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July 19, 2023 | 35 Mins Read

Breaking the (Outdated) Field Service Mold

July 19, 2023 | 35 Mins Read

Breaking the (Outdated) Field Service Mold


Sarah welcomes Anthony Billups, North America Vice President of Sales and Market Development at Comfort Systems USA, for an open discussion on some of the historical thinking and practices that are holding field service industries back from success in today’s landscape and what needs to change in terms of a fresh approach.

Sarah Nicastro: Welcome to the Future of Field Service Podcast. I'm your host, Sarah Nicastro. Today we're going to have a conversation around some of the outdated thinking and maybe historical binds that might be exacerbating the talent gap, keeping us from moving forward in field service the way that we could or should. So I'm excited to welcome today to the podcast for that conversation Anthony Billups. Anthony is the North American Vice President of Sales and Market Development at Comfort Systems USA. Anthony, welcome to the podcast.

Anthony Billups: Thank you for having me.

Sarah Nicastro: Thank you for being here. So before we get into it all, tell everyone a little bit about yourself.

Anthony Billups: Yeah. Man, Anthony Billups, born and raised out of New York City, went to school up in Boston, studied engineering, electrical engineering, and mathematics, went to grad school, Arizona State University, for a degree in applied math and statistics. Wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I was always really good in math, obviously, as well as people interaction, so knew I wanted to work in corporate America, but wasn't sure what I wanted to do. Sold at a lot of different levels. In high school, I sold sneakers. I sold cars in college. I sold houses when I first graduated, so I was always really good at sales, and I wanted to figure out a way to merge sales with the technical background that I had, and I had an opportunity to join the HVAC industry roughly 16, 17 years ago, and it's been amazing.

I've always loved buildings. I've always loved technology and downtowns, obviously, being from New York City, and everywhere I travel, I'm like, "Take me downtown so I can see the buildings and see what it looks like." And even as a young age, I remember traveling with my family and always wanting to see downtown, wanting to see whatever city had to offer. So it makes sense now years later that I'm in a construction, and buildings, and services industry.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, that's so cool. Just a quick aside, so I'm in Erie, Pennsylvania, which I would be shocked if you've ever been. It's not really a destination per se. It's a small city though, right? And we just took our sons, who are newly eight and six and a half, to New York for the first time the weekend before last.

Anthony Billups: Nice.

Sarah Nicastro: I love New York, love it. I know people that aren't from New York, you either have people love, love, love it, or it's not for them. You know what I mean? I'm the former, but I didn't know how they would react because they've never seen a city that big. You know what I mean? And we had so much fun. They loved it. They got to see a cockroach and a rat, so I felt like we gave them the real experience.

Anthony Billups: Oh, man.

Sarah Nicastro: And you'll find this funny because you're a native. So we were on our way to Brooklyn when we were getting on the subway, and we saw the rat down on the tracks, and my kids also love animals, right? So we get in the train, and we're sitting there, and my son goes, "Mommy, I sure hope that rat is okay." And everyone looked at him like, "What?" It was so funny.

Anthony Billups: Yeah, yeah. The rat is definitely okay. The rat is definitely okay.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I'm like, "No, honey, he's under the tracks. The train didn't run him over. He's fine. He's doing his thing." But anyway. Okay, so here's one question I thought of as you were talking about some of the things you did when you were young and through school, et cetera, and then getting into the HVAC space about 16, 17 years ago. How did that initially come about? And what I'm really curious about, because it's going to lend into our conversation we're about to have, is when that entry into this industry first happened, what was your perception then of what the HVAC industry or field service space were?

Anthony Billups: Yeah. No, great question. So I didn't know exactly what I wanted to do, and I had a buddy of mine that was... It's always our friends, right? A buddy of mine that was working in the elevator industry, so he worked for Otis Elevators. He had done his co-ops and summer internships at Otis Elevators and had gone back to do that throughout school. So I saw what he was doing as a sales engineer and his ability to connect with customers. I remember he took me to a game. We went to a game with one of his customers, a Knicks game, and I was just like, "Man, you get paid to take customers out and to engage." And even while at school, he had phone numbers of technicians and customers, and people would reach out to him. And just that ability to apply the technical with the personal, I was like, "Man, that's like a dream job. The fact that you get paid to do this just seems weird, right? It seems like it's fun."

