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Selling from the Field: Why Isn’t it a ‘Thing’?

Technologists in the field could be the best sales and customer-experience assets in a home-tech company. Are you exploiting them?

Selling from the Field: Why Isn’t it a ‘Thing’?

Julie Jacobson · June 10, 2019

Home-technology installation firms with more than a few employees typically divide work into sales and installation – an oversimplification, to be sure, but the folks in the field who run wires, hang TVs, and install cameras generally don’t sell additional gear to clients when they’re in the home.

Why not?

Technicians probably have the best feel for the “state of the home,” as they might “live” with a client all day … sometimes for months. They see everything – how the other trades interact with the client, how the pet dog is treated, when family and friends come and go, what irks and excites the residents, and most importantly what other technology is in the home and how the clients use it.

No matter how fine a salesperson or system designer might be, they won’t see that a homeowner keeps the shades down all day because it’s too much of a pain to raise and lower them. They might not notice that the exterior is pitch dark at night for lack of outdoor lighting, or that Dad just bought a TV online for his home office and could benefit from a soundbar or power protection.

The on-site techs, however, are in the perfect position to mention these challenges to the client:

You have such a great view; why don’t you enjoy it more often?

It’s challenging to pack up my van at night because it’s so dark in the front yard; have you considered a basic outdoor lighting system?

I notice that around 5:00 your Internet speeds really take a dive; have you noticed that?

Training Techs to Sell

The concept of installers selling upgrades or new products to clients is not new. Dish Network does an amazing job of it, training installers to recognize opportunities in the field for power protection, surround-sound, networking, TV mounting, improved cabling and the like. The techs carry spare products and parts in their vans for just such occasions, and are incentivized to sell additional gear or services.

Through Dish’s Smart Home Services, the satellite techs are cross-trained in these product categories, so they can not only sell the stuff, but also install and configure it on the spot, without an additional consultation or truck roll. It doesn’t get any more efficient than that, and as a bonus Dish improves the customer experience.

Techs seem to be trained to do specific tasks, and to refrain from fraternizing with clients.

I have opined in the past that integrators are missing the lowest-hanging fruit on two counts. First, they fail to communicate systematically with existing clients to ensure customers remain happy, recommend you to friends, and keep coming back for more.

Second is the fact that the folks in the field might have the most intimate “relationship” with clients, but can’t parlay those relationships into additional sales and improved customer experiences.

At the recent spring meeting of the ProSource buying group, I was lucky enough to spend quality time with Walton Stinson, co-founder and president of the successful Denver-based home-tech retailer/integrator ListenUp, and member of ProSource’s board.

I asked him how he spent most of the time these days, and he said he personally was focusing on “people development.”

Most recently, he says, ListenUp has been working on strategies to help techs sell stuff, much like the scenarios above. I lit up: My gosh, this has always been the low-hanging fruit!

Not only could ListenUp enjoy new revenues and improved customer experiences, but the company could also provide a nice career bath for techs who might be interested in sales.

We wondered together why this wasn’t more of a “thing” in our industry. Techs seem to be trained to do specific tasks, and to refrain from fraternizing with clients. Do the dedicated sales personnel resist or resent any encroachment on their turf? Do company principals worry that techs can’t communicate properly with clients? Or are systems simply not in place to facilitate on-the-job sales and installations?

If you answered yes to any of these questions … don't worry, the obstacles are all fixable through hiring practices, training, operational systems, company culture and most importantly a commitment to making it happen.

We would love to hear from integrators about any experiences with in-the-field sales.



