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Trade Ally Network Northwest

Sales Skill: Learn How to Work with Local School Districts

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Federal, state and local funding resources are available to help Northwest school districts invest in a range of energy-efficiency improvements. This may mean increased business development opportunities for lighting and HVAC trade allies. But working with school districts isn’t the same as working with other private sector businesses. It takes more effort to build a relationship, and a more formal process for earning projects. Here are five tips to help you develop connections with your local school district.

1. Do your homework to develop a relationship. School improvements are typically made at the school district level, not by individual schools. Whether the district is small or large, your goal is to identify and get to know the district’s facility maintenance personnel. This is where projects are awarded.

In a smaller district, you may be able to “drop-in” on a facility employee, but you’ll still have to work your way to the decision-maker. When you meet the facilities team, make yourself of value by bringing information about available utility incentives, issues you’ve observed, and possible solutions.

If your company volunteers in your community, what better place to do it then at your local school? Besides helping your community, it helps builds relationships.

2. Be flexible for maintenance work. In many districts, facilities staff may be overloaded and rely on outside services to take care of some jobs. If you’re willing to do smaller projects or take on maintenance tasks, you may find your services in higher demand. While larger projects often have to go out to bid, smaller projects up to a certain dollar amount may be awarded without a public bid.

3. Join the district’s bid list. School districts periodically issue a request for qualifications (RFQ) to identify contractors for future projects. This is a longer-term way to earn business, but it may put you in a pool of contractors to earn work more quickly. If you’re on the list, you’re also in a position to learn about larger projects that may surface.

4. Educate yourself on local incentives. Make sure you can discuss the availability of local utility incentives and how they apply to projects relevant to schools. Prepare a spreadsheet that demonstrates how upgrade opportunities in classrooms, hallways, and common areas can help reduce future energy costs.

5. Understand how HVAC projects are awarded. While many of the steps above are more applicable to lighting upgrades, HVAC contractors may still have opportunities for energy-efficiency projects.

Large HVAC replacement projects typically involve a public bid. To take on smaller projects, look for maintenance contracts or upgrade opportunities that can be pieced out, such as ductless heat pumps (DHP). Any school district with electric resistance heat can put in DHP units, giving you the chance to get your foot in the door.

Educate yourself about your local school districts to learn what types of projects they can award, budget limitations, and who has the authority to approve contracts. It will take more time and effort but will be worth the reward once you do it.

For more information, contact your local field specialist.