Building A Sales Team

Every business depends on the sale of products and services for revenue. Heating, air conditioning and plumbing companies are no different.

In terms of selling products, there are several choices as to who performs this function. Depending on the size of the business, the selling function may be performed by:

  • Owners/managers
  • Technicians
  • Professional salespeople
  • or a combination of all three.

A Comfort Advisor is a professional salesperson that:

  • Identifies what their customer wants beyond the equipment
  • Establishes a list of goals with the customer
  • Connects the dots between what the customer wants and how the company will satisfy the want in a fashion that builds credibility, believability and a sense of urgency to take action.

A Comfort Advisor is not an estimator who sells on “price’ alone. In contrast, a Comfort Advisor provides options and solutions that solve specific problems for their customers and makes certain the customer understands and believes that they are proposing the best solution at the lowest risk. This is called “value-added” selling.  Also known as Value = Price/Benefits

A good Comfort Advisor will produce over $1 million in sales per year at excellent gross margins. Many produce over $2 million, consistently. High performing Comfort Advisors generate revenue and gross margin dollars that drive net profit.

A high performing Comfort Advisor will use their magnetism, style, charisma, and personal likeability to get people to buy from them. In addition, a successful Comfort Advisor is disciplined in his/her execution of the sales process as endorsed by the company.

The company benefits of employing Comfort Advisors are obvious. However, if you hire an incompetent Comfort Advisor, revenue will decline and profits will suffer. Hiring the right person for the position is imperative for the success of the company and the individual.

Consideration when hiring a full-time Comfort Advisor:

A Comfort Advisor is NOT a Magic Bullet

You as the owner or general manager are the magic bullet.

It’s easy to get caught up in the thought that a Comfort Advisor will solve all of your problems. They certainly can increase revenue, but they will also increase your marketing cost.

Many owners think that once they hire a Comfort Advisor they do not have to worry about revenue and their problems are solved. Quite the contrary, this is where as an owner your work changes into more of a leadership role.

A Comfort Advisor is an excellent sales strategy when used properly. However, success still rests with the ability of the Owner/General Manager to lead and manage the sales organization, as well as the company.

Blocking and Tackling

Before hiring a Comfort Advisor, make sure you take care of the blocking and tackling needed for the position. It means:

  • Having a sales process the company endorses
  • Having sales collateral materials to support the sales process
  • Having financing options available to support the sales process
  • Having sales and support systems in place
  • Having a compensation plan that is aligned correctly

Sales Process

In-home retail selling is not easy.  It takes a talented Comfort Advisor to close in this environment. It requires a structured sales process to earn the right to close with our customers.

For example, a Comfort Advisor would typically spend a minimum of 90 minutes on each sales call to complete the sales process. At other companies, the sales process takes approximately 2 hours. In both cases, the goal is a higher average sale, a higher closing ratio, and a happier customer in the end. You must have a well-defined sales process.

Endorsing a sales process is the first step. Making sure that the Comfort Advisors are trained and remain disciplined to the sales process is quite another thing.

Processes tend to break down when not monitored and managed. Be sure to constantly reinforce the selling process at your company. Do this at sales meetings or when riding along with the Comfort Advisor on sales calls.

Sales Collateral Materials

Once you’ve defined the sales process, the next step is to create a Credibility Book. The Comfort Advisor uses this tool in the sales presentation to explain options and to show the customer the benefits of purchasing from your company. The Credibility book also contains price sheets if you do cookbook pricing.

A Presentation Folder is also recommended. The folder holds all the paperwork left with the customer after the sales presentation. A professional-looking folder enhances your company’s image.

A Company Brochure. The brochure is left behind after the sales presentation and serves two purposes. If the customer has made a purchase, the brochure helps reinforce that decision. If the customer has not made a purchase, the brochure highlights the reasons why the customer should consider your company in their final decision.

Effective Sales Paperwork is essential.

This includes:

  • Investment Agreement. This is the contract that identifies the elements of a closed sale.
  • Proposal. In cases where the customer does not make the purchase at the time of the sales presentation, this form outlines the details of the proposed sale.
  • I recommend using a Customer System Recommendation worksheet as the proposal. The Customer System Recommendation should include an Operating Cost Comparison Sheet to estimate the energy savings available with various equipment options.
  • A Work Order or Task Sheet outlines the details of the sale to the installation department.
  • Load Calculation worksheet.
  • A Home Comfort Analysis. This form collects technical information about the existing installation. I also recommend incorporating a customer survey analysis that can be used in the sales process.
  • Comfort Advisor’s Fee-For-Service Schedule. The Comfort Advisor uses this form to identify the commissions earned on a sale. The form is routed to the Sales Manager.
  • Finance paperwork.

