Ethical Sales Strategies for Home Service Contractors

Ethical Sales Strategies for Plumbing, HVAC, Water Conditioning & Electrical Techs

There is no shortage of snake oil selling shady sales tactics being taught to thousands of plumbing, heating, air conditioning and electrical technicians across the country. Unfortunately, the large majority of these sales training for plumbers and sales training for HVAC technician programs either directly or indirectly result in unethical sales behavior. 

Unethical sales tactics used by plumbers or HVAC technicians in the home will quickly destroy a company culture and tank the business over time. At Elite Trades, we believe in only one type of sales approach and that is an ethical sales approach. 

In this roadmap to ethical sales for plumbers and HVAC techs, we explore what causes unethical sales practices and how to develop an ethical sales process that fits well with your company and culture.  

What breeds unethical sales in home service companies and how to prevent it-

In order to prevent unethical sales behaviors in your plumbing or HVAC company, let’s do a deep dive into the five most common causes that often result in unethical sales practices by plumbing technicians and plumbing, heating and air conditioning salespeople.

1. Leadership that focuses on revenue first and the bottom line second 

Don’t get us wrong, revenue and the bottom line matter a lot in the plumbing and HVAC business. But there is a lot before and in between revenue and the bottom line profitability of a plumbing, heating and air conditioning company that should be focused on that will result in more of both. Plumbing & HVAC company owners, managers, or leaders that obsess over sales goals or revenue targets portray the image to the company that all they care about is money. 

How to prevent this in your plumbing, heating & air conditioning company? 

  • Take a look inward- If you’re the owner of a trades service company, take a look inward on how you approach the topic of revenue, sales and profits. How would your team describe your relationship with sales, revenue or profits? 
  • Focus on the client experience and revenue will follow- Instead of focusing on making the sale or top line revenue, focus on improving the client experience. This will automatically result in more revenue but will prevent creating a toxic and unethical sales approach. 

2. Paying techs solely based on sales

There, we said it. There is no doubt about the fact that paying plumbers, heating or cooling techs, electricians or any in-home tradesperson solely based on what they sell has the high and likely probable outcome of breeding unethical sales practices, not to mention tainting a company culture and causing a plethora of other issues. While motivating technicians to be productive and sell work is critical for plumbing and HVAC companies, there are ways to do so while avoiding enabling or encouraging unethical sales practices. 

How to prevent how you pay your plumbing & HVAC techs from resulting in shady sales tactics?

  • Keep sales incentives in check– There is nothing wrong with sales incentive, bonus or rewards for outstanding performance, but make sure they stay incentives and do not make up the large majority of plumbers or HVAC techs income. 
  • Avoid “if you sell this, you will get that” commissions- Too many plumbing and HVAC company owners use the carrot and stick method far too often. If you sell a (pick your job), I will pay you (pick the reward). The problem with this lies at the core of how the reward is based.
  • Reward consistency- If you feel the need to pay commission, bonus or other forms of sales incentives, make sure they reward consistent performance. Consistent sales performance is a sign of doing the right thing for clients. Sales performance that ebbs and flows based on a techs need of income will often be at the expense of ethical sales tactics. 

3. Lack of training, systems, procedures & accountability 

There is a lot to unpack in this leading cause of unethical sales practices in home service companies, but in this guide we will keep it high level. In our evaluation of hundreds of plumbing and HVAC companies that are suffering from unethical sales processes, one common thread is a lack of ethical sales training, general systems and operations, and accountability. This lack of overall management leads to the “wild wild west” where anything goes… as long as revenue is being hit and sales are made. 

How to prevent a lack of training, operations, and accountability in your plumbing or HVAC business from developing unethical sales practices?

  • Deliver in house sales training– So many business owners leave sales training to a 3rd party. At Elite Trades, one of the most common requests we get is, “Can you train my HVAC or plumbing technicians to sell?” The answer is yes we can, but if you want to make sure sales are being done correctly, this sales training should be delivered by an owner or manager of the business, not a sales trainer. 
  • Develop systems and procedures- Operational excellence is where Elite Trades clients excel. Make sure you have systems in place for your plumbing and electrical business that cover how a service call should be run as well as how you want products and services quoted and ultimately sold to your customers.
  • Have a comprehensive price book- Many techs and salespeople cross the line into the unethical side because the company doesn’t have clear and upfront procedures to price jobs. Develop a price book that everyone must follow and you will be one step closer to selling plumbing and HVAC services ethically. 
  • Hold your techs accountable- Not just to “sales numbers or quotas”, but to toeing the company line as we like to say. Make sure that you’re keeping an eye on not just the sales and revenue performance but also keeping an eye on how they follow the other systems and procedures of the company. 

