Be the expert

In last week’s post, Know your stuff, I talked about a massive research study that concluded that salespeople who know more sell more. This week, while attending the 2012 South Atlantic Well Drillers Jubilee in Virginia Beach, I had an impromptu meeting with the current NGWA President, John Pitz, which fed right into this.

John, who holds a Master’s degree in mechanical engineering from Notre Dame and owns and operates a water well construction and pump installation business in Batavia, Illinois, demonstrated one of the most complete and advanced submersible sizing programs I’ve seen. Over several months and many hours, he’s developed a laptop-based program called the NGWA Pump Sizer that goes beyond the usual inputs of GPM, pressure required, and depth to water. For example, you can also input the type of drop pipe used, amount of precharge in the tank, and desired run time between cut-in and cut-out. From these inputs and others, the NGWA Pump Sizer calculates sizing for everything in that submersible system. Not only pump size, but tank size, wire size, and a slew of other parameters such as the total weight of the system.

John is still putting the finishing touches on this, and he tells me it will be available soon on the NGWA website.

Beyond the technical aspects here, John sees the potential for this to be an important sales tool. I couldn’t agree more. This type of tool allows a contractor to show an end-user in concrete terms why you’re quoting a particular system. You just didn’t pull it out of the air or with a “that looks about right” mentality. You have designed a system based on the customer’s requirements. It radiates confidence to your customer that you know what you’re doing and that you are the right contractor for his water system requirements.

When pricing enters the picture, which it always does, such a tool such as the NGWA Pump Sizer also allows you to make sure the end-user can compare apples to apples. For example, are the pressure tanks the same size and quality? Has the drop cable been sized all the way back to the service entrance? Has future expansion been taken into account? With everything that can go into a submersible installation, especially a new one, it’s easy to forget that it’s truly a system with numerous components.

Down the road, you may be using the NGWA Pump Sizer. In any case, the better you can explain and show your customer why you’re quoting the water system you are, the better you’ll be positioned as an expert, someone who is trusted to provide reliable information and whom your customer will recommend to others. And we all know experts sell more.

Know your stuff

I recently came across an article on a prominent business magazine’s website about an extensive research project conducted by two business professors, both PhDs. Their goal was to scientifically identify what made a successful salesperson. Here’s what they “discovered”.

The project started with the researchers attending a slew of sales meetings in a variety of industries. They observed and interviewed over 800 sales professionals. They then analyzed the “sales personalities” of these 800 sales professionals and identified eight distinct classifications, each representing a predominant method of selling. These classifications had such names as socializers, closers, aggressors (price negotiators), and story tellers.

Then they used statistical analysis to correlate these eight types to long-term sales performance. Their findings led to the conclusion that one personality type was more effective at selling than any other. Not surprisingly, after all the research and analysis, they identified the most successful sales personality type as what they called the “EXPERT”. These sales types knew their products, their company, and their industry. Salespeople in this category were trusted by their customers, easily overcame objections, and were highly prepared for every meeting. They were also the best at solving customer problems. By no means were the EXPERTS unsociable or unable to pitch a product, but their tour de force was a deep level of knowledge.

This seems pretty self-evident to me. Knowing what you’re talking about and being able to solve my problem as a customer counts more than the ability to deliver a good sales pitch. It always has, especially in the long run.

There’s no place where this is more true than in the groundwater industry. Time and again we’ve proven that as a rule, our homeowner customers don’t know much about their own water systems–they count on us to know their system for them. Knowing your stuff counts just as much when you’re in front of a municipality, a farmer, or a business, too. It inspires confidence, and it comes from experience, training, certifications, trade shows, and state associations. When you know more, you sell more. But I’ll bet that’s something you already knew.

We need to talk

Over the 4th of July, I attended at a family gathering at some relatives’ home in the country. It’s a lovely home on several acres, and it wasn’t long before I was asking about their well and water system. Being on city water myself, it’s always kind of a cheap thrill for me to connect with the real thing. “Watch out,” I heard from the other room, “Mark will want you to buy a new one.” And yes, coincidentally enough, a couple of years ago, I had strongly recommended to someone else in attendance that he replace his submersible pump that had been in service since 1978. He eventually did, and later thanked me for it.

