Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome back. In today's post, we are going to be continuing our trend of looking at selling building automation systems. We are going to be talking about how to sell more services to avoid pipeline dips. This is something that everyone should be considering, but folks tend to struggle with doing.
So, if you've been in sales for any amount of time, you're probably familiar with the spring and fall slumps that tend to occur, depending on what region of the world you live in. Some folks see it at different times, but there is a noticeable slump in when your sales hit a peak, especially during the construction seasons, and during the kind of transitory months when people realize their chiller doesn't work anymore or their boiler doesn't work anymore, and they need to upgrade their controls.
In between those time periods, there may be some pipeline dips. My hope is that by the end of this post, you'll have some concrete strategies that you can take with you to sell services to kind of lift those low-lying areas of your pipeline. That way, you have more of a predictable pipeline, the business can make better decisions, and you as a salesperson are going to be stressing less.
Alright, so first, let's talk about what services are. Services can be both physical services as well as technical services. When I say Technical Services, I'm speaking more towards things like applications, monitoring, etc. Whereas physical services are going to be things like actually physically doing maintenance, physically being on-site and assisting in the maintenance of a building, physically augmenting staff.
I like to primarily focus on the more technology-centric services first, because I feel like they do have a place, especially if you have a good installed base. These are not a heavy lift, in my opinion, whereas doing physical services are more of a reactionary response to a lot of things. Even in the plan service agreement realm, physical services can be something that, in my opinion, are much more difficult to sell.
Alright, so let's look at a couple services. The one I am particularly interested in, and drawn to continuously, is retro-commissioning. Now, there's a ton of ways you can do retro-commissioning. I find the biggest challenge for a lot of service or construction salespeople, when they're looking at bringing a retro-commissioning service to a customer is, where to start. If I told you to go sell retro-commissioning, would you know how to price it? Would you have the confidence that your operations team could execute it? If the answer to both of those is “no,” then I'm going to challenge you.
If I go to Google, and I type in “retro-commissioning,” and I do “file type PDF,” in the Google search, I'm going to get so many retro-commissioning plans and guides. I think it was the Walton heir, who basically created Walmart, was quoted, “Steal what works.” While I'm not advocating outright theft, I am advocating that there is so much out there, especially in the .gov space, which means it's open domain, that you you're more than welcome to use in most cases. Why not take all of what’s out there and apply it?
If I search “Lawrence Berkeley Labs,” who's by the way, one of our customers for training, and I look at a “practical guide for commissioning existing buildings,” and I click on that PDF, it is going to tell me step-by-step what to do to retro-commission a building. Now once I have that information at my fingertips, it's going to talk about what is retro-commissioning? How do you establish business value? How do you align retro commissioning with customer business goals and intents and initiatives? These should all be terms that, if you've been reading the past couple posts, are fairly familiar to you.
I’ve been hammering pretty heavily, things like, understanding your customers, understanding their strategic initiatives, selling to executives, etc. So, if we understand that information, then we are able to basically follow these checklists, and be able to deliver a retro-commissioning service.
Now the nice thing, the reason I focus pretty heavily on retro-commissioning, is that it's usually incentivized by the local utilities. So, for example, on my screen right now, what I'm looking at is something from Ameren, Illinois, and they're talking about how they can get potential utility rebates and incentives for performing a retro-commissioning. In this case, they call it retro-commissioning lite.
They actually give you a step-by-step checklist and application. So oftentimes, for the salesperson, all you're really doing is assisting the customer in completing a retro-commissioning application that their utility provides. Once they complete this, then you submit it, and it essentially becomes free money at that point, of which you can use to fund energy conservation measures.
So, this is a service that if you've got a slump in sales, or maybe you've got a little bit of time, and I know everyone has a little bit of time, you can strategically go to your customers, and assist your key customers in filling out these applications. Then by filling out these applications, you are then able to get money that can be used for sales and can be used to purchase products and services. Services like energy conservation measures, retro-commissioning services, modifications to optimize HVAC, lighting, BAS, etc.
This is money and projects that, prior to this conversation, were not funded. People were not looking to do these projects. Essentially, you're creating net new work. So, that's something I want you to think about when we're selling services; we are selling net new work to our customer base. Rather than being dependent on capital plans or operational budgets, we want to sell net new work.
Now, that is retro commissioning, and if you all are interested, we can definitely dive deeper into that in a future post. We can do an entire post on retro-commissioning, just let us know.
Another service that you can sell, that was all over AHR is analytics. So, one of the guys on our sales team went to AHR a few months back, and he was telling me, “Analytics is the buzzword.” It's funny to me because analytics has been the buzzword since almost as long as I've been in the industry. You know, I used to actually work as a project development engineer attempting to sell analytics to customers. So, I've seen it go well, I've seen it go bad, and I've seen kind of in between.