4. Hiring the wrong people

The shortage of plumbers, electricians, and HVAC technicians is no joke, and for many HVAC and plumbing companies this challenge has lowered the bar as far as the quality of people that get hired to fill important positions in a home service company. 

How to prevent hiring the wrong people from causing unethical sales in your plumbing, heating and air business?

  • Don’t hire the wrong people- Have some integrity. Hold yourself accountable. If you are the owner or manager of a home service business, simply do not hire someone that doesn’t exactly fit what you’re looking for. Doing so will almost certainly cause you issues in more ways than one in the future. 
  • Be patient and make new hires earn it- Far too many plumbing company owners (guilty as charged at times) put people in roles that they are simply not ready for. As you develop your team, be patient no matter how busy you are. Make sure they are the right person for the position and can be trusted with the responsibility and power that their position comes with. 

5. Poor company culture  

It’s rare that a company with a solid company culture has a widespread issue with unethical sales tactics but it does happen. More often than not, an overall shortfall in company standards and overall culture is the root cause of poor and unethical sales tactics. 

How to keep poor company culture from manifesting in unethical sales practices?

  • Develop a code of ethics- Not only should you develop a code of ethics for your plumbing and electrical company, but it should be published in your building and on your website. Having a code of ethics that everyone in the company agrees to will improve culture and keep everyone on the same moral playing field.
  • Terminate problem employees– Most companies with any size to them have a handful of employees that are more trouble than they are worth. They get kept on the roster for various reasons but often the real result of keeping them around comes at the expense of having a healthy culture. If you have any bad seeds on the team and want to improve the culture of your plumbing, heating or air conditioning company, let them go. You’ll both be better off.
  • Set the bar high and lead by example- Very few people in this world respect an owner or leader that doesn’t set and lead by example. If you want to change the culture of your company, it starts with you. 

For more on how to improve your plumbing, HVAC or electrical companies overall culture, visit this article where we cover company culture in depth.

Key Components to an Ethical Home Service Sales Strategy

Now that we have covered what leads to unethical sales behavior and how to prevent creating that in your plumbing, heating, air & electrical business, let’s get to why you’re really here. Let’s break down the critical parts of an ethical plumbing, heating, air conditioning and electrical sales strategy. 

1. Put the clients best interest first

Ethical sales practices for plumbing and HVAC techs starts with making sure that everything we do, say and recommend to a client is done so while having their best interest in mind. This means in order to make recommendations to them we need to understand them, their problems and priorities. 

To ensure you have the clients best interest in mind when making a recommendation to them:

  • Be sure you fully understand the problem the client is looking to solve
  • Learn what is important to them when it comes to their plumbing or HVAC system 
  • Make recommendations to them as if you were in their shoes based on their needs, wants, specific problem and if applicable, budget

2. Follow a plumbing or HVAC sales process

Wait, we’re talking about ethical sales tactics for plumbers and HVAC techs. How does a sales process fit into being ethical? Having a map or guide to follow during the service or sales call is critical to being ethical. Treating each iteration with a customer the same ensures that you’re doing the right thing each and every time with each customer. 

To ensure your plumbing or HVAC sales process is ethical:

  • Start by understanding the problem- Be sure it starts with thorough diagnosis of the clients plumbing, heating or cooling problem, or whatever problem you’re in the home to solve 
  • Be sure you build a relationship with the client-  Understanding the problem is great, but we also have to have a relationship with our client so we can understand them, and their needs, wants and budget. 
  • Present all options- We will get into this a bit deeper a little later in the article, but make sure when it comes to presenting options, you give the client all of them. Even the cheap ones. 
  • Build detailed estimates- Want to be ethical in your sales process? Learn to be an expert in communication. In plumbing and HVAC sales, the detail in your written communication is as or more important than your verbal. Make sure your estimates are detailed, upfront and set a clear understanding of the scope of work. 
  • Ask for the clients business, but don’t be pushy- Asking a client to move forward with work is not unethical at all. However, being pushy is. If you feel like you’re being a salesman, you’re probably pushing too much. Simply ask the client for their business and accept their answer with a smile. 

