It’s show time

OLike me, many of you are headed to Virginia Beach this weekend for the South Atlantic Well Drillers’ Jubilee. And many of you aren’t.

There are dozens of reasons not to go this year: the weather is good and you could be in the field, you don’t want to spend the money to get there, you’re apprehensive about the change in venue. I very firmly believe, however, that every one of those reasons is counterbalanced by a reason TO GO–and then some. I’ve written about a few of them in the past, so rather than reinventing the wheel (or the blog post), I thought I’d re-post it here. Before I do, I also want to share some comments from a colleague, which I think sum it all up.

Bring people together who share interests–vendors and customers alike–and give them a chance to share ideas in non-threatening, small group settings. Create opportunities for enrichment. Solve problems. Send people home feeling as if they accomplished something and eager to return the next time.

So here’s my own post from a few years ago. Think about it. There’s still time to get to Virginia Beach. The National Groundwater Expo is coming up later this year in Nashville, and chances are that your own state’s show isn’t too far off either. Which one will you attend?

The South Atlantic Jubilee was held a few weeks ago in Myrtle Beach. Like most trade shows in recent years, attendance was down and the usual theories were passed around as to why. These included: the economy in general, the sad state of the housing industry, and at the other end, “it’s so dry that everyone is out busy working.” I also heard that between the state shows, distributor open houses, and national shows, contractors are just simply weary of trade shows in general. However, the most interesting comment came from an attendee who said, “I used to come here to gather the latest product literature, but I don’t think I need to anymore. You guys have it all on the web”. True enough, but that got me thinking of all the other reasons to attend a trade show.

To begin with, if you’re there to look at product, there’s no better place. The web is terrific, but there’s nothing like looking at new products in person and interacting with the manufacturer’s personnel. You can touch and feel, ask questions, and then perhaps, wander over to their competitor’s booth to compare their products and talk to their people. The web just doesn’t provide that opportunity.

Of course, most states require some type of annual continuing education. There’s generally no better place to get that than at a trade show. It’s 1-stop shopping. This year, the South Atlantic Jubilee offered over 2 days of non-stop classes. And, the feedback that is collected every year on these came in at an all-time high.

Finally, trade shows are a chance to get away from the daily routine for a while and interact with the many other professionals in our industry. And, when you get home, the web is still there, with all the literature.

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.

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.

Only as good as you are

2011 is far from over, but when it is, it looks as if Franklin Electric will have held about 132 training events for over 5,100 contractors. That’s about two and a half events per week on average. Those 132 events include training at our facilities in Oklahoma, Indiana, and Ontario, Canada, along with seminars at conventions, at our customers’ facilities, and “on the road” with our Mobile Training Facility.

All of these events consume time and money. There’s travel involved, preparation on the part of the presenter, handouts, and so forth. So, why the committment by Franklin Electric to so many seminars?

Here’s the answer: because we are only as good as you are. Assume for a moment that everyone in our industry made a perfect product every single time. Perfectly designed, and never a defect. Even if that were the case, it would be worthless without a professional contractor to install it. Especially in the water systems industry, perfect products can be mis-applied. Maybe it’s the wrong product for the installation, maybe a motor isn’t receiving proper cooling, maybe a pressure tank is undersized thereby creating short-cycling. The result is exactly the same as if the contractor had installed a defective product: FAILURE. And, when this happens, the homeowner or end-user doesn’t know, and most likely doesn’t care, why the product failed. His or her perception of the contractor, Franklin Electric, and our industry isn’t a good one, and it reflects on all of us.

So everything that we can do to make you, the contractor, as well-trained and professional as possible is a good investment for all of us. We’re only as good as you are.

Talking, but nothing to say.

When I was college, they actually terminated the professor who was teaching one of my classes in the middle of the semester. The dean walked into the classroom one morning and dryly stated, “There is nothing worse than to be locked in a room with someone who is talking, but has nothing to tell you. I’ll be teaching this class for the rest of the semester.” And, the dean was correct; this guy had been awful and had nothing relevant to impart to us. On the other hand, this dean still knew how to teach and the class took on a whole new vibrancy.

That incident stuck with me. Like most of us in the sales and marketing arena, I’ve given a lot of presentations over the years. Each time, I’ve always hoped that I had something worthwhile to say. The burden is on us as presenters to have something to tell you, and we need to make it interesting and relevant to your business. If we don’t, we have wasted not only our time, but the time of everyone in that room, both directly and indirectly. That is, when you’re in class, you’re not out drilling or installing or servicing.

As presenters, we should have a single goal: at the end of the presentation or seminar, you walk out of the room thinking, “That was time well spent. I know more now than when I walked into the room.” As a water systems contractor, you should always hold us to that standard.

There are a couple of ways to make sure that happens. To begin with, ask questions. Hard questions. Any presenter worth his or her salt wants those. Questions make the whole event much more interesting and challenging for us. And, this is your opportunity to find something out that maybe you’ve been wondering about for a long time. Even questions that we can’t answer at the moment are good. In a lot of cases, someone else in the audience may already have the answer. Continue reading