How To Diagnose Problems On a HVAC Sales Call

Last week we discussed how to connect with your customer by mirroring their communication style. Doing this gives your customers the clarity they need to buy from you and improve their experience with your HVAC shop.

Remember: your job isn’t to sell on an HVAC sales call: it’s to connect and diagnose, with “connecting” being job #1.

However, communicating like your customer is only half of the battle in HVAC sales. Your second job is to diagnose.  So now that you know how to connect with any homeowner on an HVAC sales call, I want to talk to you about how to accurately diagnose the problem on a sales call and, most importantly, help you understand why this is so important.

Let’s get to it.

  1. Why you must spend more time diagnosing than prescribing on your HVAC sales call (and why an HVAC sales call is like going to a doctor)
  2. How to diagnose your customer’s problems on a HVAC sales call (Four questions your prospect must answer to buy)
  3. How to use StoryBrand to map out your customer’s diagnosis

1. Why You Must Spend More Time Diagnosing Than Prescribing On Your HVAC Sales Call

Imagine you’re a 41-year-old man who decides to play a game of basketball one fine Saturday morning. You’re feeling excited and energized because you had an extra slice of bacon that morning (p.s. I’m not speaking from experience or anything). And let’s say you get on the basketball court, go up for a layup and come down awkwardly on your ankle.


“Is it sprained?”

“Is it broken?”

“How much will it cost me to go to the doctor?”

All valid questions that you ask yourself.

So you look up a doctor’s office, find one with great reviews, drive through thirty minutes of traffic, and wait another thirty minutes in the waiting room. You fill out tons of paperwork as your mind continues to race with more questions.

Finally, your name is called! You get weighed, and your blood pressure is read. You wait another twenty minutes to see the doctor.

Mr. Doctor finally walks in twenty minutes later. You can’t wait to be seen and heard by an expert that will listen to you and help you figure out what happened to your ankle. You’re eager to share all the details to get some pain relief. After all, your ankle has been throbbing since you landed on it during the basketball game.

The doctor asks you a few surface-level questions: where you’re from, how the weather is, and then, strangely, starts talking about how good they are at fixing arm sprains.

You’re instantly baffled. Not only is your ankle hurting, but the doctor is completely ignoring your pain and only seems to be concerned with prescribing the answer to a different problem.

A problem you don’t have.

You try to get the doctor back on track:

“Doc, it’s great that you’re so good at arm sprain surgeries here, but my ankle is killing me!”

The doctor replies, “yeah, I know, but -“

You’ve not only wasted your time but your energy and money.

This may be a silly analogy, but the sad reality is that too many HVAC salespeople are exactly like this doctor: they are focusing on prescribing a solution too early in sales calls in hopes of closing instead of doing what they should be doing:

Diagnosing the problem, digging into how the problem affects the homeowner, and discussing the best way to solve the problem.

Prescribing a solution to your prospect should be earned, not given. You should spend most of your HVAC sales call diagnosing.

If our doctor spent a solid 10 minutes understanding my – I mean – our friend’s ankle pain by asking simple questions like:

“Where does it hurt?”

“What happened?”

“What concerns do you have?”

“How will this injury impact your day-to-day?”

Then do you think our friend would be open to hearing the doctor’s prescription plan?


Think about your sales calls today. Do you think your prospect will be more open to reviewing an HVAC sales proposal if you spend more time diagnosing? or less? Do you think your customer will feel more seen and heard by you than your competitor if you slow down and sit with your customer in their pain? Or rush to prescribe a solution your customer may not feel you understand?

2. How to diagnose your customer’s problem on an HVAC sales call

Now that we know why we must spend more time diagnosing than prescribing, you may be left wondering how to diagnose your customer’s problem on an HVAC sales call.

Old school sales books and training may encourage you to “focus on the pain.” While that is good sales advice, it’s extremely simplistic. Focusing on the pain isn’t enough of a diagnostic exercise to make an impact. Remember: you’re going up against at least two other competitors on an HVAC sales call. I assure you that everyone will “focus on the pain.”

I want you to remove yourself and your competitors from your mind for a second. After all, your customer is like our friend that sprained their ankle. They have issues and pain and are ready to diagnose their situation to better understand their comfort issues in their home.

Here are four questions they are going to ask themselves to get closer to a buying decision – regardless of who they buy from:

  1. “What’s the problem?” 
    1. This question should be easy for any HVAC comfort advisor to ask. The key with this question is to capture the customer’s words, regardless if they are grammatically or technically correct. Write down the problems they rattle off and put them at the beginning of your sales proposal. This way, when you go over your sales proposal, or prescription plan, the customer will be comforted by hearing their words read back to them, which will greatly impress your customer and improve your “professionalism score.” Remember: everyone loves the sound of their own voice.
  2. “How does this problem impact me?”
    1. Discovering a problem lays the foundation to be able to ask how the problems are impacting the homeowner. A room being too hot or too cold could be about the homeowner’s guests not enjoying their stay. Touching doorknobs and getting shocked could be a sign of low humidity. Asking about the health of the family members could be an opening to discuss indoor air quality. Lead with the human impact that HVAC issues can cause, which will help you to be crystal clear in your HVAC diagnosis.
  3. “What’s the best way to solve this problem?”
    1. Finding the pain and pressing onto the pain is important. But want to really impress your customer? Talk to them about the best way to solve their problem. There are lots of avenues to solve any problem in life. The more business-minded homeowners know this, so if you take a moment to provoke their pain, understand the impact of their pain, then guide them to the best way to solve the problem, I can assure you that you will continue to get closer to being your customer’s top choice. Be careful not to show off here, though: if you get the feeling that the customer just wants you to tell them the best way to solve their problem, and doesn’t want to go through the weeds of each option, just state a confident answer and move on.
  4. “Where does solving this problem fall on my priority list?”
    1. I don’t need to tell you that life is crazy and busy. It may be tempting to feel like your HVAC sales quote is the most important issue or fire to put out for your customer, but the reality is that you never know. One way to show respect and another layer of professionalism to your customer is to ask where this HVAC problem falls on their priority list. This is also a perfect bridge question to help you move from the diagnosis stage to the prescription stage. If a customer says that fixing their HVAC issues is high on their priority list, you can easily transition into walking them through a proposal. Pro tip: if a customer says they aren’t sure where the HVAC issues reside on their priority list or even state that solving their HVAC issues is a low priority, then, in my opinion, you want to high tail it out of there as fast as you can. Give a rough estimate but don’t write up a proposal. These customers are wasting your time and might be a pain to work with.

Moving closer to a yes starts by helping your customers answer these four questions in their minds. Make your own versions of these questions, but don’t leave them up to chance during your diagnosis.

3. How to Use StoryBrand To Map Out Your Customer’s Diagnosis

One final trick for you HVAC comfort advisors. And it comes from movies and TV shows. It can also be summarized in this book, “Building a StoryBrand,” by Donald Miller. StoryBrand is a messaging framework (one that we are certified in, by the way) that helps any HVAC business clarify their go-to-market message. You can use a Storybrand “brandscript” to write website copy, email campaigns, and radio spots.

You can also use it to draw a customer journey map for your sales call!

Here’s what I mean:

StoryBrand teaches that there are seven ideas every message must contain for it to help your customer thrive. They are:

  1. A customer – or hero – who wants something 
  2. That runs into a problem
  3. Who meets a guide that has empathy and authority 
  4. Who provides the hero a plan
  5. And calls them to action
  6. Which will end in success if the hero succeeds
  7. Or failure if the hero fails

Think about the movie Rocky. Let me walk you through the Storybrand framework for Rocky:

  1. Rocky is a bum who wants to be a great fighter
  2. But he doesn’t know how to fight, leaving him feeling depressed. He knows there is a champion inside of him but doesn’t know how to become one.
  3. Rocky trains with Mickey, a boxing trainer who has been training boxers for decades (authority), who tells Rocky that he believes in him (empathy).
  4. Mickey gives Rocky a plan to become a champion and tells Rocky to follow the plan. The plan is as simple as getting trained and fighting Apollo.
  5. Rocky follows the plan, defeats Apollo, and becomes a great fighter. Of course, there was a chance he could lose the fight, which is the “risk” or “failure” element of StoryBrand.

The point? He transforms from a “bum who can’t fight” into the boxing champion of the world.

Alright, where am I going with this, and how does it relate to your HVAC sales call?

  1. Your customer is the hero that wants to be comfortable in their home.
  2. The problem is that they don’t know how to fix their comfort issues, leaving them feeling uncomfortable and maybe afraid of getting sick (due to their air quality concerns)
  3. They meet you – the HVAC comfort advisor who has helped hundreds of customers like them (authority). And you also know how they feel (empathy) because you spent time diagnosing their problems before prescribing a solution.
  4. You prescribe them a plan (this is your HVAC sales proposal) and ask them to buy.
  5. Your customer buys your plan and becomes comfortable in their home after the job.

The point? You are helping your customer transform from an uncomfortable homeowner into a comfortable homeowner simply by your ability to connect and diagnose!

Now: here is where everything ties together: the diagnosis that you spend time digging into on a new HVAC sales call is essentially steps 1-3 of the Storybrand process. So if you wanted to take this picture:

StoryBrand for an HVAC sales call

for your HVAC sales call and use it to guide you as you diagnose your customer’s problem, you can!

For the “a character” section above, you can ask yourself, “what’s the one thing my customer wants?”

For the “with a problem” section above, you can ask the four diagnostic questions discussed in the previous section.

And for the “meets a guide” section, you can showcase your authority with customer testimonials and make your customers feel seen and heard by helping them know that you understand what they are going through.

Final thoughts

Diagnosing your customer’s problem(s) is the most important part of your HVAC sales call. By spending more time diagnosing, you’ll be seen as more credible and professional in your customer’s eyes and close more HVAC sales. Happy selling!

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