3. Respect the price book

Respecting the price book is critical to be an ethical salesperson in HVAC, plumbing or electrical. For the purpose of this paragraph, we’re going to assume that your company has one. If it does not, visit our price book page and we will help you! 

  • Do not charge people more than what is listed in the price book- Unless a tech is paid on sales, this rarely happens because most good and moral people want to do right by their customers. However, an ethical plumbing or HVAC technician never charges a client more than what is printed in the price book for the specific job unless the actual scope of the job is outside what the task covers. 
  • Do not charge people LESS than what is in the price book- Charging clients less or “giving people a deal” is as unethical as charging some people more. 
  • Honor discounts and specials- This seems basic, but if your company is offering a discount, credit or rebate on the plumbing or HVAC services you are selling, be sure to offer that discount to every customer that you see. 

4. Shoot straight with customers

This also seems like an elementary principle, but many plumbers and HVAC techs like to over complicate the sales and communication process with customers. The simplest way to communicate with clients is upfront and straightforward. 

  • Do not speak down to your clients- As tradespeople, we know a lot about many things that most people know nothing about, which makes it easy to accidentally talk down to our customers. Make sure you are aware of this danger and focus on providing information to your customers in a way that makes them comfortable with you and doesn’t make them feel talked down to. 
  • Say it like it is, but in a nice way- No one likes a silver tongued salesman and no one likes a rude and gruff know-it-all. The halfway point in plumbing and HVAC sales is to shoot your customers straight, tell them like it is, and be nice about it.
  • Provide clear and direct next steps- Clients get to make many decisions, which we will cover in step number five, but it’s important to eliminate any decision making confusion when it comes to next steps. As the professional in the home, they are leaning on you to provide them with clear and direct next steps so that they can solve the plumbing or HVAC problem they called you out to solve. 
  • Say it how it feels best to you- So many plumbing and HVAC sales trainers focus on scripts. “This is what you have to say and here is how you have to say it.” Trying to use words that are not your own and put thoughts together that you do not agree with will come off as phony, sleazy and unethical. A key component of ethical plumbing and HVAC sales is using your own words. 

5. Let your customers make the decision that is right for them

At the very core of every home service strategy based on serving the best interest of the client and adhering to the most ethical sales process possible is leaving the final decision to the client. In order to do this, we must understand that as plumbers, HVAC technicians and electricians as it relates to the sales process, our job is to let clients know what options they have, discuss the pros and cons of each option and leave the final decision to them. 

To ensure your customers have all the information they need to make the right buying decision:

  • Perform a thorough evaluation of their plumbing or HVAC problem
  • Think about what is wrong, what happened to cause the problem and if there is anything that could have been done to prevent it as you formulate a plan to resolve the issue 
  • Learn about their needs, wants, budget and long term plan for the home
  • Provide them all of their options up front and in writing
  • Be sure all repair options and replacements clearly outline what is included in the price and any other major details of work
  • Discuss pros and cons of each option you have come up with 
  • Discuss payment options and financing, if available
  • Ask the client for their business and respect their decision 

6. Follow the golden rule

We will just leave number six alone, as it speaks for itself. 

How Elite Trades Can Help You Build an Ethical Sales Process That Will Close Deals

At Elite Trades, we own, operate and consult with plumbing, heating, air conditioning, & electrical companies all over the USA who all face the same unique challenges when it comes to how to generate more revenue, hit sales goals and train plumbers, HVAC technicians and electricians to sell ethically. We can work with you as we have with countless others to develop the systems and procedures we have discussed in this manual so that as you build the plumbing, heating, air & electrical home service business of your dreams, you are doing it using ethical sales principles… so you and your team can sleep at night. 

Sweet dreams- Your partner in profits. – Elite Trades

Eric Smith - Founder & CEO of Elite Trades

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