So for me, it was more about how can I utilize my skills in an industry and/or profession that I knew nothing of, right? There's not a lot of conversation at the college level or high school level talking about sales engineering, right? You think about all the different type of engineers that are out there. Most of the time they don't talk about sales engineering. So this idea to get an engineering based salary, but also get commission from what you sell. So it was like the best of both worlds. So for me, I wanted to work in elevators because I just assumed that was where I wanted to be, and I was at a conference recruiting. There was a bunch of companies there. I had an offer from Boeing to work as a systems engineer, and I had other opportunities that I was exploring, but I knew I wanted to be a sales engineer.

So at the time, Otis wasn't hiring. United Technologies had owned Otis and both Carrier. Willis Carrier invented air conditioning. A guy by the name of Doug Wiggins, he convinced me that air conditioning was cooler than elevators, and the rest was history. So that's how I ended up in the HVAC space, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning, versus the elevator space.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, okay. So one thing I want to point out too is in this conversation, you're in a sales role, but what we're talking about really applies also to service technicians and service sales, really the industries as a whole that make up sort of field sort that are lesser known that people, like you said, they're not talked about as much in high school or in college. When you're in elementary school and people say, "What do you want to be when you grow up," they might not say, usually don't say, "HVAC, field service." Right? They're saying, "I want to be a teacher," or, "I want to be..." the things that are visible to them, right?

So I meant to look before we recorded this today, but years and years ago when I was still with Field Technologies Magazine, I wrote an article that field service has a branding problem, right? And I've done some follow-up on that since, and I can share that with this podcast. Everyone today is talking about the talent gap, right? And I think there's a lot of different layers to what that challenge consists of and what the potential solutions are, right? But one of the things I want to talk about is this idea of that branding problem, that these opportunities, these careers are not ones that kids grow up knowing, being able... I think even for folks that work in the industry sometimes it's hard to articulate what the industry is, what the role is. I know even for me, when someone says, "What do you do," I'm just like, "It's hard to explain." You know what I mean? It can be really hard to come up with an easy pitch or what have you.

So what are your thoughts on that aspect of it? I know when you and I connected to talk about doing this podcast, one of the points you made that I really love that I think correlates is how do we create more excitement around the trades? So why do you feel creating excitement is an important aspect of this, and then what are your thoughts on how we might do that?

Anthony Billups: Yeah, I think the first part on excitement is bringing awareness, right? So I had made the comment that I didn't know anything about call it sales engineering. So I think when you have these exciting careers and these professions, it's important as a leader to go back into your community and to talk about what it is that you do, right? Talk about kind of what is your day in the life, talk about the things that made you excited about the role, right? I travel all of the time for the role, and it's tough from the family dynamic, but personally, I love the ability to be in different places, right? Someone who loves architecture, and buildings, and cities, and I don't want to see the same city all the time, right? I want to be able to explore, and see different things and how it's built, and be a part of that build.

So I think communicating and being able to share what it is that you do is important because what do kids see growing up? They see what's on television. They see what's in the movies, right? The generic, "I want to be a lawyer, a doctor." Maybe you'll hear a couple engineer or architect conversations, but for the most part it's, "I want to be a celebrity. I want to be an influencer on Instagram and an entrepreneur," and all of these other things that are now bubbling up, but the reason behind it is what people see. It correlates to if you're someone who grows up without money, then no matter what you pick, you want to pick something where you're going to make the money to do the things that you really want to do in life, right? And I think that's an important piece that you have to hone in on, right?

I do very well from a financial perspective because it's a career that others are just not flooding to be a part of. So what that does is it not only creates an opportunity for me, but it also gives me a chance to be promoted, to be a leader, to run businesses. So when you have that success, it allows you to take that route, and I think that's what's excited me the most about the industry is it's an old industry, right? Willis Carrier invented air conditioning over 100 years ago, 120 years ago. So this industry has been around forever. So the people that are in it are closer to retirement. We've got a lot of baby boomers that are getting ready to retire, so an emerging industry that will always be around air conditioning, especially when you think about technology and all the things that are coming. You're going to need to cool those spaces. You're going to need to have control of those spaces, so this industry will always be around.