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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics


Business · Sales & Marketing · News · Blogs · Dish · Industry Insider · ProSource · All Topics
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Comments

Posted by jmcdermott1678 on June 12, 2019

I don;t think anyone is talking about an installer stopping their installation to write up a quote for a client.  I think this is more about installers making suggestions to clients, such as, “hey, I see you using that room an awful lot but there’s no music or TV in there.  Would you like us to look into adding something for you?”.  We probably make tens of thousands of dollars a year or more based on these suggestions.  The salesperson still makes his commission.  The installer takes maybe 30 minutes of his time to scope out the potential add-on and then is able to make money going back to do the add-on, and the company makes more profit.  If the installer suggests something that can’t be done, well, that’s unfortunate but hopefully they’ve scoped out whether its possible ahead of time. They are more likely to know what can be done than any salesperson, and at this point are already on their way to establishing a trust with the client.  A client has a tendency to run with an installer’s suggestion because they don’t think they’re suggesting it to make a commission.  Simple as that.  Adjusting schedules to accommodate things like this should not be an issue, honestly.  But I could argue this all day and everyone is still going to have their opinion, so…. smile

Posted by highfigh on June 12, 2019

Seems easy, until it has to be done and at that point, it’s a very adversarial relationship that could have been prevented by spelling everything out before people are hired. It’s not impossible for installers to become good salespeople, but I have seen fewer salespeople who really understood the technical end as well as they should- if they did, they wouldn’t make the outlandish promises they sometimes do. OTOH, I have worked with other installers who also didn’t understand the technical end as well as they should and that can cause call-backs, damage & demands for discounts/refunds. Many had been installing for years and couldn’t calculate a simple series/parallel speaker load. Others had little grasp of the signal path and that caused a service call on the day a house was being shown while potential buyers were waiting to experience the AV system and controls.

These examples were caused by people who had some amount of pull with the owner(s) and got the job because of past working relationships with others in the company. Oddly (or not), that company had to sell in order to not fold.

Ultimately this, as a problem, is something management needs to prevent before it happens

How much time can be allowed for an installer to stop working and try to sell things? On a long-term project, it’s far less of a problem but when the fur is flying, they can’t really afford to delay the labor.

Posted by jmcdermott1678 on June 12, 2019

This issue of a salesperson not wanting an installer stepping onto their turf is an easy one to handle.  Reprimand the salesperson.  He shouldn’t have the say in who can or can’t do something, and if he is causing problems because he doesn’t have the people skills to hide it, then he’s your problem.  I don’t care if he has the best numbers in the company, he needs to change his attitude and be a team player or likely needs to go as he’s a poison to the team.  There have been many articles on this right here on CEPro.  And as someone said earlier, making a salesperson happy with add-ons happening on a jobsite should be very, very easy.  Everyone should win when this happens.

Posted by highfigh on June 12, 2019

@Julie- you asked the question, but from experience, I’m telling you- salespeople don’t want anyone stepping onto their ‘turf’. How they deal with this is up to them until it becomes a problem, then it becomes a problem management or owners don’t want or need. The damage from friction between employees shows up every time they’re on the same job site and clients can see it because some don’t have the ‘people skills’ to hide it. Been there, too.

Posted by highfigh on June 12, 2019

@Julie- you asked the question, but from experience, I’m telling you- salespeople don’t want anyone stepping onto their ‘turf’. How they deal with this is up to them until it becomes a problem, then it becomes a problem management or owners don’t want or need. The damage from friction between employees shows up every time they’re on the same job site and clients can see it because some don’t have the ‘people skills’ to hide it. Been there, too.

Posted by Susan Sipe - CEPro website on June 11, 2019

Call it an Upsell or Change Order, the scenario will arise on the majority of your jobs, it’s more a matter of whether you’ll make money or lose it.  Almost all of the AV world doesn’t have a process for either neither did we but addressed it once we started Job-costing. 

For those worried about a Tech being timid, they need a script and a written process they can follow with time being a considerations.  If it’s bruising a salesperson’s ego, that’s something much larger than simply sharing commission.
 
Our Job-costing analysis revealed that small adds were being provided but often went unbilled.  And based on 15 plus years of consulting, I can tell you that it’s a problem with our AV industry.

Techs build trust with our customers who then bond with our company for years to come, and you do want that. Providing them with the necessary processes to handle the normal Upsell or Change Order is both professional and profitable.

