A constant annoyance versus constant pressure

photoA couple of weeks ago, I spent four days hanging around a hunter jumper horse show at one of the largest facilities in the country for these events. Overall, it’s a first-class facility and billed as one of the most beautiful anywhere.

Like any event, there’s always some complaining and over the course of this extended weekend, I heard the usual grumbling from the competitors: “that one judge is biased, the food’s expensive, the events are running behind schedule“, etc. But do you know what the number one complaint was?

“The water pressure here is awful.”

“They’ve got plenty of wash racks but there’s not hardly any water if more than a couple of people are using them”

“It takes forever just to fill a watering bucket.”

It was frustrating to hear, because I knew it didn’t have to be that way. There are numerous pressure boosting products available that could address this or at least make things a lot better. But from what I could tell, a single 6-inch submersible with an undersized pressure tank is supplying the entire facility and all those acres. And beyond the pump house, it’s a hodge-podge of PVC piping that’s been put together over the years as the facility has expanded. Even without knowing all the details of this system, it’s obvious that a few variable-speed or simply single-speed pressure boosting systems would work wonders here. And the cost would be trivial when taken into the overall expenses of managing and maintaining this facility.

Once again, the competition in terms of constant pressure and pressure boosting isn’t necessarily between manufacturers. It’s the alternative of doing nothing. And here’s another case that by doing nothing the owners and management of this otherwise very nice facility constantly keep their customers annoyed.

Next time I’m there, I’m going to track down their maintenance folks and their contractor and get a conversation going. This water system can be better. A lot better.

“How did we live without ________?”

Wouldn’t it be cool if someone made a washing machine and dryer that was one unit? A single appliance with a single door that you put your dirty laundry into and when the cycle was complete, the clothes were clean AND dry. I read recently that the appliance companies have been looking at this for years and in the not too distant future, an integrated washer and dryer may be a reality. Whenever that happens and we all have those, we may look back and think about how ridiculous it was to have to move a pile of wet laundry froFrigidaire-Affinity-Laund08-lgm the washing machine to the dryer. But until then, we just accept the way things are and never give it a second thought.

Looking in the other direction, there are tons of examples already in our lives today. Who knew we needed smart phones, microwave ovens, or cruise control on our cars? But in every case, up until we had those products, we didn’t know the difference.

What about our industry? I would suggest that variable-speed, constant pressure systems fall squarely into this category. I know this because if you ask a homeowner that has upgraded to constant pressure, they will tell you that they will never go back to a conventional system. But for them to get there, their water systems contractor had to lead them there. Not a single one of those homeowners woke up in the middle of the night thinking, “Boy, I wish someone made a water system that got rid of that large tank and gave me better, more consistent pressure.” They just assumed that for all the advantages of being on a private water system, these were just things they had to live with. They didn’t know there was a better way until they got to experience it for themselves.

Not everyone has a smartphone and likewise, you won’t sell an upgraded, constant pressure system to all of your customers. But to those customers that you do, they won’t be able to imagine going back to their old system ever again.

In the meantime, I think it’s time to go move my laundry from the washer to the dryer.

Do as I say, not as I do

Franklin Electric, along with others, has always promoted the value of periodic check-ups on private water systems. These involve not only having the well water tested once a year, but encouraging homeowners to have their entire system checked on a regular basis. The end goal is to identify issues before they generate an “out of water” service call at the most inconvenient possible time.

That’s good advice, but the reality is that periodic maintenance simply doesn’t happen very often in our industry. That’s always amazed me and I’ve always said that if I were fortunate enough to have my own private water system, it would be very well maintained – It’s a critical system and I wouldn’t leave it to chance. Along these same lines, I’ve been astonished and somewhat dismayed many times on how little homephoto (5)owners know about their water systems.

Fast forward to just a couple of years ago when I was in my own basement changing the air filters in the heating and air conditioning system. Hidden away next to the blower unit is a Little Giant VCMA condensate pump. Today, I can tell you its model number and that it was manufactured in 1998. But until then, I had never taken any notice of it. As a matter of fact, what actually caught my eye was that it looked just like a product that I had just seen at a Franklin P/HVAC seminar.