So for me, when I go and talk about it, I talk about thinking about emerging industries that will continue to be around forever. It was around for 100+ years for a reason, and it will continue to be around. So that's important when selecting a career. It's not just the new fad that someone wants to do. It will be around, and then that's how you start to sell it because you talk about careers, not just jobs, and I think that's another piece that doesn't get talked about enough, right? Let's talk about what does your career look like in a services industry in the trades, whether it's a technician and what is that roadmap, or whether it's on the sales and business side, and running operations, running the full business, and leading that business, what does that look like? And here goes a roadmap. So I think that's a piece of it as well.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, what's interesting to me is I really liked that you used the word excitement, and I agree, part of it is awareness, but I think there's more to it than that, and I think you kind of intuitively understand that because you're in sales, right? But I think one of the challenges as an industry, and I'm talking about field service industries overall, right? Maybe we have recognized that we need to create more awareness, but I don't think we're storytelling. I don't think we're selling it. I don't think when kids are learning about what a doctor does or what a teacher does, no one is in the background pointing out all of the cons, right? They're leading from the front of you can help people, you can make people feel better, you can teach people, right?

So I think one of the challenges we have is, and also when you talked about how you got into HVAC and through your friend at Otis, I think one of the things is as a whole we're not doing a good job amplifying the positives. We're not doing a good job getting creative about how to articulate the things that will draw people in. We're focused on either regurgitating the job descriptions we've been using, or we're focused on giving a list of requirements, not giving a list of opportunities, or incentives, or sharing those stories that will get people excited about, "Hm, I want to look more into this." Right?

And I think there's a number of reasons for that, but I think awareness is part of it, but what exactly we're creating awareness of I think is really important for companies to be thinking about, because we know that the traditional method of putting out an open job and expecting people with experience is just not going to work. So we need to create more interest in order to create excitement, and we need to do that by selling it better, by creating that brand story, right? And then figuring out how we align the right skills to the right jobs. Do you know what I mean?

Anthony Billups: Absolutely, Absolutely. And when I talk at different schools and whenever I get an opportunity to be a part a podcast and communicate, because that's a way for us to tell the story and get things out there, one of the things that I say is, "So what are some of the jobs that are cool? What do people want now?" Right? People want to go work at Apple. People want to work for Google. They want to work for Meta. They want to work with TikTok. Whatever you're using, that's what you want to go be a part of because you see that as being fun, and innovative, and the future, and you want to be a part of that.

So what I do is I say, "Think about what it means to work for Apple, right? First off, think about how competitive, and I'm not talking about working at the Apple store, right? I'm talking about going to work in the Bay Area or at one of the facilities helping design, and build, and whatever it is that you want to do to be a part of that, marketing, whatever it may be. Everybody wants to go there. So the amount of competition to get to these places, and whatever you define these places, right? It could be an athlete. It could be sports and entertainment, right? Think about the competition that wants to go there and how many people want to be a part of that, and how small of the number that make it through."

And then what I say is, "From a services perspective, from a heating, ventilation, and air conditioning perspective, I've done work with Apple." Right? I don't think I'm allowed to talk about that, but I've done work with these Silicon Valley companies, these industries. I've sat in meetings with their strategic growth individuals focused on carbon reduction and focused on better ways to build their facilities, and I walked in through the back door. I walked in through the mechanical room, right? I sold at a level. Now I'm managing and leading at another level. I run the whole business, but now I have teams of people that are there, right? In my book of contacts, I have these industries, these folks that I work with.

One of the biggest projects that I was a part of was a large stadium, the Ram Stadium out on the West Coast in LA. Right? I was on that project. So yes, when I was younger, I wanted to be in the NBA, and then I stopped growing. So I'm 5'9 1/2, and I wasn't going to the NBA. It wasn't happening, right? My game just didn't translate well, so now I have to come up with another dream, but I had a chance to work on stadiums and arenas. So with the love that I have for that, I was able to find that through the services industry, through heating, and ventilation, and air conditioning, through controls. And now I'm in those buildings.

So that's what I talk about to sell, because again, it's easier to get in through the mechanical room than it is through the front door, and I think that's when we want to change the narrative of the profession. We need to start with the end in mind. We need to start where these individuals want to be a part of these industries that they want to be a part of, and if you flash Comfort Systems USA, people might not know what that is, right? I have people sometimes that say, "You work for a pillow company, right?" They don't know, but if I talk about the customers that I serve, and the people that we work with, and the things we're able to deliver, right now, people understand and they recognize. And I think that's where the services and the trade industry goes wrong is because we focus on the task and the things we do and not the customers we serve.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm. Yeah, that's a really good point. And we also talked about what I mentioned earlier, which is this historical norm is you have an open role, you post a job description, you require X years of experience, and people apply, and you pick the best candidate. I mean, that's an obsolete model at this point, right?