Sales Support Systems

Hiring a Comfort Advisor is a major commitment that impacts your company’s success or failure. You need a system to measure and monitor Comfort Advisor performance. The metrics must include:

  • Revenue
  • Average Sale
  • Closure Rate
  • Gross Margin Dollars

Base closure rates on all leads a Comfort Advisor goes out to visit! All leads, whether they are self-generated or referrals or from an outside source should be scheduled through a Lead Coordination function. You want to be in complete control of all incoming sales leads and the Comfort Advisor’s schedule.

Finance Options. Having finance options available to customers is an essential tool for any sales organization, but particularly important for HVAC in-home sales. Financing options offer a viable solution to customers who face the unexpected expense of having to replace HVAC equipment. Many consumers also prefer financing to use other people’s money and to enhance cash flow. A well-run sales organization should expect to finance 40% to 70% of all jobs.

Comfort Advisor Compensation

Before hiring a Comfort Advisor, be sure to have a compensation plan that is aligned correctly. When compensation is aligned, both the company and the Comfort Advisor come out winners. Be sure to have a document that specifies the terms of the position. This document outlines a specific sales plan for each Comfort Advisor.

There are many types of Comfort Advisor compensation plans available.

Some companies prefer to have their salespeople act as project managers. The salesperson’s job responsibilities and duties include engineering the job, making a detail list of equipment and materials needed for the job and pricing the job to obtain a desirable gross margin percentage. For such a sales process, paying the salesperson a sliding commission scale based on the gross margin is very popular.

Focusing on residential replacement jobs rather than engineered work generally maximizes gross margin dollars per crew day. From a business perspective, this tends to increase overall profits, and the ability to reward key employees!
Replacement jobs tend to be easily replicated. Consequently, management can control the selling price through the use of cookbook pricing. The price book easily identifies the equipment options available and also identifies all accessories and any defined additional tasks that must be performed in the installation.

Paying a Comfort Advisor straight commission based upon performance reduces potential business risks and regulates Comfort Advisor’s pay in proportion to sales volume and gross margin. The more they sell at proper margins, the more they earn. The fewer sales they sell or the lower the margins, the less they earn.

Personalities, who are motivated to work within this type of pay for performance environment, are typically more confident in their ability to sell and make better sales-people. Of course for a new Comfort Advisor you want to invest in his future success so for the first few weeks, you may want to consider paying them a nominal training wage for three or four weeks.

Many companies pay their commissions on a sliding scale based on the type of system sold.

For Example:

Basic – 6% of the entire job

Good –  8% of the entire job

Better – 10% of the entire job

Best – 12% of the entire job

Some Companies also offer two different sales plans that encourage and reward consistent top performers with an additional commission, for example, a Comfort Advisor Sales Plan and then a Senior Comfort Advisor Sales Plan. The Senior Advisor plan is for those that have produced $1.25 million in sales for a minimum of 2 years within the company. This plan rewards the Comfort Advisor for this performance by bumping up the commission percentage one point.

Some additional compensation issues to consider in the sales plan include:

  • Sharing commissions with technician set leads.
  • Adjusting commission rates to accommodate discounting the price or including value-added accessories in the sale.
  • Adjusting commission rates for special financing options or seasonal promotions.
  • Adjusting commission rates for pricing errors or omissions.
  • Adjusting commission compensation for missing paperwork.
  • Adjusting commission rates up for self-generated leads.
  • Establishing a quarterly and yearly bonus program to reward excellent performance.

The Sales Plan

The Sales Plan document addresses issues such as commission rates, sales quota expectations, car allowances, cell phone policy, job duties, etc. The next page addresses components of a Comfort Advisor Sales Plan.

The Sales Plan should be for a specified period, typically one year. The Sales plan should contain provisions for both the Comfort Advisor and for Sales Management signatures. A copy of the agreement should be placed in the Comfort Advisors personnel file.

To effectively align Comfort Advisor compensation to company goals:

  • Incorporate commissions into pricing methodology.
  • Outline all compensation issues in detail in the Sales Plan.
  • Identify all job responsibilities and duties in detail in the Sales Plan.
  • Include provisions to adjust commissions for undesirable behavior such as discounting, missing paperwork, etc.
  • Have an installation system in place to identify anything missed in the sale