Properly executed analytics are another service that you can sell. I feel like we're in a prime time to sell it due to the labor shortage and talent shortage in our industry. So, it's no mystery that our industry is continuing to lose talent. As that talent leaves the industry, as we lose more and more folks, we have to replace that talent. What one way can we augment that talent in the meantime, is we can use things like analytics to identify issues and to prioritize issues so that these issues can be addressed in a more efficient way.
Rather than having that senior person who could look at the building automation system and could kind of tell that it looks a little wonky, or that the set point’s a little higher than normal, the analytics can create a historical snapshot.
So, how I tend to sell this service to executives and to D level, directors of facilities, etc, is I would tend to look at the person, and this works really well if they recently lost a more senior person. Look at what was that person’s salary, maybe like $80K to $120K? Somewhere in that range? What was that person producing as a result of that salary? Usually it's like 2-3x, right? So that person was saving you 2-3x, through their ability to manage and monitor the system.
So, that gives us a range of which we can spend a portion of that on analytics. If we can spend a portion of that on the analytic solution, then we're going to be able to say that this person could identify x, we can identify x, and we can do it for a portion of that. Then you can either take that operational cost as profit, or you can invest it into other employees who can then execute. Oftentimes, the execution is not as difficult as the discovery. So, that's how I tend to position analytic services.
Now, it's no mystery that analytics have a high front end cost. That's why I try to piggyback analytic solutions with new construction projects. So, whereas the retro-commissioning, the utility funding, and incentive programs can tend to do well and really should be targeted at buildings that are five plus years old. In fact, even older, the better because you're going to see better savings, thus, you're going to see better incentive payouts. That being said, as we look at analytics, those tend to do best with buildings that are actually newer.
So, in an ideal world, your sales management would sit down with your operations team, you would say that you are going to try to sell XYZ services, maybe remote monitoring, maybe it's analytics, and based on what we are going to sell as a service, we need to do XYZ in our project. So, if we're going to sell analytics, then we need a naming schema, we need to make sure we have proper trending, proper data capacity, and data throughput from our systems. That all needs to be identified and that needs to be put into a document up front.
So basically, what you would do is your operations team would create a document that would state, “This is our naming standard. This is our data schema. This is our throughput requirements. These are trending requirements.” These are going to be deployed on each project.
If you're doing owner-direct work, that's even better, because you can sell like a silver/gold/platinum level. You can say, “Silver's just our basic controls install. Gold is our controls install with training and associated stuff. Platinum is our controls install, but we're also getting you analytics ready, and we're selling you this kind of higher level.” It almost becomes a consultative package where we're asking what analytics do they want to see? What naming schemas do they want, etc.? You can bolt these on to the owner-direct work.
Once you have these documents figured out, and you know exactly what is being installed from an operational perspective, quoting the analytics should be as simple as quoting the service cost, as well as quoting the initial training costs to your customer. There should not be that high of an install cost. So that's why you need to get ahead of this.
Ideally, you're not going to be selling analytics to existing customers that are three, four, or five years in. They are most likely not set up. There's going to be huge upfront cost, the customers are going to seem excited, and you're going to sync cost of sales effort into that pursuit, only to be told that the install cost is too high to execute, unless you tie that to a retro-commissioning play in which the utility is offsetting that. Then you're using the analytics as a discovery tool, or as a way of validating the energy conservation measures post implementation. In that case, I have seen analytics work, but a direct analytic sell to an existing building, I see those tend to fall flat due to the install cost.
Now we are going to look at remote monitoring services. Remote monitoring, in this day and age, is more difficult to execute than it used to be. The talent staff shortage is not just existing on the owner side, it's also existing on the controls contractor side. That being said, if you do have a controls contractor and you’re good to go, then you can look at remote support.
I have seen organizations that work with us use this quite well, in their revenue models. They actually have built up remote operation centers. Essentially, what they do is they have Level One, Level Two, Level Three triage. Level One basically monitors a campus or level, building set point changes, complaints, etc. Level Two will be where the complaints get escalated to, and as those complaints get escalated, they will be evaluated and triaged by Level Two. Level Three is the major changes, where we have to get into the system, do major programming, etc.
You can sell all different levels, right. You can sell Level One, just basic level monitoring. Then they can work on things you discover on an ad hoc basis, or you can sell total coverage, and anything in between.
The nice thing about both analytics and remote operations done right, as long as you do it ethically, is you can generate quite a bit of work for your business. So, by remotely monitoring customer sites, and discovering faults and issues, you then can find these issues that you will then be able to execute on. That $1 of work may generate $3 of work.