Posted by Mark Sipe on June 11, 2019

This is kind of a leading question, many times the sales person is the installer/owner.  Every company is different, I can’t imagine anyone missing out on sales in the field, it happens al the time.  To make it even easier the clients will often initiate the sell by asking for something like another room of audio/video or an upgrade.  Don’t confuse selling in the field with closing in the field, I want them to close, but it isn’t always possible to sign them up on the spot.  Say an installer is asked do quote something like adding a room with controls and speakers, pretty sure they know what goes into it so far as parts and labor (not how much, just that it should include some of each).  A lot of our dealers outfit their field staff with our software using pre-engineered systems, meaning they aren’t doing any engineering or design so much as facilitating the sale.  They show a client the budget for the addition or upgrade and the client can decide to move forward or move on, this isn’t hard.  They can even take pictures and document the layout in little to no time.  Every person in a company should have a way to sell, help sell or promote the business.  Sometimes your sales people are busy grabbing the low hanging fruit, the techs in the field or service techs can help to “pick up” the add-ons.  The trick is to keep it simple, build packages that handle 90% of the upgrades or add-ons then send them out knowing what they are selling is going to work for the most part or at least present a realistic budget.  Split the commission with the Salesperson if the job is still active or if it has closed out give more to the tech who sold it.  Once the new proposal is accepted it can be reviewed and either sold or engineered in the office, the import thing is to see a budget number for the work that the customer is willing to pay.  After that, the rest is easy.  Sales is what drives a business, we should create as many paths to making a sale as possible.

Posted by Jason Knott on June 11, 2019

Maybe the best way to consider this is to “start small.”  Technicians don’t have to be upselling service programs or 4K TVs.  One local security dealer here in the Boston area tells me that plug-in carbon monoxide detectors are stocked in every one of his service vehicles. The device is a relatively simple upsell with no installation skill needed, and a high-margin product. The technicians are incentivized to sell it with a commission. Plus, every time they sell one (or usually two to three), it makes his service business that much more profitable.

Posted by David Haddad on June 11, 2019

Just to add a small clarification, I don’t want anyone that works for me “upselling”. By which I mean being like the guy who tries to sell someone an extended warranty they don’t need, or a surge protector that at least in our business should/would have been specified in the first place, or a bogus gold plated HDMI cable.

I want my installers to be able to offer useful suggestions based on customer questions about things they would truly enjoy and that will add value for them.

Posted by David Haddad on June 11, 2019

I agree with all the naysayers here. Some examples:

1. If your installers are allowed to to do this, they could be late to the next job! Because it’s impossible to use our brains and have a plan for that, and have them add the extra things they have time for, and explain to the Client they’ll need to come back later for a time consuming add-on. Impossible!

2. If the installers are allowed to do this, since they are usually scheduled for the same job all day anyhow, they might not be able to leave early, or might even have to work late, and how horrible would that be? Even worse yet, if they’re allowed to make a little bonus, they might be more motivated and happy and also happy to stay late.

3. Salesman might get upset that the installer is helping the Client and the company, by selling them something the salesman didn’t anyhow. Oh me oh my! And of course if that is an issue, as ridiculous as it is, we couldn’t possible think our way out of it, by doing something like giving the sales person a tiny

4. If the installers are allowed to do this, how will they have time to set up the network, dial in the TVs, update the firmware, document the network, and all the other things involved in the multi-day installation? That would mean either extending the installation and making more money and making the Client happy, or if need be rescheduling for the change order. Horrific!

This is nothing but a lose/lose for everyone involved. I’d like to type more but at the moment I’m having to unexpectedly put together a proposal for a Crestron NVX system because my installer had the nerve of explaining to a customer that previously put off upgrading their component video distribution system, that the reason they’re so blown away by the new TV we installed in the media room is it’s fed with HDMI, and that they could have that in every room if they upgraded the video matrix. Damn guy!

View all comments.