In that same Franklin seminar, the periodic light maintenance of condensate pumps was emphasized in order to prevent “silly failures” like stuck float switches due to accumulated dirt and dust. So there I was, the proud owner of a Franklin Electric product that I had not only never serviced over the course of five years, but didn’t even realize I owned (Little Giant was acquired by Franklin Electric in 2006).

Granted, my 15 year-old Little Giant condensate pump isn’t quite as critical as a water system. But if it fails, there’s water in the basement and no air conditioning. I was leaving that to chance, just like all those homeowners that never have their water well systems checked.

It’s said that we are all ignorant, but just about different things. As homeowners, I’ve come to believe that’s especially true. And we all ignore simple maintenance, but just on different things.

Read all about it!

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I’ve talked in past posts about the importance of being involved in your community as part of building good relationships with your customer base. Here’s a tip related to this that I heard years ago but was recently reminded of again.

A friend of mine sells manufacturing equipment over a large, multi-state area. Given the size of his territory, he can only see most of his customers once a month.

Many of his customer visits are in smaller, out-of-the-way towns. He normally arrives the night before the customer meeting, but before going to the hotel, he makes it a point to pick up a copy of the local newspaper to read. As a result, he’s more engaged and informed the next day about what’s going on in the community than he would be otherwise. He says it just makes conversations go better, especially those in informal meetings over breakfast and lunch. As an alternative, he sometimes catches the local TV news, but he maintains there’s nothing better than the local newspaper to get him up-to-date. And besides, he says those papers are often more interesting than the ubiquitous USA Today.

It’s a small thing and the trade area of your water systems business probably doesn’t cover multiple states. But the point remains – most of us like to do business with people that are part of our community. For you, that may mean coaching Little League or serving in a volunteer organization or even being involved local politics. Whatever the venue, being engaged with your customers also means being involved with what’s going on in your community.

Sit down and discuss

In a previous career, a management tool that was required in the organization I was a part of was the “brief” and “debrief”. That is, before an event, a briefing was held with the participants in front of a whiteboard. The brief could take 10 minutes to an hour, but by the time you walked out of that room, you understood the plan and your role in it.

photo (3)Just as important was the debrief. It took place immediately after the event and had  four parts:

1. A quick review of what we set out to do.

2. An assessment of what actually happened.

3. A dialogue of why there was a difference between what we planned and what actually happened (this was usually the most interesting segment).

4. A discussion of the lessons learned both good and bad. What actions should we keep for next time and what do we NOT want to do next time?

Of course, sports teams do this type of thing as a matter of course. But these are generally one-sided affairs from the coach to the team. Properly done, both the brief and debrief should involve all of the participants. And while I hesitate to advocate more meetings, I think as businesses, we should spend more time briefing and debriefing events.

Here’s an example… If I’m involved in one of our Field Service seminars, I’ll make sure the team gets together the night before to discuss. Not only will we discuss details such as who’s presenting what material when, but we’ll also cover the big issues, like what we want the attendees to learn. .

As soon as possible after the seminar, we’ll sit down and debrief the day’s events. We’ll follow the pattern above and have a good discussion of what went right and where can we improve. It’s almost always a very worthwhile discussion.

As a water systems contractor, when does sitting down and holding a briefing make sense? How about before that sales pitch to a major customer such as a municipality? Then afterwards, sit down and debrief how it went. Or, how about before that major installation that involves lots of players? At the end of the day, what were the lessons learned?

Holding a briefing and debriefing doesn’t make sense much of the time. But, making a conscious effort to sit down before and after major events allows you to constantly improve your team’s performance and will generally be a lot more productive than just walking into an event and “winging it”.

Water Well Wednesday

Last week at the Kansas Groundwater Show in Hutchinson, Kansas, I met Bruce Reichmuth of Hydro Resources (formerly Henkle Drilling) out of Garden City, Kansas. Bruce is in a small and unique club in our industry: once a week, he goes on the air at KIUL Radio 1240 AM and talks about water wells, drilling, pumps, and just about anything else having to do with groundwater.

1240It all started a few years ago when Henkle Drilling changed their name to Hydro Resources. To make sure that their customers knew about the name change, Hydro bought a few spots on KIUL. That relationship lead to the host of Mid America in the Morning to ask Bruce to be a one-time guest on the show to talk “a little bit about water wells.”

