The official theme of this year’s NESEA conference was “Real Solutions, Real Experts.” But that’s kind of a cop-out. NESEA’s conference is always filled with experts and solutions every year. The unofficial theme, it seemed to me, was “How Deep is Your Deep Energy Retrofit?”A keynote address from deep in the energy trenchMarc Rosenbaum (“I are an engineer”) wove his keynote address from peak oil to deep energy retrofits with a side trip to whether or not LEED-certified buildings use more energy than code-compliant buildings (a commentary on the conference’s public forum ).Deep energy retrofits are the most important part of the housing sector because of the number of existing houses compared to the number that are being built (there are about 160 million existing houses, about 60 million of which were built before the energy embargo of ’73 — meaning that they’re really leaky). Despite what the lobbyist group for commercial real estate developers claims , Marc and many of the NESEA attendees are proving that super-efficient buildings are old news — they’re possible, affordable, and easy to accomplish.Marc then took us on a tour of a few deep energy retrofits that his company, EnergySmiths has been working on. The slide show of his presentation is here if you want to have a peek at some of the projects.What Would Mother Nature Do?After the keynote, I headed off to the hour-and-a-half sessions: First stop, Ecological Sensibility in Home Building (with a healthy dose of biomimicry thrown in). The presenter, Kevin Stack , is a builder in upstate New York who does many things right. Kevin focused most of the presentation on new construction, but much of his emphasis was on site work, which most ecologists would qualify as retrofit work.Among one of the more interesting tidbits of Kevin’s talk was using exterior Velcro (the design for which came from nature) to attach siding. There are no nails to penetrate the sheathing, and it’s a built-in rain screen. The Velcro, Kevin said, would delaminate plywood and pull the foil facing off polyisocyanurate foam board before the adhesive pulled off. He’s only two years into this test, so it’s still early, but “so far, so good,” he reports. Look for Kevin and his houses to be appearing in GreenBuildingAdvisor.com sometime soon.What Would Dr. John Do?Next up was John Straube ’s “What Would I Do?” session. Dr. Straube took us on a journey of his (and his gal Victoria’s) deep energy retrofit of a bungalow (which looked suspiciously like a ranch to me) in Toronto. One tip from Dr. Straube: Buy an ugly house that has bad siding. Why? Because it’s easiest to do energy retrofits from the outside, and it’s easy to justify tearing off bad, ugly siding. According to Straube, a simple shape is better because it’s easiest to keep the air, thermal, and water barriers continuous.John used a modified Larsen truss to thicken the outside walls so that he could spray five or six inches of foam on them. He drove gutter spikes through a 2×2, used a three-inch scrap of PVC pipe as a standoff, and then drove the gutter spike/2×2 into the walls. A pretty quick, cheap, and elegant solution. He kept the vented roof and flat ceiling, making sure to seal all the leaks between house and attic with a Froth-Pak before filling the attic with cellulose. Let me repeat that: filling the attic with cellulose (except for the vent channels, that is). His reasoning? Cellulose is cheap, and the majority of the cost is getting the guy into the truck and out to the house. A few extra minutes and a few extra bags of insulation only cost a few extra bucks.As for R-values, John quit counting after R-60. The basement was detailed like all Building Science Corp. basements — rigid foam and a thin concrete slab on the floor, spray foam on the walls followed by a stud wall and drywall. Dr. Straube’s presentation“Don’t Do What Paul Eldrenkamp Did”The last session of the day before my long drive home was a tag-team session with Paul Eldrenkamp of Byggmeister Construction and Mark Rosenbaum of EnergySmiths. I already talked about Marc (let’s just say he had microphone troubles again), so I’ll stick to Paul. Paul presented a series of stories and lessons learned in the deep energy retrofit arena.The lessons:1. Deep energy retrofits aren’t always about insulation.They’re also about how people who live in houses use energy.2. You have one chance to get the envelope right every 30 or 40 years. Don’t blow it.The easiest way to tighten the envelope is from the outside: Replace the siding, add foam, tighten, and replace windows. It’s now or never.3. Every now and then, stop and think about whether you’re doing the right thing as a builder. Consider the types of projects that you do and don’t do. Paul decided to focus on deep energy remodels and lost a million-dollar contract because the potential customers weren’t interested in using less energy. It was hard to lose the job, but it was the right thing for his company to do.4. Much of our nation’s climate policy is being determined by the sales skills of remodeling contractors. Related to the above lesson. Most deep energy retrofits aren’t economically justifiable until the energy costs are real and they reflect the true cost of consuming. Remodelers that can succinctly explain to customers the real costs and benefits of energy-efficient houses can help us out of our energy quandary faster than Congress can. Hint: Payback doesn’t reflect future energy cost increases or better health.5. Don’t be unduly scared of people named Joe.6. Don’t install interior finishes until after the blower door test. Don’t assume that foam insulation is foolproof; experiment responsibly, and monitor for durability.All in all, the best little conference out there. I go every year because the people at this conference know the answers to the big questions and are enthusiastic about digging in. Some other conferences are full of people who complain about having to change and look for ways to drag their feet.
