Asking the right questions is the first step to selling in the customer's best interest.

Technicians tend to be great at diagnosing the problem but they need to get great at diagnosing the customer. It's not one diagnosis or the other.

The truth is, I was lousy at diagnosing the customer when I first became a tech. Like most techs, I had a ton of technical knowledge that I was busting to use and I wasn't comfortable talking to people. So, I wanted to skip it. Unfortunately, I was getting a lot of callbacks on my work. Many times I fixed the problem but the customer didn't know. He or she saw no value because I left them in the dark. Sometimes, I actually fixed the wrong problem. That's because I didn't ask enough questions to find out what the customer perceived the problem to be.

I cover this and much more when teaching the “Sales Summit” workshop. My associate, Matt Smith, wrote this workshop to help techs learn how to sell in the customer's best interest. It's a selling system not unlike having a technical flowchart for troubleshooting a service call.

I love to teach techs how to sell. I taught my own techs how to sell for 20 years. But they were only ready to sell once I taught them that selling is not talking, it's asking the right questions and communicating that you're listening. Ethical selling is always selling in the customer's best interest, not ours.

Ask, Then Listen

To help our techs sell despite themselves, I built into our operations manual appropriate prompts that got them talking to the customer by asking the right questions and listening for the answers. Then, the manual directed the tech to present the customer with his or her options. And, it was re-enforced by a lot of role-playing.

If you have a discussion with a customer using a written document, it lends credibility because it's not just your word that helps you sell. Selling is not talking. It's asking effective questions and communicating that you're listening. And, the cookbook approach delivers a consistency that prompts a discussion that leads to doing quality work that the customer perceives has value.

It will work for anyone.

It's working for a progressive electrical shop in Pennsylvania who contacted me. The company already delivered high-quality sales and work. Banners hung in the shop that proclaimed it was selected as best electrical contractor in a local magazine. The techs and the owner didn't even know the company was in the running; its customers voted it in.

With praise like this, it's not hard to see why it's growing so fast. What the owner wanted from me was to create the systems and the training that will assure that the new techs will maintain the high company sales and work standards.

Smart contractors are always looking to improve. And to do that, they know the key is to always deliver higher levels of consistency to customers. They are avid fans of PM and that's where they first learned about me and what I do.

When I arrived to begin the process, everyone was excited and nervous about the prospect of getting started. A systematic approach would provide a greater level of consistency of performance as the firm continued to expand. But, the employees feared it would be a lot of work.

The Operations Manual

That's why I insisted on a short meeting between the owner, the service manager and me. I explained, “I'm going to be dragging you into the desert for awhile and you ought to know that there's a promised land at the end of our journey.

“A comprehensive operations manual is more than rules and company policies. It's about systematic approaches to everything the company does. The outline of every task my company did took a year to write! And here's the good news: You don't have to create this encyclopedic work, just edit what I've done.”

They both breathed a sigh of relief.

“If I gave you five talented techs who passed all your testing and were highly motivated, would you put them to work tomorrow?” I asked.

Their answer was “yes.”

“What are the chances that you could send all five out and have them install a new electric panel the way your company wants it done? The answer would be none. They'd all install it the way they had been trained or thought best.

“But once we define the task with a cookbook-type approach to your company way, we can hire as many new techs as we want and have them read and train on the manual, and feel pretty confident that they'll understand what we want.”

What's really great is that the operations manual does so much more than this. It's the foundation for sales training for all existing techs, new techs and for the apprentices we build into our future techs.

The manual is also a marketing tool. Having a manual is another way to tell your customers you're different and worth the money. It assures them that your techs will follow a set procedure to diagnose and fix their problems. And, a similar result on an install will also come from a set procedure to follow and a checklist approach.

Think of what a marketing advantage this is. And, if you run operations meetings, and I absolutely insist you do, and train on this manual, you are effectively able to say to your customers, “My techs have been fully trained at my company. I'm not coming to your home to learn on the job.”

Imagine owning a bicycle shop and letting your employees assemble bicycles anyway they may have learned -without a set of specific directions. Compare that to having been trained to use a precise step-by-step set of instructions that allows excellent results each and every time.

Have you ever lost a tech on a call because they went way too far for the minimum service fee (trip charge)? They got into trying to find the problem and after three hours they solved the problem and still hadn't quoted the customer a price and gotten his or her approval. It's going to be tough to defend the value. But, if you set up the tasks correctly, there is a logical sequence of steps as to how far to go in the initial diagnosis. That comes from knowing what questions you ask and what you test for, which leads to a meaningful conversation with the customer, which leads to quoting a price for the work.

So why is the manual a powerful sales tool for techs? Well, the power of the written word is enormous. It doesn't even have to be correct, although I want yours to be. When talking to the customer about the work you're proposing, you show them the manual and use it as a prompt for what they'll be getting. The manual should contain benefits, best practices, company policies and code requirements.

The task prompts the tech (even the most technically minded) to sell by asking the right questions, checking for the right things and making the right recommendations that give the options that empower the customer to choose. There's no pricing to make a customer feel pressured. It's a discussion at this point. Can you see how powerful this is?

In-House Training

Now, if you want to take this to an even higher level, you can begin building an in-house training program that includes a hands-on training center. Here's where you'll do your own in-house training of existing techs and new techs, as well as where you'll hire apprentices and train them to become techs. The operations manual is the backbone of the course curriculum you'll be teaching. Working displays tell everyone at the company that training is important. I told all my employees that, if you work for our company, you never stop training.

Naturally, a dedicated training center is best. But, many of you are probably thinking that you don't have room for a training center. Do you have a bathroom? I hope so. Congratulations! That's your new Plumbing Training Center.

I gave the same advice to the owner and service manager of that electrical shop when I advocated the building of a training center. They didn't have the room. So, I asked them if they had an electrical panel, lights, fans and switches. Yes, they have an electrical training center today.

The best thing about the training center is that this is the perfect place to simulate a call. And, this is the safe place to learn how to combine the technical training with the sales training.

Technical training is best accomplished with the careful selection of manufacturers to come to your training center. They should train you by working on their equipment, installing it whenever possible in your training center. Remind them it's in their best interest to make that equipment available because whatever your techs train on, they'll get more comfortable selling.

It's much more effective to learn by touching the stuff. When the manufacturers come, make sure you get all the features, advantages and benefits to include into your conversations with customers to help the techs sell better.

Electrical shop, bike shop, plumbing shop or HVAC shop … any business benefits with a cookbook approach to what they do and follow-up training.