Inspiring confidence, part 2

A year ago, I wrote Inspiring Confidence about the numerous benefits of completing a Franklin Electric 2207 – Submersible Motor Installation Record. Although a completed 2207 has technical benefits, the real value is the confidence it inspires when you hand it to your customer after the installation is complete.

If the 2207 covers submersibles, what about aboveground pumps? Franklin Electric offers a similar installation form for those as well. In this case, it’s not called a 2207, but–you guessed it–a 2208 Form – Surface Pump Installation Data.

Much like the 2207 form for submersibles, the 2208 form for surface pumps is very complete and can be used as part of the documentation process for returning a pump for analysis or warranty consideration. It asks for a lot of information, but also includes a checklist to help make sure you’ve covered everything. And although it’s three pages long, you probably won’t need to fill out the entire form for most installations.

An interactive PDF version of Franklin Electric’s 2208 can be found on Franklin Electric’s website in the Americas Water Systems section under Special Documents on the Industrial & Irrigation Surface Pumps page, but here’s a direct link: Form 2208.

Realistically, if you’ve got a 1/2 horsepower jet pump installation, completing an entire 2208 is probably excessive. But just like the 2207, that’s not the point. The point is how impressed your customer is going to be when the job is complete and you hand him that completed 2208. Once again, by investing a few minutes, you’ll leave a positive, lasting impression on your customer; he’ll know that YOU know what you’re doing. When that system needs service down the road, he will pull out that 2208 and call you, not someone else.

The real reason

As the drilling season winds down for the winter months, a different season always follows in its footsteps: trade show season. Conventional wisdom around the water systems industry for the past few years has been that trade shows are on the decline, and some of our best and brightest minds have been struggling with what to do about that. I’ve had conversations with lots of smart people at state and national associations, on trade show advisory boards, from industry publications, and on show management committees. We’ve talked about beefing up educational offerings. We’ve discussed marketing campaigns. We’ve considered social media opportunities. The central question is this:

How do we attract more people?

To me, the answer is as simple as its execution is complicated: we have to give them a reason to go to the show.

Clearly, the reasons people used to come to trade shows aren’t as important anymore. Product information is available at anyone’s fingertips through email and the internet. Sales reps are more accessible than ever via email and smart phone. CEUs can be garnered from a variety of sources. Our easy-access world has diminished the importance of the trade show as a primary vehicle for information. All the reasons that once drew people to the show floor have lost some of their luster. Simply offering more (of the same) or changing a campaign or communicating in different ways won’t do the trick. We have to give them a reason to go to the show.

Here’s that reason: the people.

The water systems industry isn’t particularly sexy. We’re not making smart phones with unbelievable functionality or talking about the future in black mock-tees or making cars that plug into electrical outlets or wowing people with our newest storefront. As much as people need what we have to offer, they don’t pay a lot of attention to us. That means that it’s not always easy to find someone with whom we can share ideas or hammer out problems. Even for those who participate, there aren’t many online opportunities for learning best practices or identifying challenge areas. We can’t always boot up the computer and find the answers we need.

And that, my friends, is why we should consider trade shows in our industry as a huge opportunity. Nowhere else do we have so many people with shared interests in the same place at the same time. We should attend for the chance to learn from others, test our own ideas, and get a feel for what’s happening in our industry beyond our own sphere of influence. These events give us a chance to have conversations with people facing the same challenges and opportunities; what an incredible resource pool! That’s the message we should be sharing.

With many state and regional shows–as well as the National Ground Water Expo–looming on the calendar, I encourage you to consider them in this light. What can you learn from your peers? What can they learn from you? How well do you understand the pulse of the water systems industry beyond your own service area? Are you good at marketing? If so, share your successful practices. Do you need help connecting with customers? Bring your questions. Can’t figure out where a particular product should be applied? See where others are using it. Make a point to talk to five new people and keep track of what you learn; I challenge you to find a better place to get your hands on so much relevant information at once.

Come for the people. It’s that simple.

Note: Tammy Davis, Director of Corporate Communications at Franklin Electric, provided this week’s post as a guest blogger.

Nation’s water costs not rushing higher everywhere

You may have seen this USA TODAY front page headline from Monday:

USA TODAY analysis: Nation’s water costs rushing higher

Here are the first couple of paragraphs:

While most Americans worry about gas and heating oil prices, water rates have surged in the past dozen years, according to a USA TODAY study of 100 municipalities. Prices at least doubled in more than a quarter of the locations and even tripled in a few.

Consumers could easily overlook the steady drip, drip, drip of water rate hikes, yet the cost of this necessity of life has outpaced the  percentage increases of some of these other utilities, carving a larger slice of  household budgets in the process.  Read the whole article here.

