In 1998, every Thursday around 6 p.m., when I had to transfer payroll from my bank account to the payroll company’s bank account, I was secretly wishing that my business would somehow vanish into thin air.

The roster showed the most employees I had ever staffed at one time up to that point — 18, to be exact. Baffled, I thought, “How is it that a full staff can’t pull together and find a way to make more money than the day before?” I was constantly spinning the ole’ wheel of, “If I could just teach my techs to sell, then…” Well, we would inevitably be out of the woods, right?

Many contractors rely heavily on their technicians’ ability to sell in the home. If upsells and upgrades aren’t happening, the business is usually doomed. Can you imagine being a technician and having the business rely on your ability to snap out of “fix it” mode and into “you’d better sell more or we’re going under” mode?

All I wanted to do at 6 p.m. every Thursday was to transfer the $10,000 in payroll with no afterthought of business suicide. So, I began to invest nonexistent money into my technicians in hopes that they would save my company and learn how to be great salesmen. Lead a horse to water and he’ll drink, right? Well, not this horse. Why? Because I’m asking this full-blooded technician to act more like a full-blooded salesperson. This is drinking from an entirely different watering hole.

After training seminars, videos, inspirational CDs (it was the 90s), and week-long conferences for myself, I was sure that my technicians would get that glimmer of desire in their eye to march right into the next home and come out on top with an upsell. Did this ever happen? Yes, for about two weeks.

Ask yourself the following question, and answer truthfully: If it’s like pulling teeth to get your techs to acquire payment on the day of service, why would it be any easier to have them transform their agenda from problem solver to Wall Street broker?

If we autopsied the core values and drive of a true service technician, the industry would see some innate characteristics. Have you ever met a true red-blooded technician that craved increasing the bottom line? Not likely. Their single focus is to make the homeowner happy by giving them access to skilled labor at yard-sale prices.


Give me tools or give me death

Service technicians want to feel tools between their fingers. Their rewards come from fixing the problem, not convincing the homeowner to spend more or upgrade. True technicians aren’t salesy or cunning — they are to-the-point, fix-the-problem, ease-your-pain kind of people. Their goal is the hum of a solved problem.

Technicians are fully dedicated to fixing systems, not going into the home, putting on a clip tie to make a sale, and then doing a quick change in the truck before they do the task. These individuals get their fill by being recognized as hard workers who have the knowledge to fix the problem and leave the home secure.

Why do we continue to make the effort to change the working DNA of our technicians? Do some have the ability to sell? Yes. Majority rules, though, and the majority of technicians want nothing to do with your sales plan.

Take a squirrel. Do you think you could teach a squirrel to sit on a couch and watch a movie with you? Probably not, but toss some nuts on the couch and enjoy your movie. He might join you, but he probably won’t get much out of the movie. Some of us are like squirrels — we’re just here for the nuts with no desire to watch your movie.

So maybe it’s time to stop training and change the game. What’s the solution when you need some or all of your technicians to sell? Well, you’ve got two choices: Let someone else sell for the technician, or provide a system that allows the customer to buy without requiring the technician to sell. Those are your viable options. Choose one and you’ll see progress. The faster we accept that techs are techs and not salesmen for a reason, the faster your bottom line will increase and the better chance you will have of getting that squirrel to sit.


This article was originally titled “Technicians know how not to sell” in the December 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.