Posted by highfigh on June 11, 2019

There’s a time for sales and time for installation. The only way for an installer to make money for their work is by being efficient and yakking with homeowners is not efficient. One of the most important skills of a salesperson is: asking the right questions- it’s called ‘qualifying the customer’. Ask the wrong questions, and it’s down the rabbit hole we go. Jobs are bid, based on the time that the estimator thinks will be needed, not by letting installers loose to intrude into the world of sales. The installers who have been in sales often go into business as Custom Integrators, who DO perform more functions in their company, but installers are paid to install and their time on-site is limited by their tasks and the company’s schedule. Would you, as a business owner, want to find out that your installation crew is late to their next job because one of them tried to up-sell the client? I seriously doubt it and you DO NOT want to be on that end of the conversation with the homeowner who finds themselves in the position of being told “You’re not as important as the other person”, regardless of the fact that it wasn’t expressed verbally.

You really need to spend more time around installers and sales people- you’ll notice that they’re very different. OTOH, I would say that sales people need to go into the field and do some installation because many of them have no clue about what they don’t know.

You’re also ignoring the fact that sales people don’t like losing commissions to someone whose job is to perform labor.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on June 11, 2019

Thank you for your comment, highfigh. What you describe is certainly one very effective way of doing business, and I’m delighted the model works well for you. Another effective way—from my experience with installers, salespeople and owners alike—is to do business as described in my blog and implemented by leading integration companies like ListenUp.

I would like to correct one thing from your comment, however. I am not “ignoring the fact that sales people don’t like losing commissions to someone whose job is to perform labor.” I mention in the piece, “Do the dedicated sales personnel resist or resent any encroachment on their turf?”

Thanks again for your continued engagement with CE Pro.

Posted by jmcdermott1678 on June 11, 2019

Our installers up-sell fairly often.  I’ve had this argument in multiple Facebook groups with owners/managers who believe its “wasted time” or “installers can’t be trusted to do so” or even “sales should be selling everything up-front”.  Discouraging this type of behavior leads to more issues, with lack of confidence and lack of understanding in technicians, as well as a lack of teamwork and learning by experience in staff on both sides.  Plus, any decent tech knows what can and can’t happen on a jobsite that sales may be timid to try because there’s the “can it be done” factor.  Should an apprentice or inexpereinced tech be trying to upsell?  No, of course not, and that has been an issue I’ve had to deal with in the past.  But, should my lead tech/programmer be able to make suggestions to a client about concepts they could consider?  Absolutely!  I’ve never in fifteen years seen this become an issue between sales/install with consideration to commissions or making them look bad.  It has only led to one side of the team learning from the other, and knowing something they didn’t know before.  And when the company makes more money, everyone is happy!

Posted by brandenpro on June 11, 2019

Sure.  Right after updating firmware, setting up the network, dialing the TV’s picture, calibrating the audio, documenting the network, documenting the stock items used, documenting the items not used, customer training, oh yeah and actually installing the list of items we already sold and tried to squeeze 3 days of work into 2 days.

But yeah, they should totally up sell onsite after all that.

Posted by David Haddad on June 11, 2019

I agree with all the naysayers here. Some examples:

1. If your installers are allowed to to do this, they could be late to the next job! Because it’s impossible to use our brains and have a plan for that, and have them add the extra things they have time for, and explain to the Client they’ll need to come back later for a time consuming add-on. Impossible!

2. If the installers are allowed to do this, since they are usually scheduled for the same job all day anyhow, they might not be able to leave early, or might even have to work late, and how horrible would that be? Even worse yet, if they’re allowed to make a little bonus, they might be more motivated and happy and also happy to stay late.

3. Salesman might get upset that the installer is helping the Client and the company, by selling them something the salesman didn’t anyhow. Oh me oh my! And of course if that is an issue, as ridiculous as it is, we couldn’t possible think our way out of it, by doing something like giving the sales person a tiny

4. If the installers are allowed to do this, how will they have time to set up the network, dial in the TVs, update the firmware, document the network, and all the other things involved in the multi-day installation? That would mean either extending the installation and making more money and making the Client happy, or if need be rescheduling for the change order. Horrific!