David Bumbalough, Franklin Electric Field Service Engineer, had the following reaction:

This is exactly why I recently had a well drilled. My average water bill in 2011 was about $47 a month. This year, it was at $72/month, a 53% increase for the same amount of water, about 7000 gallons per month. With my new well, I calculated that my one-half horsepower, 10 GPM pump will accumulate about 17 hours of run time each month for electrical costs of $2. I do need a filter, and that runs me $30 every 3-months. So, total cost to run my well is $12/month. I can pay back my investment in my well in just 5 years (faster if I figure in an increase).

And, I don’t have to put up with the smell of chlorine and the taste that comes with public water.

I couldn’t have said it better myself. Simply by applying common sense thinking, David once again demonstrated why a private water system is truly the deal of a lifetime. When clean, fresh water is available from my own property, it doesn’t make sense to get it any other way.

Matching their lifestyle

This week’s post comes from Bob McClain, Franklin Electric’s Technical Specialist, Drives & Controls

Just a few decades ago, the average new home was around 1,000 square feet, had three bedrooms and one bathroom (one and a half baths if it was an “upscale home”). The typical day consisted of dad getting up, showering, going to work and mom spending the day getting the kids off to school, doing some laundry during the day, and hand washing the dishes after dinner.

Fast forward to today. The average new home is more than twice as large, even though we have fewer children. There are at least 4 bedrooms, with 4 to 5 bathrooms. Mom, dad and the kids all get up in the morning within an hour of each other and take showers before heading out the door for work, school, or daycare. Then, the water system probably isn’t used for the next 8 to 9 hours. But come evening, it’s showers for everyone after ball practice, along with running the dishwasher and washing machine. Throw in lawn irrigation or a geothermal system, and you see that today’s water system needs are nowhere near what they were like just a few decades ago. Not only are the total requirements greater, but water demand is far more driven by peak demand.

So, more than ever before, it’s not a matter of how much, but how much when. An extreme example really illustrates this – On average, each person in North America uses 105 gallons of water per day. Doing some quick math, a 3 gallon per minute well and pump can produce 4,320 gallons per day. That’s enough water to supply a home of 41 people, but unless water the supply is very limited, no one installs 3 GPM pumps. The reason of course, has more to do with our lifestyles than it does with the math.

So, we have to size our water systems based on the consumer’s lifestyle, and especially focus on that one hour in the morning and those three to four hours in the evening. This is where constant pressure, variable speed systems really shine. By matching the performance of the water system to the demand placed on it, these systems provide the water delivery that your customers demand and matches their lifestyle. That’s a good deal for them and for you.

The 4-step program

When it comes to marketing strategy, any marketing course beyond high school will break it down into four parts: segmenting, targeting, positioning, and the value proposition. Does any of this apply to your water systems business, or is it just academic jargon? I think it applies, and here’s why.

Let’s start with segmenting. My version of this is “a customer is not just any customer”. You probably do this all the time. You know intuitively that the water system needs of an expensive lake home are different from those of farming operations which are still different from those of a municipality.

Segmenting leads to targeting, which is simply identifying which of these segments you feel are the most profitable and make the most sense for your business. As a water systems contractor, you may decide to target everybody that needs water, or just certain segments, such as agriculture.

Once you’ve identified your target market, the strategy moves to positioning. This answers the question, “Where do my products and services fit versus the competition?” Are you the low-cost leader? Are you the expert on variable-speed constant pressure products? Or, is your company somewhat of a generalist, providing a variety of water services?

Finally, after you’ve segmented your potential customers, targeted which ones you’re going after, and decided how you’re going to position your business within that target market comes the value proposition, also sometimes called the unique selling proposition. A couple of fancy names, but this is the meat of a marketing strategy and the essence of your business. It’s also the hardest part. Your value proposition encompasses your advertising, your brand, your competitive advantage, how you do business, and even your logo. It says, “Here’s why you should buy from me.” The list of choices can be long: I am the most convenient (24 hour service); I am the most experienced and reputable; and I am the most affordable, are just a few examples.

The reason the value proposition is so important is that the alternative is to try to be all things to all people. That rarely works because it just confuses the customer. What makes finding the right value proposition difficult is that it has to match the capabilities of your business to what will resonate with your target market. For example, if it doesn’t make financial sense for your business to be the low-cost leader (and it rarely does), you shouldn’t go there.

As a water systems contractor and business owner, you’re probably already going through this exercise, maybe even unconsciously. Nevertheless, you’ll never regret taking a step back from time to time to think the steps through. You just might find a better (and more profitable) value proposition.

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.

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.