Comfort Advisor Sales Plan Components

  • Terms of commission payment – job completed and paid for
  • Revenue expectation
  • Minimum closure rate expectation
  • Job responsibilities
  • Description of duties
  • Identify paperwork requirements
  • Impact on “Fee-For-Service” when paperwork is not completed correctly
  • Outline company policies for discounting – if applicable
  • Use of Cash discounts
  • Use of discounts with Service Agreement customers
  • The flexibility of Comfort Advisor to discount
  • Impact on “Fee-For-Service” when discounting
  • Guidelines to negotiate value-added elements to the sale instead of discounting the price
  • Details of spiffs when jobs are not discounting
  • Self-generated lead expectations
  • Recommend 1 self-generated lead for every 2 provided by Company
  • Impact on “Fee-For-Service”
  • Policy for pricing errors and omissions
  • Impact on “Fee-For-Service”
  • Performance expectations
  • Monthly revenue expectation
  • Minimum closure rate expectation
  • Job responsibilities
  • Description of duties
  • Identify paperwork requirements
  • Impact on “Fee-For-Service” when paperwork is not completed correctly

Details of bonus programs such as:

  • Special spiff programs or sales contests

Bonus Structures. Recommend:

  • Quarterly bonus program
  • Yearly bonus program
  • Vacation incentive program

Other aspects covered:

  • Cell phone expense
  • Car allowance
  • Fuel allowance
  • Place for signatures

Define Skill Sets Needed of a Comfort Advisor

As you prepare to interview for a Comfort Advisor position, it’s always a good idea to review the skill set requirements. Consider:

  • Ability to Ask Questions – The questioning skills a salesperson develops very often makes or breaks the ability to make people trust you, and know you understand their needs.
  • Ability to listen and keep your mouth shut and brain from over-working while listening! – Listening, and really hearing the genuine desires, wants, and needs of the customer is a skill that virtually all-sales personnel can improve.
  • Ability to relate to people and make people like you – connection. – The skill of relating to, and connecting with people is a must. People buy from people they like and trust, and the only way they are going to like you is if you have the skills to make yourself more like them.
  • Ability to recognize situations and solve people-related problems. – Solving problems is about making the correct assessment and making good decisions. Having the skill to determine the issues, needs and recognizing the opportunity is how top-performing sales personnel sell products and services others never seem to be aware of?
  • Ability to risk the fear of failure and ask for the business – and not be ashamed of asking for the order! – Asking for the order is a skill. There are many salespeople who are excellent presenters, have fantastic communication skills yet struggle to ask for the order. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it!
  • Skill to adapt to your personality. – Adapting your personality to mirror the customer is a skill that creates likeability.
  • Ability to communicate. – Written and oral communication skills allow people to get to know you, and they make assessments about you based on several factors, one of which is how well you can communicate your ideas.

When Should You Hire A Comfort Advisor?

Hiring Your First Comfort Advisor

The first consideration for this question is if you already have a Comfort Advisor on staff. If you do not already have a Comfort Advisor you probably rely on management or selling technicians to perform the equipment sales function.

If management is doing the selling, consider the following issues as you explore the option to hire a Comfort Advisor:

Generally, when a company reaches close to $1 million in annual revenue, it’s time to consider using Selling Technicians or hiring a Comfort Advisor. Below $1 million in sales, most companies rely on management to do sales. Eventually, the company hits a revenue plateau somewhere around $1 million to $1.5 million. There just is not enough time in the day for a manager/owner to make the sales calls to grow revenue beyond this plateau.

A Comfort Advisor should generate a minimum of $600,000 per year. With proper training, coaching and reinforcement of process, the benchmark could easily be raised $1 million. Begin by asking yourself if you have the production capacity to support the additional sales. Also, consider your Working Capital requirements for the additional revenue. Generally, Working Capital requirements should be about 10% of sales. A lack of Working Capital can cause cash flow problems and financial stress.

Do you have a marketing plan that supports the sales leads requirements?

An effective sales process generally requires about 90-120 minutes or more per sales call. Schedule sales appointments in 3-hour windows. Consequently, a Comfort Advisor should only run 3 leads per day; perhaps 4 at tops when it is very busy. If the company does not provide sufficient leads, it will cause problems with the Comfort Advisor. A good marketing plan identifies where and when leads are coming from to meet the company’s sales goals. As I mentioned earlier, also be prepared to increase your company’s marketing expenses. This does not imply that the company should provide all sales leads. It’s very important that a Comfort Advisor build a referral base among customers. I recommend that a Comfort Advisor be expected to generate one lead for every two provided by the company.

Recognize that your prices need to increase to accommodate the Comfort Advisor compensation and any additional marketing expense. This means your company must take a value-added sales strategy and may be selling at a higher price than a competitor with a lower overhead structure. Ask yourself a few tough questions.

  • Do you do better work than the competition?
  • Does your company’s image project a value-added position?
  • Can you differentiate your company from the competition?
  • Can you sell your company benefits rather than dealing on price alone?
  • Do you have the sales support needed for a sales organization?