Essential Reading! Get my 3rd book: Eat Their Lunch “The first ever playbook for B2B salespeople on how to win clients and customers who are already being serviced by your competition.” Buy Now A sales organization can have no competitive advantage greater than an exceptional sales force, and an exceptional sales force is made up of great salespeople.How do you build the great salespeople that make up your exceptional sales force?Like this.Hire AttributesNothing after this line matters if you don’t hire people with the right attributes.You can’t build a great salesperson out of someone that lacks the character, the beliefs, the attitudes, and the attributes required to succeed in sales. Once you have a person that’s made up of the right stuff, only then you can build a great salesperson.You hire for attributes, train for skills.Combine Training and ExperienceYou build salespeople by giving them the training and development they need to succeed, and then you couple that training with experience. You train the fundamentals of selling and product knowledge in the classroom. You start to build a foundational understanding of the great game of sales inside your four walls.But learning to sell isn’t an academic exercise; you don’t learn to sell in a classroom. You build the salesperson by getting them in the field to use what they learned as quickly as possible. This is where your salesperson obtains the real learning outcomes; it’s where the academic discussion comes to life.But this training and gaining some foundational experience is only the beginning.Start CoachingIf you want to build a great salesperson, you have to help them make sense of what goes on in front of their dream clients. They learned some things in training, they attempt to use them in the field, some things go well, and some things go not quite so well.Training tends to come undone at first contact with a real prospective client.Coaching builds your salesperson by helping them make sense of their experience. It puts the training in context. It helps identify principles and their application. Was what went right on that sales call something the salesperson did well? Can you give them the positive feedback and reinforcement that makes that action their regular practice? Was went wrong caused by a mistake they made? Can you clear up their understanding of the principle they violated that resulted in that challenge? Can you give help them seeing the frame in which they are operating?Give More Training and Greater ChallengesBuilding great salespeople requires ongoing training. In fact, I’ve come to believe the second round of training is more valuable in producing better salespeople than the first round. But we too often quit after the first training, or at least let up.The experience between round one and round two totally changes what the salesperson gains from the training. In the second round of training, they’re looking for answers. They’re looking for help. And it’s no longer academic. Now that they’ve felt it, they have the kind of understanding that let’s you notch up their learning.Building great salespeople requires ongoing training and development, as well as providing them with greater challenges. Salespeople develop by tackling greater and greater challenges. Building them means making sure you help them find and tackle those greater challenges.Give Even More Sales CoachingThe top 20% of salespeople are coachable. They are always looking for an advantage, an edge. They are consistently trying to take on new ideas, anything that will allow them to succeed at an incrementally greater level.Ongoing coaching is the key to building great salespeople.Training and coaching isn’t something you can do once—or for a short time—and produce results. Growth and learning isn’t something that is accomplished in a single event. Building great salespeople requires a long-term commitment.QuestionsHow do you build an exceptional sales force?Can you build an exceptional sales force if you don’t hire well?What obligation do you owe your salespeople if you want to build champion?How important is coaching to growth and performance improvement?