades

Long walked out of prison a new man. Fully focused. Changed. Problem was, he had to convince an employer that was the case.

He had a simple spiel prepared for his job search. It was: “How do you do? My name’s Weldon Long. I’m looking for a job, an opportunity. I’ll never lie, cheat or steal. And I’ll sell more of whatever you're selling than anyone’s ever sold here.”

Long says companies were impressed with his attitude. Then he’d tell them he’d spent 13 years in prison and was living in a homeless shelter.

Then it was, “thanks, but no thanks.” That went on for months. He told potential employers he’d clean the floors, scrub the toilets—anything to get a paycheck. Still, no takers.

The rejection nearly broke him.

It was a small HVAC company that finally gave an ex-con a chance.

“I trained for about a week on the install side, and did a couple of sales leads,” Long says. “I didn’t know much about the industry. I went out on my first month in this business and I sold $149,000 worth of air conditioners.”

He made more than $14,000 in sales commissions that month, and he’s never looked back. Long worked at that company for eight months, then opened his own shop.

It was 2008-09 when he sold the company, wrote his first of three books and became a hot commodity as a speaker-trainer-consultant.

“I’ve worked for almost every major manufacturer, distributor and contractor in this country over the last 12 years,” he muses. “And none of those companies would have hired me to sweep their floors because of my record.”

Now companies trust him and believe in his message.

“People ask me how I got in the HVAC industry,” Long says. “I tell them, ‘Hey, man, I didn’t choose the HVAC industry. It chose me.’ That was the door that opened and I went through it.”

Weldon Long’s Home Services Trade Tips

Weldon Long, successful entrepreneur, sales expert and New York Times best-selling author, offered tips for success in the trades on a recent episode of “Toolbox for the Trades” podcast, hosted by ServiceTitan. Among his top tips: 

1. Be a sales and marketing company first.

“From Day One, I was never a heating and air conditioning company,” Long says. “I was a sales and marketing company who sold and installed heating and air conditioning systems.”

He says there’s an understanding in the industry that techs need to be trained, but that sales skills are sometimes looked down upon.

“You would never grab your accountant and say, ‘Hey, can you run some service calls for me today?’” Long says. “Because we understand that a service technician has to be trained, experienced, skilled, all those things.”

Same with sales, he believes. 

“When it comes to sales, we'll grab somebody with a pulse and a heartbeat and say, ‘Hey you’re the sales guy.’ No skills, no training, no aptitude for it. We have to elevate the sales function and the lead management function. 

“I'm not saying it's more important than service techs and quality installations—but man, it’s equally important.”

2. Be consistent with your sales process.

Long acknowledges there are a multitude of sales techniques and processes.

“Any sales process, any sales system, any service tech system you use, will work if you execute it consistently,” he says. “I haven’t found one yet that won’t work if it’s used properly.”

The problem is typically user error, Long says.

“I’m a big proponent of keeping things simple,” he says. 

If a sales process is too complex, you run the risk of salespeople not understanding it. And Long says that if they don’t understand it, they won’t use it.

“I put together a generic pitch book that any company can use,” Long say. “It’s a nine-page laminated booklet, with the key bullet points scripted out, with the questions they should ask scripted out.”

3. Create financial accountability.

Long says the No. 1 thing that sets top companies apart from the pack is financial accountability.

“Manage your company with something like ServiceTitan,” he says. “The key thing in business is having relevant, timely and accurate information about your leads, your money and everything.”

Notepads and sticky notes don’t do the trick, he says.

“I know what it's like to start a company without measuring anything,” Long says. “You have to understand the critical, life-or-death value of accurate information.”

What gets measured gets done, he says. 

“Measuring your call conversion, measuring your revenue per lead, measuring your financials is super important,” Long says.

More tips, tricks and bits of trade wisdom 

Great salespeople are great listeners: “I’d always heard great salesmen are great talkers,” Long says. “Nope. Comedians are great talkers. Unpaid consultants are great talkers. Brilliant conversationalists are great talkers. Great salespeople are great listeners.”

Do top-down selling: Picture a sales call as an incline up a mountain, Long says. “Price is this giant boulder,” he says. “You can start the boulder at the bottom of the mountain and use brute force to push it up. Or, you can put it at the top of the mountain and use leverage and gravity to lower it down. Which is easier? Bringing it down, of course.”

The RISC Process: Long’s “global sales process” can be boiled down into the acronym RISC, which stands for Relationship, Investigate, Sell and Conclude.

  • Relationship. “Sure, people buy from people they like,” he says. “Don't forget—people also buy from people who like them. It's not enough for your customer to like you. They need to know you like them.”

  • Investigate. “People call us with one problem, and they have blinders on,” he says. “Our job is to take those blinders off and investigate all the other problems that the homeowner has—ones that they don’t know or don’t want to acknowledge because problems cost money to be fixed.”

  • Sell. It’s all about proactively having conversations with homeowners, Long says.

  • Conclude. “I say ‘conclude,’ not ‘close,’ because you can’t close 100 percent of your calls,” he says. “But you can conclude every sales call. My objective is to get a yes or a no. No’s aren’t going to kill you. It’s the ‘I don’t knows’ that will destroy you.”

Focus and simplicity: Long agrees with the premise that motivated Steve Jobs. “He attributed the success of Apple to focus and simplicity,” Long says. “It’s one of the greatest companies in the history of commerce. How many products do they have? Not many. They focus on keeping it simple and are focused on user experience.”

Why some sales systems don’t work: It’s all about simplicity, Long says. “You show me an overcomplicated sales system, and I’ll show you a sales professional who’s not using it,” he says.

The meaning of life is service: “It was Leo Tolstoy who said that service is the true meaning of life,” Long says. “And obviously we’re in the service industry, so it doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure that out. That goes for customers, but also applies to your employees. Serve your employees with good leadership.”

Recommended reading: Along with his own books—The Upside of Fear, The Power of Consistency, and Consistency Selling, Long recommends…

ServiceTitan is a comprehensive software solution built specifically to help home service companies streamline their operations, boost revenue, and substantially elevate the trajectory of their business.

Our comprehensive, cloud-based platform is used by thousands of electrical, HVAC, plumbing, garage door, and chimney sweep shops across the country—and has increased their revenue by an average of 25% in just their first year with us.

Ready to learn more about what ServiceTitan can do for your business?

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About the Show

Toolbox for the Trades is a podcast where top service professionals share the tips, tricks, and tactics they use to succeed in their industry. Hosted by Jackie Aubel, this podcast is brought to you by ServiceTitan—the leading home and commercial field service software.

Episodes will feature stories and strategies to help contractors grow and scale their service business.

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