Pretty soon it was once a week, and two years later, Bruce is still at it. Every Thursday morning around 9:40, Bruce is on the air at KIUL to talk about a groundwater topic. Topics range from seasonal considerations, drought conditions, how pumps work, simple trivia, drilling methods, and even constant pressure systems – anything that educates the audience about groundwater. Sometimes Bruce will bring a guest with him such as a fellow employee or even an unsuspecting pump salesman. On yesterday’s show, Bruce discussed the Kansas Groundwater Convention and shared some of the McEllhiney Lecture (underwritten by Franklin Electric).

Bruce says he keeps asking the station, “Are you sure you want to keep doing this? This is all very interesting to me, but are you sure it’s that interesting to your listeners?” The reply is always the same, “YES! What you’re talking about is critical to this area and our listeners want to hear and know more about it.”

It’s actually been interesting enough that Bruce’s expertise has generated another show on KBUF 1030 AM. That show is called “Water Well Wednesday” and airs live during the “Today in Agi Business” program by John Jenkinsen. This is the live broadcast from Hydro Resources’ offices once every other month.

Granted, Garden City, Kansas is a unique market area and Bruce’s radio segments wouldn’t garner the same amount of interest in Chicago or Atlanta. But it does show how important it is to provide the general public with expertise and knowledge on groundwater. Just a few minutes a week is going a long way in western Kansas.

Not just solutions, insight

lossless-page1-671px-Two_people_talking_tiffOn several occasions, I’ve emphasized how all of us in the water systems industry are salespeople in one form or another. And as a professional contractor, you are out there week after week selling our industry’s products, services, and expertise. The customer may be a homeowner, a business owner, a farmer, or a municipality. So given the importance of selling in our industry, whenever I see a business article about what makes a successful salesperson, it always gets my interest. In a post last year (Know your stuff), I highlighted a research study done by two PhDs that I thought stated the obvious. They identified eight different sales personalities and concluded the most successful type was what they categorized as “the expert”

I recently ran across a similar study with somewhat different conclusions. In a Harvard Business Review article entitled “The End of Solution Selling”, the authors identify and evaluate not eight, but five sales personality types. There are:

  1. Relationship builders, who take the approach of always being the good guy and focusing on exactly what the customer says he or she wants.
  2. Problem solvers: These sales types dive into a customer’s problems and work diligently to solve those problems.
  3. Hard workers treat sales as a numbers game with a mentality of “if I make more sales calls than anyone else, I will be the most successful”.
  4. A fourth type is the Lone Wolf. As the name implies, these salespeople are very independent and use everything at their disposal, sometimes at the expense of their employer’s policies and procedures.

What was interesting was the fifth type. In their study of 6,000 salespeople, the authors identified this type of sales personality as by far the most successful in today’s business environment. They call this type the Challenger. Challengers are debaters. They have a specific view of what their customer needs are beyond what the customer tells them. They actively share that view with their customer. They don’t simply acquiesce to what the customer is telling them, but instead take the approach of “I’m here to provide you insight and guidance on the issues and problems you don’t know you have”.

The Challenger approach leads to “insight selling” and the big idea of the article is that “solution selling” focuses on the problems that customers tell you they have, whereas “insight selling” focuses on problems customers don’t know they have. It’s important to note that Challengers don’t cross that line of becoming obnoxious. But they are assertive in their opinions of what they believe the customer truly needs.

So, what does any of this have to do with water systems? Even though I’m always dubious of academic articles on the topic of selling, I think the authors are actually confirming what many of us already know. When it comes to water systems, most end-users have no idea what problems they really need solved. Ask a homeowner during a typical service call what their problems are and they will tell you, “I’m out of water, fix it!” The solution selling approach would be to simply get them back in water. However, the Challenger says, “Okay, I will do that, but here’s why you are out of water and here’s what we are going to do to improve your water system.” Maybe the contractor then explains why they need a larger pump, constant pressure, or dry well protection. Once again, the approach is to use expertise and experience to offer insight and guidance.

At the end of the day, you obviously can’t force something on a customer. But you can take control and offer a firm opinion on what you know your customer needs, not just what they are telling you they need. The result will probably be a better, more reliable system for your customer and more sales for you.