So, you had mentioned what we need to do is focus more on finding talent and then fitting roles around individuals versus wedging them into open positions. Can you talk a little bit about what that means and also how realistic do you feel that is for the space we're in?

Anthony Billups: I think it's very realistic. You got to start to realize that number one, the younger generation is not going to come into a position and do it for five years. Those days are over. They're over, right? I'm a grandpa millennial. I was born in 1981, so I haven't been in the same role for five years, right? 18 to 24 months, I'm ready to do something else, right? I'm ready for that next level, that next role, the next opportunity, the next challenge. So individuals my age and younger, that's the mindset. The attention span, the ability to master something at a quicker pace based how we leverage technology is completely different, right? So you have to build a path that is non-traditional, and it sucks because now individuals my age and older, we have to think about doing things differently than when we started, right? What was important to us, and I remember managers when I left my first company in the industry, I loved it. It was my favorite place in the world. Some of my closest friends in the industry were there, right?

I'm in New York City working where I grew up, and I have an amazing team, and the reason I left is I because looked around that group and said, "I am at least 10 to 15 years away from maybe being a manager." Right? Based on the team, the dynamic, and the way things were there. I'm at an event recruiting for at the time another company, right? I'm recruiting for the company I'm a part of, and my passion I'm talking to other salespeople, and a competitor sees my energy, sees my passion, and says, "What is it going to take to get you to come over with us?" And I said, "Just make me a manager." Right? I was vulnerable because I knew I was ready. I had managers that were good, but I knew I can do that.

I was succeeding as an individual contributor, but I was ready to be a manager, right? And I didn't have a roadmap. I didn't have a, "Oh, in the next few months, in the next year you'll be here, and hey, here goes another opportunity. You could go live in this state and be a manager here." That wasn't the conversation. I had no clue what that looked like, and when I said it, I was 29 years old, right? And I'm thinking, "There's no way that somebody is going to make me a manager in this industry when I look around and every other manager, A, doesn't look like me. It's another conversation for another day, another podcast.

Sarah Nicastro: Happy to have it though.

Anthony Billups: And then the age, right? So I was like, "This is not... I'll just throw it out there," and you don't get something if you don't ask for it, right? So when I said that, and the manager, the director of sales for this company, he laughed, and he said, "Is that all you want? The way you're recruiting, the way you're promoting to get people to come, the way you're giving this energy about what you do, and the same energy I give you today was the same energy I was given trying to recruit people into the industry." He's like, "You ready to be a manager." And then it was like, "Where do you want to be? I got an opportunity here. I got an opportunity there," and it was eye opening to me because another company saw the readiness for me to be a manager rather than my own company.

So I think when we go back to your comment about how does it work, I think what we have to do is start, for example, in the NBA, if anyone is a sports fan, nowadays, there's positionless basketball. And what that means is that in the old days, there used to be a point guard, a shooting guard, a small forward, a power forward, and a center, right? And you had these different positions on the court, and your center was normally the biggest guy on the court, so you think your Shaquille O'Neal, and your point guard was your Isaiah Thomas or your Allen Iverson. That was your point guard, right? And it was like these positions, and you got to play these roles.

Now there's positionless basketball. Now when people are building teams, they draft, and they go grab the best possible talent, and then they build winning strategy. They build their plays around the players that they have. And I think that's working in the NBA for teams, and that is how I think we as industries, and corporations, and companies, that's how we need to look. So let's start posting opportunities about the traits you're looking for, the teams that you have, and the team that they will fit in, and the things that you're looking for there. Let's also look at this years of experience area, right? Because somebody may not have an official role in that, and some people don't have the confidence to still apply. So you're missing out on candidates because they're reading something and saying, "Ah, this is pointless." And half the time, large companies are using bots to filter resumes based on certain parameters and buzzwords, right? So you're not even talking to the best candidates. You're not, right? Let's just throw that out there.

You're missing people that are not even applying or who've applied, but based on however you're filtering, you're not even seeing them. So let's focus more on the characteristics, and the talent, and the things that you're looking for to be a part of your team, this mindset of positionless recruiting, and then build around that. And then when someone comes into the fold, if someone meets a Sarah or an Anthony, and they say, "Man, I want this person at my company," then you start to mold and build what that person's career will be. What are the things you want to do? What's important to you? What verticals do you want to be a part of? How do you want to approach this? And then build around that.

