Handling the technical sniper

Picture this … your firm is bidding on a large municipal or industrial project; as part of the process, you’re meeting with ten people involved with the project to present and discuss your proposal. Or, maybe you’re in front of a  homeowners’ association. Tomorrow, it’s simply an individual homeowner. In any of these scenarios, you can run into the personality known as the “technical sniper”. Technical snipers lie in wait, looking for an opening to ask a technical question that only they know the answer to. This is their opportunity to elevate themselves and look knowledgable and brilliant in front of everyone else. You are their tool to accomplish this, and they can barely wait to demonstrate that they know something that you don’t.

I’ve seen a fair number of these types over the years and since they’re always lurking out there, the question is, “how do you handle?” Here are a couple of things that I’ve seen work well.

To begin with, nothing builds confidence more than simply knowing what you’re talking about. There is no substitute. Do your homework and know your material cold. Then, before your meeting, ask yourself, “what’s the most difficult question someone could ask?” Have an answer for it. Also, figure out what part of your presentation is the weakest and then go to work on that.

It is critical to hear the technical sniper out. More than anything, he wants to be heard and be credible in front of his peers or perhaps his boss. Give him that opportunity, at least for a short amount of time. Here’s what I saw work very well a couple of years ago at a Franklin Electric seminar: an attendee sat in the front row (nothing wrong with that in itself) and every 2 minutes had something to add or dispute in a loud, condescending voice. As a presenter, you want engagement, but this was ridiculous. Continue reading

Showing and telling

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Talk to any contractor who installs variable speed,  constant pressure systems and he will tell you what his homeowner customers tell him: “The difference between their conventional, cycling system and their new constant pressure system is amazing; they didn’t know what they were missing and they are never going back to a conventional system again.”

But, here’s the challenge. For the homeowner to say that, he has to experience it on his own, in his own home. That means that just telling a homeowner about it won’t always sell the system. The automotive industry has known this for a hundred years. Half the sale is getting the customer behind the wheel. No amount of glossy brochures, websites, or other media is going to close the deal until the customer drives and experiences the vehicle for himself.

Here’s the good news. Your customers can test drive Franklin Electric constant pressure systems with a minimum amount of effort on your part. For a couple of years now, we’ve had the MonoDrive Test Kit. It works with an existing 3-wire system. Just replace the lid of the existing QD control box with the test box, add the MonoDrive controller, and replace the existing standard pressure switch with the SubDrive pressure sensor. In the case of an existing 2-wire installation, it’s even easier. It either case, it literally takes just a few minutes and you’re done. The homeowner can now experience variable speed, constant water pressure for himself. You have effectively given a constant pressure test drive.

Of course, like any test drive, you’re doing this at no cost, no obligation. You simply tell the homeowner that you’ll be back in a week to see what he thinks. When the week is up, you can switch it back to the conventional system or make the constant pressure  installation permanent. I had a very successful contractor tell me that he’s only had a single case where the homeowner asked him switch it back. Continue reading

Paying attention pays off

The product to the left is Franklin Electric’s SubDrive Duplex Alternator. For those installations with two wells that are manifolded into one system, it’s a great little device that toggles operation between any two models of SubDrive and their respective pumps. And if one unit fails, the Alternator automatically switches to the good unit. Or, if one pump can’t keep up with demand, the Alternator will automatically turn on both pumps.

For over 4 years, the SubDrive Duplex Alternator has been available and we’ve shown it at trade shows, on our website, and during our seminars. However, to this day, many water systems contractors still don’t know about it. More often than not, we still hear, “Wow, that’s neat! I could use that. How long have you guys had that? It’s new, right?” It’s yet another example of how, regardless of industry, it takes far longer than expected to build awareness of a new product.

However, what is a challenge for us and other manufacturers is a big opportunity for you. It means that by just paying attention to new products as they are rolled out, you can get a big jump on most of your competition. And once your competition figures out that you’re offering your customers a deeper product portfolio, you will already be highly experienced in selling and installing them. Continue reading

An opportunity squandered

A few years ago, I did a technical seminar at a continuing education event on a Saturday morning. Our customer, a water systems distributor, had organized it in order for the 200-plus water systems contractors in that room to obtain some much-needed continuing education credits.

The guest speaker who followed me was an official from the state agency responsible for water well contractor licensing requirements. He furnished a thorough, albeit dry, review of the current regs and upcoming changes. At the end of his presentation, he asked if there were any questions.

A water well contractor in the back of the room raised his hand. “Yeah, I’ve got a couple. I’m here on my Saturday morning so that I receive the continuing education you say I need to maintain my water well contractor’s license. I also understand from what you’ve just said, that when I walk into my distributor to pick up a submersible pump, he should verify that I have a valid contractor’s license, correct?”

The speaker agreed, saying, “Yes, exactly. We want to make sure everyone who is installing submersible pumps is qualified to do so. Your distributor should be checking that your license is current before he sells to you.”

This was quickly followed up with this question: “Well then, how come anyone can walk into that big box store over there and buy a submersible pump?” Continue reading

Deal or no deal?

A colleague of mine recently relayed the following story and it made me think, sometimes I’m looking for a deal and sometimes I’m not.

He told me about a time when he decided to have his wife’s vintage MGB sports car painted. While this individual is very mechanical and had done much of the restoration on this car, he felt out of his depth when it came to this job. After all, the car was his wife’s, not his.

So, he went looking for a body shop with the expertise to do this job. He started at the logical place, a shop that had done work for him in the past. However, each time he contacted this shop, the owner was out and no one else there could give him an estimate.

He then drove the car to several different shops. At the first, the estimator glanced out the window and said, “That car is old; we never work on anything that old.” My colleague thought, fair enough, it’s your business, not mine. The next shop was dark and filthy. Although he did get an estimate for the first time that day, it came with the following caveat: “That number [the estimate] is more or less; you know, every time I do a job like this I lose money.” The third shop initially looked encouraging. It was large, well lit, and very clean. Unfortunately, the office manager did everything she could to discourage him and even recommended, “Gary, down the street—he used to work here and can do it for less.” At shop number four, Gary was cocksure and adamant that he could make the car look great, but sadly lacked details regarding how much it would cost and when he could get it done. Not surprisingly, his shop was full of cars in various stages, some of which looked as if they hadn’t moved in a very long time.

The story does have a happy ending. My colleague finally found a body and paint shop operated by a young man named Tony, who went to great lengths to proudly show pictures of vehicles he had restored.  He even provided testimonials from the owners. Tony explained in detail how he would do the work, what it would cost, and when it would be completed. Tony’s prices were only a little higher than the other guys’, and my colleague was happy to pay them.

Think of this story in the context of a homeowner with a private water system. Most, if not all, have no business trying to service their water well and its associated plumbing. Just as my colleague had to go shopping for a body shop contractor, at some point homeowners will need to shop for a water well contractor. The question is, what will you say when your phone rings? Will you be a “Tony”? Or will you be one of the other guys? The deal depends on you.

Thanks to Randy Woodland, a Franklin Field Service Engineer based in Colorado, for providing the insights behind this post.