The First Sale Is The Appointment

Originally published: 02.01.08 by Tom Piscitelli


You only have one chance to make a first impression.

Heating and air conditioning is normally an out-of-sight, out-of-mind part of life, unless it isn’t working correctly. We don’t notice comfort when we have it . . . it is discomfort that we notice. We are bothered by noise, not quiet. We know when we are unhealthy. We feel irritation when inconvenienced. We live most of our lives pampered in a conditioned space and take it for granted until something stops working. When that happens we want someone who understands our unique problems and who will take care of them properly. As a service provider, setting the appointment is the first step in convincing the potential customer that you are the right choice. 

Being a consumer, you likely can relate to searching for someone or some company you can trust to take care of a home-related problem. People are cautious about doing business with contractors. They have heard about or had problems with poor workmanship, unreliability and even outright fraud. These are rare events, to be sure, but still a stigma exists. 

When a customer, or potential customer, has a heating, air conditioning, indoor air quality or other need that you can address, you want them to be able to quickly find you and feel comfortable and confident about their choice. 

First, Make Sure Customers Can Contact You 

If you have sold something to someone once, that qualifies them as your customer. Make it easy for them to find you again. Here are a few basic tools: 

• Internet search finds you on the first page 

• Quarterly newsletters and eNewsletters 

• Furnace or air handler sticker 

• Monthly postcards 

• Refrigerator magnet 

• Name in bold print in your local phonebook 

Importance Of Web Presence 

The grace period is over. Today’s consumer expects a sharp-looking, user-friendly and informative Web site. If your site isn’t professional, or you don’t have one at all, you are immediately moved down or even taken off of their list of potential companies to do business with. 

Search for your competitors’ Web sites and see how you stack up. If your Web site needs a tune-up, look for recommendations from your equipment manufacturer, other suppliers or associations like The Service Roundtable. 

How important is it for your company to come up on the first page of an Internet search? The short answer: Very. Some experts make the case for being No.1, while others say just be among the top three. Another tactic is to pay for listings on search engines. These are the blue-shaded spots you get with Google AdWords and other search engine providers. 

The key to search engine optimization is experimenting. One of the good features of Internet lead generation is that you can track every lead. It may seem expensive, but if it pays for itself then do it. A few months will be all you need to find out what works and what doesn’t. 

The Receptionist Makes The First Sale 

Once the customer finds your contact information, the next critical moment is when your phone rings. How the call is answered is a make or break moment. Having a call answered by an automated system is at best unfriendly and at worst irritating. Many consumers will hang up when they don’t reach a person right away. Having a bored, unfriendly or curt person answer the phone is just as bad. The guidelines for a correct phone greeting include: 

• Answer in two to three rings. 

• Have a cheerful tone of voice and rate of speech. It helps to be smiling when answering. 

• Use a friendly and inviting greeting such as, “Good afternoon, thanks for calling Tom’s Home Comfort Company. This is Melinda, how may we help you today?” 

If the customer is calling for someone else make sure that person is available to take calls. If not, offer to help them yourself if you can or invite them to leave a message. Give them choices. 

The receptionist must be trained to respond to the various calls that will occur. Help her help your customers by documenting the types of calls that typically come in and script the answers. Train her on how to use the scripts. Initially she will read them, but in short order will use them as a guide and become more conversational in her approach. For more on this, The Service Roundtable offers a 40-page book of phone scripts titled, “The Ultimate HVAC Incoming Call Script Book.” 

When all of these steps are done well, the receptionist will often have the opportunity to pre-sell the company, the quality of your technicians and installers, and set the stage for the salesperson. A well-handled phone call may stop a customer from calling another contractor for a second or third bid. 

When the technician or salesperson brings up something that the receptionist mentioned beforehand, it’s more familiar and the customer is likely to be more open to hearing about it. 

The receptionist or dispatcher must be able to relate to the customer’s concerns, show empathy, be responsive…and properly set the expectations for the appointment, all without being too pushy. 

It’s a big job and not one that everyone is well suited for. Taking 50 to 100 or more calls a day, every day, will wear anyone out. As we have discussed, training and coaching is critical, but the bottom line is that you have to have someone who is naturally quick thinking and capable of handling such a demanding job. 

For better or worse, the receptionist/dispatcher sets the stage for the salesperson. 

And what a wonderful thing it is when the receptionist “warms up” the customer for the salesperson. If she understands what the salesperson will be doing, and truly believes in the benefits and value of the company’s high-end systems, she will be much better at preconditioning the customers to that kind of discussion when the salesperson arrives for the call. For this to work, the salesperson must take the time to explain what he does and always be responsive to what the receptionist tells him. If he’s smart, he’ll follow up with her and show his sincere appreciation and recognition for her job well done. 

If incoming calls are not being handled well then it’s up to you to meet with your boss and chat about what you are missing and how much that is costing the company. The salesperson must be willing to be a part of the solution, doing his part and sharing the successes. After all, the first sale is the appointment. 


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