And then as you can recruit that way, build your team, and then maybe there's... Man, I got one spot I'm missing. This is something I'm missing. So now you can now look for some of these areas, but again, it's about the qualities that the person is bringing, the experiences that the person is bringing, and not just where they worked at before and the things that we looked at prior when evaluating talent.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. No, I think that's a good point, and I have empathy for leaders and businesses in the sense that the way it was was easy and convenient when you could hire service technicians that would stay in a role for 5, 10, 15, 20+ years. That made everyone's lives very simple, and it's hard to change, right? We know that. But the reality is the same way that person at that recruiting event recognized your energy, and welcomed it, and made a space for it, if you don't do that with the talent in your own company, someone else will, right?

Anthony Billups: Yes.

Sarah Nicastro: So the idea of the way it was, the good old days, I think there's still some hanging on to that, maybe not fully, right? There's progress, but it's slow progress in understanding this isn't going to change. We need to adapt, and adapting means really recreating the whole thing from the ground up because it isn't just, "Oh, we should reword this, or we should train people this way." I mean, it's fundamentally revamping the whole talent strategy, recruiting and hiring process, and also retention. To that point, those individuals in your companies, on your teams that have that energy, have that drive, have that passion, you either give them an outlet for it, or they will find that outlet somewhere else.

Anthony Billups: I mean, they're getting the money that's being thrown out there, right? And the opportunities that are there, if you look at some of these services industries, technology is really enhancing the industry. So there's so much venture capitalist money that's coming into these industries, so these startup companies and other groups have the money to go and buy the talent, and they don't want the old regime. They want the new energy, the new regime. So if you got somebody that's an amazing talent, and you're holding them back, and then they get an opportunity to double or triple their earnings potential and their salary, it becomes a no-brainer. And at that point, it's too late.

At that point, you haven't built the roadmap for this... Even if you build the roadmap, you still may lose them, right? If they don't see that vision, right? So it's important, and when I made the comment about 18 to 24 months, there may be some that cringe at that, right? Think about how you read a resume, right? So to your listeners of your network of folks that join in for your podcast, think about how you view resumes, right? What is your unconscious bias? And I'm sure you've said it, right? You look at a resume and say, "Oh, this person jumps around. This person is not loyal. This person hasn't stayed with the company for longer than two years." So think about it not that the person is doing something wrong, think about the company didn't master, because if somebody moves around within the company to a different role, that's something to be said versus going to a completely different company, but I think everyone has a story, and that's changing, right? So-

Sarah Nicastro: Even then it's just sort of an outdated standard, right?

It's an outdated measurement to look at. Same thing with women that have gaps in their resume.

Anthony Billups: Yeah, like come on.

Sarah Nicastro: Just because someone was successful in the corporate world, took 1, 2, 5 years off to raise children, or do whatever she's doing, and now wants to reenter, that knowledge, perspective, experience is not erased, right? So it's the gaps, or I mean, people are taking time off to...

Anthony Billups: Travel the world.

Sarah Nicastro: Not just women, anyone, right?

Anthony Billups: Travel the world. Yeah.

Sarah Nicastro: To travel, to take a break for their mental health.

Anthony Billups: Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: You know what I mean? So it's things like that that are really outdated norms. You're right though. I mean, depending on who's looking at the resume and how modern their perspective is. You know what I mean? You could be missing out on a lot of things. You brought up money though, and I also want to touch on one of the points we talked about is understanding what today's talent values. Okay? And I do think it's important to say it isn't just money, right? And this is a common thing. So I hear people a lot. I was in the UK for our Future of Field Service event in May, and we were having a round table discussion on talent, and there was this guy there that was saying, "I'm just really frustrated because I bring technicians on. I spend all this money to onboard and train them, and then they leave to go make whatever, an incremental more amount of money somewhere else."

Now, I said, "Well, okay." And he was an older white guy, like a lot of people at the events are, and I challenged him a little bit and said, "I highly doubt that they're leaving only because of the money." It's easy to use that as the excuse. Okay? And I'm not saying some people don't do it, but I'm saying if it's an incremental amount of money, and you're providing a really good employee experience, and company culture, and working environment, mass amounts of people would not be leaving for an incremental amount of money. So I just think sometimes it's easy to use that as an excuse to not do a lot of the other things that are important to new hires today, right? Also, same thing I said, they take work, they take effort, they take change, right? So what are some of the things you see in terms of beyond fair pay? What do you think people value most today?

