What makes a great field service technician? Technical aptitude, certainly. Courteous and responsible, sure. Well-spoken, punctual, and professional, of course.

But where does “great at sales” fit into the job description?

It may not be the first thing hiring managers look for in a new field tech, but often — and increasingly — it’s an important part of the job. Whether a tech is offering customers an upgrade to the newest line of your product, pitching them on the benefits of signing an ongoing service agreement, or up-selling a contract customer to a full-coverage deal, the guy in the van is now being looked at as a great way to drive new revenue.

But not many service techs have a background in sales; they may not even be big people people to begin with. So how can you train your repairmen, installers, and supervisors — these product people — on the soft skills of up-selling? We asked around, and came up with a few simple tips you can start using (or reinforcing) right away to boost your techs’ confidence, and their numbers.

Tip No. 1: Knowledge Is Your Best Tool

Whether they know it or not, field techs have a powerful tool on their side that even some very good salesman don’t: intimate product knowledge. And that gives them credibility — something a salesman very seldom has.

“Once the customer gets that you know what you’re talking about, they’ll think everyone in the company knows what they’re talking about,” says Brendan Cooke, an installer-turned-customer service rep for All-Guard Alarm Systems of Hayward, Calif. “If you can educate the customer, they’re usually going to be satisfied with the product. And being an installer is the greatest education you can get in this industry. Learning all the functions of the product, walking people through it; that’s probably the greatest tool I have.”

Cooke says that when he switched from field installations to sales, he had to change his mindset to be able to work past customers’ protestations. But by relying on superior knowledge of the product and the industry, he was able to successfully pitch customers on new products and services, and thrive in his new position.

Tip No. 2: Sell the Opposite

How often do you run into a customer who says they’re already satisfied with the service they’re getting from one of your competitors? Well Earl King, the founder of King Productions International, a HVAC sales consulting firm in Texas, says that shouldn’t nip your sales pitch in the bud.

“First, I’ll ask [a customer] if they’re satisfied,” King says. “And if they say there are, then I ask if we can do a maintenance audit — no charge, no obligation. I want to look at all their service tickets over the past 12 months or so, review how much has been spent on materials.”

Typically, King says, it’s not much. Having that knowledge in your hands creates an opportunity to sell away from what the customer’s already getting in a full-coverage agreement with someone else. If you can show a customer they’re paying more in a yearly service agreement than they’re getting back, you may be able to pick off a new customer by offering a “programmed maintenance,” labor-only agreement, which is always a lot cheaper.

Of course, this also works in reverse. But be sure not to refer to a full-coverage agreement as “insurance,” King warns: customers hate insurance. (Unless you’re trying to sell away from it; in which case, by all means, point out that it’s insurance.)

Tip No. 3: First, Listen

Great salespeople are said to have a silver tongue, right? Actually, it’s the ears that count.

By listening closely to what the customer is — and sometimes isn’t — saying, you can pick up on what their problem is, and how your product or service can solve that for them. Joe Crisara, a sales educator for ContractorSelling.com, talks about the “turn-around” technique, where you as a seller get the customer talking about why he’s interested in your service. Get them, essentially, to sell you on your own service — that helps them reinforce the fact that they want and need it, and it gives you information about exactly what they’re looking for.

“Many times buyers provide a false reason so they don’t reveal too much about their situation, thinking that you may use it against them to close the deal,” Crisara writes on his blog. “The turn-around helps your buyers ‘think it over’ before you start making prices and solutions so they are certain that the service or product they are requesting information [about] is something they definitely will purchase.”

Tip No. 4: Don’t Assume

Part of listening is keeping an open mind, says Mike Moore, who runs HVAC Learning Solutions. And that means don’t assume anything. You don’t necessarily know what a customer’s budget is, or what they can and can’t afford. People may surprise you — but if you don’t offer your best, you’ll never sell your best. So start by offering customers the service or product that best fits their needs — not what you think fits in their price range.

“The customer will pay for what he or she can afford, and it is never your job to decide what one can financially invest in,” Moore writes. “So don’t be afraid to offer what you have.”

Tip No. 5: No Excuses

Andy Halpein, the owner of Laser Printer Resource in Walnut Creek, Calif., puts it bluntly: “If they want a job, they’ve gotta sell.”

That’s kind of a sink-or-swim directive, but the point is valid: Sales is simply part of the job now. In some cases, that means pitching customers out in the field. Or, as Halperin says, it can be as simple as just be performing a great repair, gaining the customer’s trust, and making sure to mention ongoing service agreements and handing them the company business card. Either way, it’s now a must. “Hopefully [the tech] is great — and usually they are,” he says. “I only hire great, awesome ones.”

More: Two Big Traits to Look for When Hiring a Service Tech.

ABOUT Ian Stewart

Avatar photoIan is a veteran journalist who has covered sports for various news outlets. Previously, he was managing editor for an electronic-book publishing company and a public relations writer.