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Hey folks, Phil Zito here and welcome back! In our previous posts, we just finished going through all the different roles that you could take in building automation. In this next series, I'm going to be talking about selling, selling a building automation, what skills you need to have, how to approach it, strategies, tactics, etc.

Now, I realize a lot of you in my audience are operators and technicians and managers, and you may be wondering to yourself, should I just skip past the next few posts? In my experience, that would be a big mistake because the reality is, we're always selling. If you're an operator and say your building automation system is aged. Those pneumatic diaphragms on the pneumatic valves are starting to crack. They're like $2,000 each to replace, and you have to sell yourself and sell your idea to management in order to get those changed.

Or maybe you're a technician, or service tech, and you see a need for approaching a customer and addressing perhaps, an upgrade. Maybe they have a really outdated building automation system that can't be purchased anymore, or they're missing some key factors that due to cost cutting on new construction, just couldn't get put in place.

You need to know how to sell those customers. If you're in sales, then yeah, this is right up your alley, you're going to get a lot of good perspectives, and a lot of good ideas about selling and how to sell building automation systems. So, in this post, we're going to look at the key information BAS sales reps need to know in order to be successful in selling, and I will tell you that this information is going to vary depending on your organization.

I'm going to cover Mechanical Contractor, I'm going to cover a BAS Traditional Contractor, and I'm going to cover a System Integrator. I'm going to talk about the skills that sales reps are going to need to have in order to succeed in those roles.


Mechanical Contractor

So first up, we have the Mechanical Contractor. If you're working for a Mechanical Contractor, you're typically going to be selling to owners and/or to general contractors in a construction environment, or directly to owners in a retrofit environment/service environment. So, one of the things you need to realize is you're connected to a Mechanical Contractor, and like it or not, there is going to be an expectation that you have some mechanical aptitude.

Now, you aren't selling mechanical services or systems typically, as that's usually firewalled off. Usually, you have a mechanical salesperson that goes after the mechanical portion of the bid and spec, and you have a controls salesperson who goes after the controls portion of the spec. You do need to understand what mechanical systems you offer, their integration capabilities, your abilities to put controls on them, and you do need to understand as well, what is going to be happening on the mechanical side, especially if you're going for a joint bid on a project.

The basic skills remain that you have a fundamental understanding of building automation system architectures and products, and IO products as well, input and output products, and that you understand your product line and its capabilities so that you can apply it properly.

In my experience, there's really two types of salespeople. There are salespeople who will do estimates, a little bit of system design, but they're basically selling product responses to design’s specifications, as well as owner project requirements. Then you have more kind of enterprise, strategy-minded, building automation salespeople who are selling solutions and selling services to customers.

Now, that's not to say one is better than the other. I've seen people on the construction side make just as much as people on the solution-sales side. But as a mechanical contractor salesperson, you're primarily going to be responding to bids and solicitations from general contractors, as well as responding to owner project requirements and owner requests. Then on the flip side of things, you do have the service sales requirements, and, in that case, you need to understand your customer’s vertical market type so you can appropriately estimate any plan service agreements, as well as understanding your owner’s markets so that you can suggest appropriate retrofit solutions.

Throughout this post, you're going to notice a theme that selling retrofit solutions, or solution-sales in general from a technical perspective, tend to be more difficult than just simply responding to a spec. Now there are nuances when you respond to a spec that are, how to basically create a solution that can be potentially low bid or in alignment with the spec without pricing you out of the project, etc, how to negotiate relationships with generals, and owners, and engineers to get you maybe flat spec. Things like that. There are a lot of sales strategies.

As a mechanical contractor, heavy focus on an HVAC background, good focus on BAS, light focus typically on IT, although I see that shifting in a lot of our mechanical contractor customers who sell controls and come to us for controls training.


BAS Contractor

Now let's move to the BAS contractor. So, this is the pure BAS contractor. This may be a branch of an OEM original equipment manufacturer like the Johnson, Siemens, Schneiders of the world. Or this may be just a BAS contractor or someone who reps a product from a distributor and sells into the market.

If you're part of a major projects division, or maybe you're doing a lot of solution-oriented sales, then you may need to have a high level of technical acumen or you may need to have a high interpersonal and executive presence. Meaning that, you can go in to executive leadership, we're talking VP level, C level, and be able to discuss with them, “what are their pain points? What are the KPIs that are measured against those pain points? How do you create solutions from products to solve those problems, and how do you execute that, potentially, across an enterprise environment?” These are all things that you should be considering when you are selling at that level.