Anthony Billups: I think for one, we've heard this, "People don't leave companies. They leave managers." Right? So I think that manager employee relationship is extremely important, right? What type of development conversations are you having? Where does this individual see the future of their career? Do they think that they can learn, right? The role that I'm in now, I somewhat took a step back to kind of go back into the sales leadership area when I was leading both sides of the business, both sales, and operations, and full general management, right? And from a career trajectory, that's really where I want to be, but the opportunity to come work for the manager that I'm working for and the mentor that I have, it's a no-brainer for me to take a step back and learn underneath that umbrella. It's something that made sense for me because I know that's going to help me in my career as I move forward.

So I think that manager employee relationship is extremely important, and what does that individual bring? I struggled early in my career with having managers that I didn't feel I can learn anything from, having managers that I felt like didn't either know what they was talking about, they were promoted because of relationships, or other reasons, or whatever, and I look at them, and I'm like, "This is not the way to manage." Right? I have done a lot of training, and we conduct training around building leaders, not just managers, and the leader and the manager are completely different. So I think that dynamic is the first layer.

I think next it's about understanding the whole person, right? Do you really want to focus on the eight hour employee, or do you want to focus on the 24 hour person? And I think where you have leaders that focus on the 24 hour person and make that a part of it, they understand that, because you can always go and get an extra 50 cents if you're a technician, an extra dollar, an extra whatever. It's out there, and you can play that game. You can go from place to place and go get an extra 50 cents, an extra dollar, but at some point, you are where you are. At some point, you have to deliver on the task at hand, and then you have life that happens, right? And how does that company participate in the life element of what you have going on?

So I think when you have a leader that's focused around development and continuously communicating to their team about that, because you know the money will come. Don't get me wrong. People are not running around accepting opportunities for less money all of the time because they want to go work at a place, right? I mean, money does play a factor in it, but it's bigger than that, in my opinion, and I think it's centered around development and what does tomorrow look like versus just today.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, I really like that point about the 24 hour person. I also think the first point you brought up about leaders and the leader and employee relationship is important because in service it's very common for leaders to just... Not just, to be people that have progressed through the ranks, okay? But not everyone that is a strong individual contributor makes a good leader, and so when we use that progression as a reward system just for good performance versus evaluating people's actual ability to lead, we risk putting leaders in place that aren't really good at that job. It doesn't mean they're not good employees, doesn't mean they don't have a valuable contribution.

It just means that they might be lacking what talent demands of a leader today, which again, based on everything we've talked about, does look different than it did 10, 15, 20 years ago where that command and control type environment where it was all more, "Here's your role. You do this, check a box," that sort of thing. It wasn't so much getting to know people, helping develop people, mentoring, communicating, empathy, emotional intelligence. Not everyone is cut out for that, right? And we need to understand that and make sure that we aren't promoting people into those positions that might be great people and/or strong performers, but aren't built for that job. Certainly not doing it just because of the relationship, which also happens, but also even when we are putting people in those positions that are capable, how are we as organizations providing ongoing learning and development to the leaders as well?

Anthony Billups: Absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: I mean, we think a lot about how we do that with employees coming in, but leadership deserves training and investment in their skills as well.

Anthony Billups: Absolutely. A big part of my role today is centered around that, right? I lead up our training program for our salespeople as well as our leaders, right? And the reason that we really focus a lot of attention there is that we understand the value of our leaders, and if you can teach a leader to not be a manager, but to be a leader and to learn, and a lot of times to your point, you're really good at something, and then people put you in this people manager role, but you haven't been given the skills. When you start managing people, sometimes it may feel like you're a principal at a high school, right? Because sometime the personalities, and the things that happen, and you can't put this person with that person, and you end up dealing with that. And I mean, if you haven't gone through a conversation about crucial conversations and how to handle those, and how to approach those, if you don't understand the individuals that you're managing, and maybe some of the things that they struggle with, you may have a really strong individual performer, but they struggle with their own confidence.

