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IAQ: It’s a Must-Sell, Not an Upsell

Contractors who coach their teams to offer IAQ solutions to every customer as an upsell have the right idea but the wrong approach.

“I don’t like the word ‘upsell,’” said Bob Bazzoli, a field service supervisor in Baltimore, “because it makes it sound like you’re trying to give somebody something that’s not important. Indoor air quality is extremely important.”

But getting into the market — or staying in it — requires that you become knowledgeable in the field, according to Corey Hickmann, a contractor in the greater Minneapolis area. So let’s take a look at the IAQ technology available today and how its role has changed over the years.

THE EVOLUTION OF IAQ

“The funny history of IAQ is that we as an industry first started filtration … to actually protect the equipment,” Bazzoli said. “Secondary was the air. The filter was designed to save the a/c coil.”

But as homes continue to be built tighter and tighter, with builders boasting energy efficiency and lower bills, homeowners have become more attuned to not having a “sick house,” Bazzoli noted — a term he said was coined in the ‘80s.

“Tighter homes are much more demanding on HVAC professionals, and the mini-split craze is eliminating our ability to filter, humidify, purify,” said Jim Patterson, a contractor in Northampton, Massachusetts. “IAQ has become much more technical over the past five to six years. An electronic air cleaner was once a massive step toward cleaner air. I don’t even offer them anymore. Now, the state-of-the-art filtration systems incorporate HEPA filters, ionization air purifiers, ventilation systems, humidifiers …”

Not only is the technology itself changing, but the way it is relayed to homeowners is evolving too. It’s easy for homeowners to understand why they need a filter — they can physically see that it collects dirt.

“But plants give off mold spores, cooking with grease leaves a film in the air … things you don’t think about,” said Bazzoli.

And those “things” floating around in the air typically can’t be seen by the naked eye. That’s why more and more monitors are coming out that have an app, according to Rob Minnick, a Maryland-based contractor.

“It shows how well or not so well the air quality is in your home,” he said.

Which brings us to the selling part of the equation.

MAKE THE OFFER TO MAKE THE SALE

Hickmann said his company’s philosophy is that IAQ solutions should be offered to every customer.

“Any contractor that doesn’t at least present something additional — beyond the filter — to the customer … if you don’t do that, you get exactly what you’ve been getting,” Bazzoli said. “Why not take advantage? You’re putting the system in.”

There’s nothing more embarrassing than selling a fix that doesn’t work out, though, as Patterson pointed out. Which is why it’s important to be properly educated on both the products and the environments.

“There are so many manufacturers that have amazing training programs,” Hickmann said.

That takes care of the product knowledge. But to really be able to offer the best solution to your customers, you must ask the customers questions to drill down to the root cause of their problems before offering a solution, Minnick cautioned.

“Do not go for the quick product you think … will solve the problem,” he said. “You will spend countless hours trying to make it work and disappoint the customer. Find the source of the problem before installing Band-Aids and hoping for the best.”

Understanding home construction, insulation issues, and ventilation is a must, Patterson said.

“These items are usually in the mix of problems leading to the IAQ issue, and identifying that is critical,” he said. “You really need to make the investment in time and education, starting at the building science level and working into the more advanced HVAC systems that make the IAQ products we offer work better. Becoming a ‘comfort expert’ extends beyond just making a house hot or cold, it has to be comfortable and healthy in order to really make a difference in our homeowners’ lives.”

THE FUTURE OF IAQ

Patterson preaches what he calls “the four factors of comfort.” He believes every system must address temperature, humidification, IAQ, and dehumidification in order to achieve a clean, comfortable, and healthy environment.

“Some systems impact one or more [of these factors], but a quality, well-orchestrated design encompasses all of these features in one way or another to provide the perfect indoor environment.”

Commercial customers have known the value of conditioned air for some time now, Bazzoli said.

“The consumer end is catching up to the commercial end,” he said.

In the future, IAQ technology will only continue to advance, making homes healthier and consumers happier, according to Bazzoli. And as homeowners become more educated, the demand for IAQ solutions will increase as well.

“Contractors need to stop talking about equipment — variable speed, two-stage, modulating, etc.,” said Hickmann. “Customers don’t care about that boring talk. They want to know how you will change the home and provide a clean, healthy, and properly humidified environment.”

Customer satisfaction is achieved when their comfort exceeds the amount they paid.

“Think tires,” Bazzoli said. “You pay $800 for a new set of tires, and that seems like a lot of money at the time. But the first time it rains, you’re thinking about how easily you could stop; you’re not thinking about the $800 you spent.

“If I can keep you from the doctor two less times a year, that’s important,” he continued. “We’re not preying on people with special needs for an upsell; we’re offering a solution.”