This is nothing but a lose/lose for everyone involved. I’d like to type more but at the moment I’m having to unexpectedly put together a proposal for a Crestron NVX system because my installer had the nerve of explaining to a customer that previously put off upgrading their component video distribution system, that the reason they’re so blown away by the new TV we installed in the media room is it’s fed with HDMI, and that they could have that in every room if they upgraded the video matrix. Damn guy!

Posted by David Haddad on June 11, 2019

Just to add a small clarification, I don’t want anyone that works for me “upselling”. By which I mean being like the guy who tries to sell someone an extended warranty they don’t need, or a surge protector that at least in our business should/would have been specified in the first place, or a bogus gold plated HDMI cable.

I want my installers to be able to offer useful suggestions based on customer questions about things they would truly enjoy and that will add value for them.

Posted by Jason Knott on June 11, 2019

Maybe the best way to consider this is to “start small.”  Technicians don’t have to be upselling service programs or 4K TVs.  One local security dealer here in the Boston area tells me that plug-in carbon monoxide detectors are stocked in every one of his service vehicles. The device is a relatively simple upsell with no installation skill needed, and a high-margin product. The technicians are incentivized to sell it with a commission. Plus, every time they sell one (or usually two to three), it makes his service business that much more profitable.

Posted by Mark Sipe on June 11, 2019

This is kind of a leading question, many times the sales person is the installer/owner.  Every company is different, I can’t imagine anyone missing out on sales in the field, it happens al the time.  To make it even easier the clients will often initiate the sell by asking for something like another room of audio/video or an upgrade.  Don’t confuse selling in the field with closing in the field, I want them to close, but it isn’t always possible to sign them up on the spot.  Say an installer is asked do quote something like adding a room with controls and speakers, pretty sure they know what goes into it so far as parts and labor (not how much, just that it should include some of each).  A lot of our dealers outfit their field staff with our software using pre-engineered systems, meaning they aren’t doing any engineering or design so much as facilitating the sale.  They show a client the budget for the addition or upgrade and the client can decide to move forward or move on, this isn’t hard.  They can even take pictures and document the layout in little to no time.  Every person in a company should have a way to sell, help sell or promote the business.  Sometimes your sales people are busy grabbing the low hanging fruit, the techs in the field or service techs can help to “pick up” the add-ons.  The trick is to keep it simple, build packages that handle 90% of the upgrades or add-ons then send them out knowing what they are selling is going to work for the most part or at least present a realistic budget.  Split the commission with the Salesperson if the job is still active or if it has closed out give more to the tech who sold it.  Once the new proposal is accepted it can be reviewed and either sold or engineered in the office, the import thing is to see a budget number for the work that the customer is willing to pay.  After that, the rest is easy.  Sales is what drives a business, we should create as many paths to making a sale as possible.

Posted by Susan Sipe - CEPro website on June 11, 2019

Call it an Upsell or Change Order, the scenario will arise on the majority of your jobs, it’s more a matter of whether you’ll make money or lose it.  Almost all of the AV world doesn’t have a process for either neither did we but addressed it once we started Job-costing. 

For those worried about a Tech being timid, they need a script and a written process they can follow with time being a considerations.  If it’s bruising a salesperson’s ego, that’s something much larger than simply sharing commission.
 
Our Job-costing analysis revealed that small adds were being provided but often went unbilled.  And based on 15 plus years of consulting, I can tell you that it’s a problem with our AV industry.

Techs build trust with our customers who then bond with our company for years to come, and you do want that. Providing them with the necessary processes to handle the normal Upsell or Change Order is both professional and profitable.

Posted by highfigh on June 12, 2019

@Julie- you asked the question, but from experience, I’m telling you- salespeople don’t want anyone stepping onto their ‘turf’. How they deal with this is up to them until it becomes a problem, then it becomes a problem management or owners don’t want or need. The damage from friction between employees shows up every time they’re on the same job site and clients can see it because some don’t have the ‘people skills’ to hide it. Been there, too.

View all comments.