Using that as an opening, I asked how long their submersible pump had been in service. My jar dropped when I heard, “We’ve been here 25 years and never replaced it.” Things got more startling when they added, “Actually, we don’t even know where the well is. When we bought the house, the previous homeowner said they had covered it with landscaping a few years back. So, there’s nothing sticking up out of the ground anywhere. It’s interesting that you bring it up though. We’ve noticed that it takes a lot longer to fill the tank than it used to.”

I think it’s tremendous that they’ve gotten this much life out of their submersible pump. But, there are two things that are excruciatingly inconvenient to be without: electrical power and water. There is a difference however. By and large, you don’t have control over your electrical power; the utility does. But you do have control over your private water system (one of the many advantages, of course).

The homeowner (my relative) is an engineer and a smart guy. The rest of the home is immaculate and very well-maintained. He’s the type who regularly installs a new furnace filter based on a schedule. But here was another case that when it comes to water systems, people have an out-of-sight-out-of-mind mentality.

Someday in the not too distant future, that pump is going to stop delivering water altogether. I can almost guarantee it’s going to be at an inconvenient time so that it becomes a crisis. The replacement pump is going to be determined by time and who can get out there fastest. What I proposed instead was that they do this on their schedule. They could even talk to more than one contractor and review the options. At a minimum, they could have their chosen contractor at least determine the well’s location. With my strong encouragement, all that is going to happen.

As an industry, we should do more of this. I know there are lots of exceptions out there, but we don’t do much to encourage homeowners to think ahead in terms of pump replacement. I’ve seen advertisements for water heaters from plumbers that say, “If your water heater is more than 10 years old, we need to talk.”

Why don’t we do the same thing?

Top line success

Sales is a discipline. Like any other skill, it must be learned and refined. More over, it’s not about talking someone into something he doesn’t need or want; it’s actually about matching the needs and wants of the customer to the right product.

We are all salespeople in one form or another. Even though you may think of yourself as a contractor, a well driller, or a pump setter, you’re also a salesperson. You’re selling the value of a private water system and all of its benefits. You’re selling the homeowner on the value your services provide and the value of the products you sell. If you’re involved in a state association, you may be selling your fellow contractors on the value of being a member of that trade association. You may even have to convince legislators of the value of private water systems and how protecting those resources contributes to the health of the greater community. Regardless of what you do, you’re always matching someone’s needs with the best solution–and trying to convince him of that.

By the same token, if you’re not actively doing these things–if you’re simply waiting for the phone to bring you that next service call–you’re not selling your product. Day in and day out, if you’re not asking yourself, “What does my customer need and how can I give it to him? How can I make his life better? you’re not doing anything to improve your top line. You’re becoming dependent on your customers instead of making them dependent on you.

Salespeople are resources of information and the vital link between the business and the customer. They make business happen. Sales requires knowledge of products, markets, competitors, and customer needs. It requires interpersonal, communication, and persuasion skills. Even so, it’s tough to find much of any instruction in this field.

I’ve included above a listing of course categories for a nationally ranked, well-known graduate business school. Under the marketing category, there are 10 courses offered. Under the management category, there are 16 courses offered, but none in sales management. Nowhere in their curriculum is a single course offered on sales, even though revenue is the top line driver of a business.

Digging even deeper, it’s difficult to find an MBA program that teaches anything about the sales component of business, and it’s only slightly better at the undergraduate level. Via Google, I found a couple of schools that offer a Bachelor’s degree in Sales Management. But when I pulled up the 4-year curriculum for one of them, only 14 credit hours of the 120 required to obtain the degree were courses actually focused on sales.

It’s up to us, then, to do what we need to do to get better at it. There are a lot of books, including some really good ones, that can help a person learn critical components of the sales process. Better yet, though, is to find a mentor. Look around for a success story; see who’s really got it together–regardless of the business or industry. Watch that person and learn. Establish a relationship and ask questions. Seek out best practices and use them in your business. Build your own support network. Learning how to be a good salesperson is too important for you to ignore–even if all the business schools do.