On the flip side, you could be selling directly to mechanical contractors, responding to bids. At that point, it's really more knowing the architecture, knowing your product inside and out, where that product is going to align with certain parts of the spec. The folks I see who do this really well tend to have spec influence either with the owner or the engineers through relationships. Then they have relationships with mechanicals to get last look at pricing, especially when it's low bid.

Yes, I know, a lot of pricing is closed envelope, but you're fooling yourself if you don't think people actually say, “Hey, you know you need to be at this point,” or, “I would suggest you be at this point.” That's just the reality of how our market works and what goes on behind closed doors in a lot of these bid scenarios.

Now, at the end of the day, the contractor also has a service arm that can be very owner focused. Personally, I love service. If you’ve been following me for any amount of time, you've heard me just sing the praises of service and how I think it's great from a career development. I think it's the most fun thing to sell.

In my opinion, I think it is easier to sell than construction. It definitely requires a greater technical aptitude, an ability to problem solve, to understand building dynamics, so that you can look at a building and identify that something isn’t right and then you can make recommendations. So, there's much more owner interaction. Besides for your retrofit project managers, you're often the point person for these projects. So just be cognizant that a service sales role tends to require a little bit of project management and coordination skills, unless you're just selling service agreements and time and material.


System Integrator

Then we have system integrators. System integrators are this new hybrid, company type that are coming out. It’s nice to call yourself a system integrator and there are a lot of organizations that call themselves system integrators. All they really integrate is lighting, building automation, and AV. That's not system integration; that's just some basic protocol integration.

I would argue anybody can do that and I know that's going to make some people unhappy, but that's just the reality. True systems integration, in my experience, having managed the technical integration program at Johnson Controls, having worked on large scale technology projects, system integration is where you're taking several disparate technology sets and you are pairing those together to achieve focused use cases that are determined based on business needs, and result in business outcomes. So, you may identify safety issues, product or personnel efficiency issues, you may realize customer experience/user experience/tenant experience issues, and you will put multiple pieces of technology together to solution these projects.

What I tend to find is the organizations that do true system integration, it is a huge cost of sales. As I look at the plan and spec sale cycle, you're typically talking 3 to 6 months. As I look at the owner sales cycle, it can be anywhere from 2 to 12 months, and as I look at the system integrator sales cycle, I find that it can run anywhere from 9 months to 36 months or longer.

The sales cycles tend to be very intense, very long, a huge cost of sales from a sales development effort perspective. But on the flip side, there's greater margin and much larger sales volumes. The competition gets significantly lowered.

From a technical skill set perspective, you need to be able to matrix sell, or team sell, as some people call it. You need to be able to have teams where some folks cover the executives, some folks cover the decision maker’s executives, some folks cover the influencers, the technical buyers, some folks will cover different trades, etc. You'll have a team selling approach, typically. So, you need to be able to work in that environment.

The owner-direct service sales role tends to be interdependent. So additionally, you also need to have a technical acumen from an integration perspective, you need to be able to understand business KPIs and business problems of the vertical markets you serve. You need to be able to take the information that you know from that vertical market and be abreast of the key performance indicators that this vertical market uses, knowing the key pain points because you keep up with publications and trade meetings, etc, related to this vertical.

Based on that information, you can then say, “These are the solutions we can provide. Mr./Mrs. Customer, do you have any of these pain points? You do? Let's get all of your executive team to discuss these. Let’s lay out what an ideal situation that reaches these key KPIs looks like? It would require how many use cases? I'm going to develop these use cases alongside my engineering team, we're going to propose them back to you, and then if you accept our proposal, we will then go to work on those.”

That's kind of the path there. You can be a very business-minded person, you can be a very technical-minded person. I've seen folks who are both, but they're rarer. You tend to have someone who is very vertical market-minded interacting with the executive level. Then you have the technical minded salesperson, interacting with the technical buyers and influencers, as well as building the project solution. That's not to say that either role is more important than the other. It's just different.

So, I hope this has given you a perspective of the different types of sales roles. I hope this has given you a little bit of a background behind the skills required. As we start to move through the next several posts, I'm going to be covering things like identifying BAS sales opportunities, reviewing scoping and estimating projects, strategies for bidding new construction work, performing site audits and retrofit work, scoping and estimating retrofit work, strategies for bidding retrofit work, and a whole lot more.

My hope is that this is an enjoyable series for you. If you have any questions, comments, or feedback, please leave us a message at the bottom. Thanks a ton and take care!

Phil Zito

Written by Phil Zito

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