So if you don't know that, and you don't know how to feed their confidence to help them be better in their role, you're putting yourself at a disadvantage. And if you've never been taught about that, then where are you supposed to learn that from? So I think developing and focusing on leaders is absolutely a part to grow and build your business, and to your point, some of the best players are some of the worst coaches, and even evaluators of talent, because they're looking for people that are like them. Sometimes you are just a unicorn in the way you prep, and the way you focus, and the way you work. I mean, I've worked with some people where, man, they dedicate 16 hours to what they do, and they're amazing at it, but not everybody is going to devote that time to get done 16 hours a day to complete the task.

There's some people that's not going to do that. There's some people that are going to put in their eight hours, their six hours, whatever it may be, and they're going to give you the best that they can during that period of time. So does that mean that that's a bad employee? No. That just means that that person is different, and you got to figure out how to coach that person to maximize and get the most out of them. It's not about the hours that you work. It's about what you do with the time and the things that need to be accomplished, and I think that's where we get it wrong, where we pick these great performers, and then not sure why things don't work out or why their team doesn't flourish like the way they flourish. They're teaching people to do things the way they do it, and that might not work, and that's a part of leadership, and in my opinion, higher upper management making the right executive decisions on how to really build a team.

Sarah Nicastro: Mm-hmm. The other thing we talked about in terms of leadership is the need to focus more on motivating and empowering today's talent. So can you talk about what does that look like to you, and how is that different than what leaders have historically done or focused on?

Anthony Billups: Yeah, I think it goes back to the 24 hour person. I think if you're helping people develop, a lot of our training is centered around helping people be better individuals, right? Some of the stuff that we do can help you be better at home in your interactions with your family and your spouse.

Sarah Nicastro: Do you have any examples?

Anthony Billups: Yeah, absolutely. So we teach a thing called Sandler Selling, and essentially what it is it is a process, a selling process for when you have a meeting, and a big part of that is kicks off with bonding and rapport, so that you're building that relationship with anyone that you're interacting with, so that you can now feed back into things. When things get tough, you can feed on that, right? And this is for both internal and external relationships. The next part of that is an upfront contract, and the upfront contract component is I'm going to tell you what we're going to talk about today, and think about how that can help you with your family, right? If you put it out there that, "Hey, this is the focus. This is what we want to get accomplished. What would you like to get accomplished? How would you like to approach this weekend? How would you like to approach this task? How would you like to approach this holiday?"

So if you put this upfront contract, so now we're able to talk about what we're trying to accomplish and not have meetings without that. Those are just some of the things that we teach. So yes, it's extremely helpful for your customer. It's extremely helpful for your internal meetings. It's also helpful when you're building with your family. Next, another part of it is really uncovering pain. If you're a salesperson, and you're trying to sell something, no one wants to buy from someone who is over the top-selling, right? If I sit here, and I'm trying to sell you this phone, and it's just like I'm over the top, and I'm like, "Oh, you need this. What phone do you got?" I hate that when you walk through the mall, and they're like, "Oh, what service do you have?" I'm like, "Listen, bro, I am not here for a cell phone. I don't have the time. I don't care if you give me seven phones for free. I'm walking away."

So no one wants to buy from that person. So then we talk about uncovering pain, and real pain, not just the pain from surface pain, right? A pain indicator, right? Oh, some piece of equipment broke. That's a pain indicator. How does that piece of equipment that broke impact you personally? Oh, well, I have to come in on the weekends, and I missed my daughter's softball game because I had to come in, because we have a big event. So now I'm getting down to the personal pain and how it impacts you, and it allows you to ask better questions, to listen more, and then those are the type of things we teach our salespeople, teach our leaders, and then that can help them be a better person. So to me, those types of things from a development perspective are extremely important as we think about our interactions with people that we come across every day.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah, and I think this is also parallels what I'm hearing more and more of, and I mean, have been for years, but I think, again, the reason we keep talking about some of the same themes we've been talking about for a few years is there's layers of change that companies still need to make, right? So I was saying what you're talking about I think parallels what we're seeing in service, which is a recognition that we need to provide a lot more soft skills training, and communication, and empathy, and things like that, and I think understanding the root of the value in that is important, because it's not a checkbox exercise. It's not something you can send out a soft skills video for people to watch once a year and expect it to have any impact, but again, this is what I mean. There's this, "Okay, do we really have to do that? I don't want to. Okay, yes we do. Let's just do this online thing." Right?

But what are we really talking about? We're really talking about the 24 hour person. We're talking about caring about the people that we employ and wanting them to be better, be fulfilled, et cetera. So I think those are good examples because it's not looking at it in the sense of how can these folks get out and sell harder, and better, and faster. It's how can we provide them skills that are going to help them in all areas of their life, including their role at conference systems?

