Slow down and have a conversation

The following post originally appeared in June of last year. Since we’re in the busy season for many water systems contractors, I thought the timing was right to post it again.

Let’s face it. The term “sales” in many circles has a reputation for trying to sell us things we don’t need or even want. But, truly successful sales people will tell you that’s not how they do business. They’ll tell you that what’s made them successful is a relentless focus on helping their customers get the products and solutions they need. They see themselves as educators and consultants, guiding their customers through a decision-making process and providing options.

There’s no area where that’s more true than with the professional water systems contractor. Most don’t like to think of themselves as sales people. But, a huge part of job is just that. You are our industry’s educators and representatives to the rest of the world.

What makes this especially true in our industry is that water systems are far more reliable and have a greater lifespan than most of the appliances in our lives. As a result, most homeowners will only need a new water system or something repaired every 10 years or so. That means that you will only get the chance to stand in front of your customer once every decade or so. So, we need to make the most of that opportunity.

In many cases, the homeowner is out of water and is literally desperate to get it back. Nothing highlights the critical nature and value of water more than not having it. As a result, the conversation becomes a one-way, two-part question of “how soon and how much?”. Try to slow things down. Have a conversation. A few minutes goes a long way. Show them how their water system works. What does that tank do anyway? Explain why they are out of water. How has their home and lifestyle changed since someone last looked at their water system? Have you always had that garden?

Why do this? Because two things will happen, both of which are good for you. It will be a springboard to upgrading their water systems. Perhaps it will be a constant pressure system, or dry well protection, or water treatment. Maybe it will be simply a larger tank. More importantly, you will have instilled confidence, both in their water system and you. From there, they will tell their neighbors.

What will they be telling them? In so many words, that you listened to them, the two of you had a great conversation, and they ended up with a far better solution and water system than just being “back in water”. What they didn’t get was a sales pitch.

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

Constant pressure by the numbers

Over the last several posts, I’ve detailed several niche applications for variable speed, constant pressure systems that had nothing to do with constant pressure.

This week, I want to step back and talk about the overall financial opportunity presented by constant pressure systems. I’m going to make a few assumptions here, but I think my point will remain the same.

Of course, there are a lot of factors that determine how long a submersible system will last before some type of service is required. Tanks need replaced, pressure switches fail, and the generally accepted longevity of a submersible pump/motor is 10 – 20 years. Let’s assume that on average, a submersible installation needs some type of service every 15 years. Now let’s figure that into the 15 million homes in the United States that are on private water systems. If there are 15 million systems that need service every 15 years, that means there are about 1 million service calls made each year in our industry.

One million service calls mean 1 million opportunities to offer and sell your customer improvements to his existing system. With Franklin Electric and a couple of other manufacturers offering variable speed, constant pressure systems that can be retrofitted without pulling the existing pump and motor, that means you have more to offer than ever before. For just about every service call, there’s a potential for a constant pressure system. Just need a new tank? Offer a smaller tank that comes with a constant pressure system and put the savings towards constant pressure. Pump or motor need replacement? If you have to pull and replace, then the benefit versus the incremental cost of adding a constant pressure controller may be very compelling to the homeowner. As one contractor told me awhile back, “Even if it’s just the pressure switch that needs replacing, I’m explaining and offering constant pressure.”

Of course, you’re not going to sell a constant pressure system each time you make a service call. But, let’s say it’s 1 in 10. That 1 in 10 could have significant impact on your business. Even if you don’t sell the homeowner a constant pressure system right then and there, you’ve at least planted a seed that may bear fruit down the road.

Quibble with my numbers if you want, but the logic still applies. Think it about for the geographical area where you do business. How many service calls are you doing each year, and how many of those deserve to have a premium water system? There’s something in it for everyone. For the homeowner, it offers the benefits of constant pressure at every tap regardless of usage, faster fill rates for appliances, more utility space by replacing the large tank with a small one, water delivery that matches demand, and built-in system protection. For you, it means the chance to not only increase your incremental revenue per service call, but also to build a following of satisfied customers. But, you can’t sell what you don’t offer; why limit yourself?

The real competition

I believe that every major water systems manufacturer now has a variable speed, constant pressure system. I’m often asked, “So, how does Franklin’s variable speed product compare to so-and-so’s product?” After a quick run-down of why I think our variable speed products, service, and support are better, I always add, “But, they aren’t the actual competition.”  I generally get a quizzical look to this, and have to explain.

Here’s what I mean. Variable speed, constant pressure products have been around for years. Although it gets better every year, the market penetration still remains relatively low. Most of the pie still belongs to conventional systems that cycle the pressure with a large pressure tank. As a result, the real opportunity with constant pressure isn’t about trying to grab market share from someone else’s constant pressure product. It’s about competing against and articulating the superior benefits of variable speed systems over conventional systems. That’s where the opportunity lies.

Marketing textbooks refer to this as the “threat of substitutes“. That is, not only is your product competing against very similar products, but it’s also competing against alternatives to your product. For example, “It’s not which movie I’m going to, it’s a question of going to a movie or staying home and watching TV.” Constant pressure products are another classic case. The greater competitive threat is the substitute of conventional systems, not other variable speed products.

Having said this, lots of contractors are having remarkable success at selling constant pressure systems against conventional systems. In the coming weeks, I’m going to highlight the opportunity with constant pressure and what I’ve seen that works especially well and why it matters. In the meantime, play with this idea of substitutes and see where it leads.