Someone at the company needs to perform the Lead Coordinator function. The Lead Coordinator schedules all sales appointments with the customer and then gives the leads to the Comfort Advisor. It’s estimated that sales leads can cost as much as $300 per lead. You want to have absolute control of all sales leads so the Comfort Advisor does not burn leads. This does not mean that you need to hire someone special to be a Lead Coordinator. It does mean someone in your office needs to perform that function.

Are you prepared to manage a Comfort Advisor? Comfort Advisors are generally very high maintenance. You personally need to monitor and constantly reinforce the sales process your company endorses. Otherwise, it will breakdown and the Comfort Advisor may want to go to the lowest denominator – price. A good Comfort Advisor will get rejected as much or more than when he/she makes a sale. One of the primary responsibilities of a Sales Manager is to keep the Comfort Advisor motivated.

Using Selling Technicians has its advantages and disadvantages.

When considering hiring a Comfort Advisor in conjunction with Selling Technicians or in lieu of Selling Technicians, consider:

Consumers generally trust technician recommendations, particularly when dealing with issues such as bad heat exchangers or dead compressors. However, most technicians fall short when presenting comfort options for working equipment. Consequently, all Selling Technicians should be trained in the selling process endorsed by your company.

Considering the preceding bullet, Selling Technicians tend to sell replacement units rather than replacing systems. If you have Selling Technicians, be sure to monitor the average sales closely. Many successful companies encourage technicians to turn in sales leads to the sales organization rather than trying to make the sale directly. The technician should be rewarded for all leads that are set from within the customer’s home. I recommend giving the technician a portion of the Comfort Advisor’s commission rate for all tech set leads such as 2% (which would be paid in full or in part by a share of the commission paid to the Comfort Advisor).

Considering the preceding bullets, Selling Technicians sometimes have difficulty selling equipment options other than ‘Basic’ or ‘Deluxe”. Some companies will not let their Selling Technicians sell ‘Basic’ equipment. In any case, you need to monitor and manage the mix of equipment sold by Selling Technicians.

If you do have Selling Technicians, I recommend creating a Selling Technician Sales Plan. This is very similar to the Comfort Advisor Sales Plan. The plan outlines the compensation and job responsibilities in regards to selling equipment. I recommend that the commission rates be lower than for the Comfort Advisor.

When hiring a Comfort Advisor in conjunction with Selling Technicians, be sure to mold a sales team. For example, I recommend Selling Technicians attend all sales meetings with Comfort Advisors.

Hiring Additional Comfort Advisors

As your company grows, you’ll need to hire additional Comfort Advisors from time to time. You should look at a couple of things as to when it’s time to hire another Comfort Advisor. When I see a Comfort Advisor is consistently running 3 or more appointments per day, I know the closing ratio is going to drop. The Comfort Advisor loses the sense of urgency and begins thinking, if I do not close this one, I’ll just move on to the next one. The Comfort Advisor does not spend enough time on each sales appointment to earn the right for the sale. Consequently, monitor both the appointments per day as well as the closure rate.

The closure rate is impacted by the types of leads, the pricing strategy you employ and how well the selling process is delivered manages and supported.

When it is time to hire another Comfort Advisor, be sure to keep you other Comfort Advisors in the loop. The other Comfort Advisors will be concerned that they have enough leads. Let them see the big picture of where the company is going and that you have a marketing plan in place to generate sufficient leads for all the Comfort Advisors. It is also recommended to set up a sales lead scheduling priority. Comfort Advisors with the best closing ratios, get the most sales appointments.


Advertising for a Comfort Advisor ever day of the year and receiving resumes all of the time keeps your current Comfort Advisors sharp and on their game at all times. Don’t let your Comfort Advisors get too comfortable. Become more interested in building character and making them better people because of the effort they put forth in their sales efforts.

By constantly advertising for Comfort Advisors, it puts the company in a position to get that superstar who may look at the paper once a year. This is in contrast to other companies that only put a huge ad in the paper only when they need a Comfort Advisor. They count on a high-performer salesperson looking at the paper in during this small window of time.

Critical factors for success:

  1. Keeping Technicians and Tune-up specialists in front of customers all year by following the Maintenance Agreement implementation process.
  2. Developing the capability of the Service and Maintenance specialists to deliver results by following the Service Sales process.
  3. Developing the ability of Comfort Advisors to close more than 50% of their leads (50% would be a minimum) at the right margins with a higher-end equipment mix by following the Residential Replacement Sales process.
  4. Developing the ability to influence replacement lead generation through effective planning, implementation, tracking and adapting of all marketing efforts both internal and external by following the Strategic Marketing and Advertising implementation process.
  5. Continue to improve sales results and cultivate an atmosphere that encourages and supports the selling effort.