Now, I use the term ethically, which is critically important. When you're placing yourself in the position of an analytics or remote operations supervisory service, you have a business responsibility to be ethical and to not just take advantage of people because they are uninformed. We're a small industry and word will get around real quickly. As long as you treat people right, you should be able to generate a lot of work.
Now, of these three, as I mentioned, retro-commissioning is typically on existing building assets. Analytics typically is on newer buildings. The remote operations can fall on either/or. It can go on new or existing building portfolios. So that's another thing that you can do as far as a service.
Now, the fourth service I would look at is more of a modernization cybersecurity service. This is something that I have seen a few people do. When done right, to the right customer, this can actually be quite profitable as well. You analyze a customer's site to understand if they are cyber secure. You'll be looking at things like, are they using certificates? Are they encrypted? Are they patched? Are they modernized? Are their users following secure policies, etc.? So, those are things that you can sell as well.
Now, that is something that is a little more difficult, little higher-skill tasks, to sell, but it is something that I'm seeing increasingly important where we're getting phone calls from folks. They're asking us to evaluate their cyber-readiness. Now, that's something we don't do, because we don't typically do consulting services and we definitely are not a controls contractor. So, if we're being asked by someone who does not market themselves as a controls contractor or system integrator, then I definitely know that people who are system integrators and controls contractors, if they were to put themselves out there, could provide those services. So, that's a fourth service you can provide.
A fifth service that you can provide to avoid pipeline dips, is going to be in the area of graphics and user modernization. Now, believe it or not, a lot of systems are installed with horrible graphics, and thus no one really ever uses them. The users change, maybe an energy manager comes in or new facilities manager comes in, and they want to use the systems, but they can't use the systems because the graphics don't work or points are mapped incorrectly.
So, this is like a super light version of retro-commissioning. You're not really coming in and retro-commissioning the equipment, rather you're coming in and doing an audit of the control system. You're saying these points are offline, these graphics don't work and they're not mapped to the appropriate things, or these submittals don't accurately represent what the system is.
Back when I lived in Dallas, I would literally see people follow around the major OEMs about a year after a project was executed, right as they were coming out of warranty. They would offer this building automation audit service, and they would say, “This building automation system’s graphics aren't mapped properly. Let us take a look at your system, let us give you our five-point audit, and if you like our results, we can modernize it. It will be pretty quick, painless, not interrupting of your services, and you'll get a better system out that deal.” So, I've seen people do that as well.
Okay. I've given you five services that you can use right now to avoid pipeline dips. So, how do you deploy these and actually use these in your sales process? Well, for the retro-commissioning, what I typically like to do is target that at the end of summer. What typically happens is, customers run their buildings during the summer, they hit their peak days, and they realize they’ve spent a ton of money on utilities and they’re feeling very painful. Maybe they had design days, and their spaces got hot, and people complained. So, it's really fresh of mind. This is something I want you to really hone in on here: You must catch people for these different services at the right times.
So, if someone just came out of a summer where their building barely kept up with their cooling demands, and they spent a ton of money, they're going to be very, very amenable to you saying, “Hey, we can work with a local utility, assess your building, and then maybe get you a new chiller, modernize your control system, or upgrade, etc. Oh, and by the way, the utility will pay a portion of it.” So, that is a good time, right towards the end of summer, to start having these conversations with an early-fall fill out of the applications, and an execution kind of mid-fall right before you roll into the winter work. And that should carry you over.
This works really well in hot states, but you can do the flip inverse for cold states where they get really cold in the winter, and they had a huge gas bill. You can do the exact same thing.
Now shifting from retro-commissioning to analytics, what we can do as far as selling analytics is during the owner training, you can evaluate the capabilities and operations of the operators. You can recognize if the operators can or can’t operate the building and based on that level of skill assessment, you can offer training.
While you’re training, you could even say, “By the way, as we're training you, we have this analytics system you could trial.” This works really well if you've already set up your system to be analytics friendly, as I mentioned, then you could potentially offer a trial. You could say, “Hey, this analytic system is free; try it out for a month and if you like it, keep it.”
For the rest of the stuff for your service, where you're doing remote operations, a good time to do that is almost anytime. Just keep track of your customers; understand what they're going through. If your customers are starting to experience dips in their staffing, then you could potentially offer remote operations.
Then as far as a modernization of the system that is typically one year after the building has been complete, after that project’s done. You'll want to go to that customer and offer them those modernization services.
Alright, I hope this has given you some good ideas that you can take with you into the market right now, and they will help you sell more services, help you get more owner direct work, and also they will help you to just kind of lift up your pipeline dips so that your pipeline’s more predictable, you're feeling less stress, and your business is able to make better decisions because they know that they have a predictable sales pipeline they can look at.
Be sure to leave a comment or question or below. I love to hear what you’re thinking or experiencing in the field, and I love answering your questions.
Thanks a ton and take care!