Anthony Billups: And there's a lot of really good individuals out there that are doing things. I'll give a shout out to someone that I know is out there doing it. A gentleman by the name of Mark Martinez recently wrote a book, and he talks about teaching people how to hit their grand slam, and what does that really mean? And he talks about living your dash, that dash in between when you were born and when you leave, and what does that really mean fulfilling that? So he does this type of training, and he works with companies, and individuals, and churches, and everyone because he's so passionate about it, but I love that because we need more companies looking for people like Mark to come in and do those type of trainings, because that's not just a check the box.

That's looking at the 24 hour person, and now that's feeding into it. And remember, now people will stay, because they're like, "Man, what do they got in line for me? I've never had this type of training. No one ever focused on this. It's helping build me. It's making me better. It's making me more confident at home. I'm going to stick around with this company because they care about me as a person, not just the eight hours, or 10 hours, or 12 hours they expect me to work for them." So those are the type of examples that I think companies should be looking more for to make a part of their training.

Sarah Nicastro: Yeah. I know we're coming up on time. Is there anything we haven't talked about yet that we should mention before we close?

Anthony Billups: I would just say we touched on diversity a little bit, and I think that diversity of talent is extremely important. Our customers are way more diverse than they've ever been, and if you have a leadership team that all looks the same, and that's the panel deciding on who gets hired, or who gets promoted, or who gets... You really have to look at that, right? In order for us to be able to attract talent, individuals are choosing companies that they can see are dedicated to diversity of all kinds. So if you're not walking the walk on your website, and what you deliver, and what you talk about, and all these different things, it don't matter what you do in the interview, right?

Sarah Nicastro: And also though, behind closed doors.

Anthony Billups: Absolutely, absolutely.

Sarah Nicastro: No one wants to go to a website and see what they want to see, and then you get in into it and realize it was-

Anthony Billups: They'll just leave.

Sarah Nicastro: Exactly.

Anthony Billups: Then they won't stay if you're not genuine in what you're really doing, if there really is no career path. Sometimes companies do these diversity numbers, right? That became popular over the last couple years, and then you take a real look at it, and it was all entry level positions. So they've gotten to double digits diversity in their entry level positions, but when you look at middle level management, upper management, executives, C-suite, nothing is there. So to me, that's the real proof. And don't be afraid to promote somebody. Don't be afraid to put somebody in the role who's just not ready. That happened to me in my career a couple times, and it meant a lot because I knew that they didn't want me to leave, but they saw something in my energy that they wanted a part of their future. I will help plan for what that future is.

20 years ago, we weren't communicating with cell phones, with email. 25 years ago, right? That wasn't the main form of communication, text messages. So this idea that technology is ramping up things so fast, don't be afraid to over promote, but give the proper training. Give the proper mentors, build the person, build your talent. You don't have to just always go out and grab the talent from other companies because that pool is just getting smaller and smaller. So that would be the piece that I wanted to add that I don't think we touched on a lot, but I don't want to diminish the importance of diversity, diversity of thought into everything that we do when we're thinking about talent and bringing people to organizations.

Sarah Nicastro: Absolutely. And for people that are not addressing unconscious bias, that aren't reflecting on holding on to outdated norms, or thoughts, or beliefs, they're exacerbating the talent gap. I mean, there's so much room to expand diversity in HVAC service, the trades, et cetera, that if you're not really in earnest working to do that, you are fueling your own problem. Not that you should care just because it's the right thing to do, but I mean it's literally missing an opportunity to start closing that gap by bringing people into the industry that historically haven't played a huge role and should. So it's a really important part of the discussion. Like you said earlier, it could be a conversation for another day. I'd love to have you back, and we could get more into it.

Anthony Billups: Absolutely. I love this. 

Sarah Nicastro: But thank you so much for coming on and sharing. I appreciate it. It was a great conversation and enjoyed having you here.

Anthony Billups: Thank you for having me.

Sarah Nicastro: All right. You can learn more by visiting us at While you're there, be sure to sign up for the Future of Field Service Insider, which delivers our latest content to your inbox every other week, so you can make sure you don't miss anything. We also have one more Future of Field Service live tour event this year, happening in Stockholm on October 10th. The Future of Field Service podcast is published in partnership with IFS. You can learn more at As always, thank you for listening.