The fab five

Even though 2013 is already well underway, I thought we would take one more “over the shoulder” glance back at Franklin in the Field in 2012. There were 51 new posts, and the blog received 6,300 visits from 84 countries. But what’s really interesting is go back and take a look at the five posts that got the most attention (clicks) in 2012.

Coming in at #5 was Every team has an MVP, where I highlighted Franklin Electric’s Charlie Utley on receiving our Most Valuable Player Award at Franklin Electric’s annual sales and training conference.

At #4, We’re not selling pumps was probably my personal favorite. It highlighted how our industry provides so much more than just pumps.

Number 3 was contributed by Franklin’s Tammy Davis. In The real reason she makes a great case for attending that next trade show.

Number 2, Credit where credit is due was posted way back in January and congratulated Keith Hall on his 43 years with Franklin Electric. By the way, Keith is still providing outstanding training at our monthly Franklin Tech sessions in Wilburton, Oklahoma.

Finally, coming in at #1 was 12 AWG, 12 gauge, and #12, a post about wire gauging nomenclature. No, I can’t explain why this one came in at #1 either, but it had 440 views. Apparently there’s a lot more interest in wire sizing that I realized.

There you have it. The five most clicked Franklin in the Field posts from 2012 out of our library of 86. I can’t wait to see what 2013 brings.

Auld lang syne

Thanks to Randy Woodland, a Franklin Field Service Engineer based in Colorado, for providing this post.

OldDrillingI participated in the installation of a new solar pumping system last month as part of Franklin Electric’s commitment to field test new products before they are commercially offered to customers. As with any trial installation, we had a few issues. The most annoying one involved the flow switch “talking” to the controller, but we were able to solve it without incident.

After everything was running well, the contractor commented, “I miss the old days, things were a lot simpler to install and troubleshoot when we didn’t have all of these new products to offer.” I immediately agreed with him; pump installations seemed a lot simpler twenty years ago. I’m not too proud to admit that at times I’ve even wished I didn’t need to constantly learn new things in order to do my job.

The more I thought it, however, I realized something. It doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. In order to stay in business, we have adapt to new products and new ways of doing things. It’s that simple.

Then I remembered a training seminar I attended at least ten years ago. The presenter said something that has stuck with me ever since. “The last buggy whip manufacturer in the United States probably made the best ones ever, at the lowest cost, with fast delivery and excellent customer service. So what? His market changed when automobiles replaced the horse and buggy. Being the best at something doesn’t matter if that something is no longer what the customer wants.”

We are no different in the water systems industry. VFDs take the place of large tanks and valves, electronic protection devices take the place of fuses and heaters, a web page takes the place of an ad in the Yellow Pages, and so it goes.

That guy was absolutely right. It really doesn’t matter whether we like it or not. If the customer asks for it, we have to provide it. In today’s age of readily available information about any product or process, the consumer will find out what is available. If your company or mine continues to sell and service buggy whips, our business will suffer for it.

What any industry wants to sell doesn’t matter if the customer wants to buy something else. If you don’t offer it, your competition will. Don’t forget that today will be someone else’s good old days.

Suddenly learning new things doesn’t seem like such a bad idea.

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.

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.

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.

A banner day

This week’s post comes from Franklin Electric’s Randy Woodland

I’ve done a lot of training over my career and especially at Franklin Electric, but I’ve never felt better about any of it than the day I spent a few weeks ago with eight members of the 819TH Rapid Engineer Deployable Heavy Operational Repair Squadron (RED HORSE) at Malmstrom Air Force Base in Great Falls, Montana.

From their website, “RED HORSE’s wartime responsibility is to provide a highly mobile, rapidly deployable force that is self-sufficient to support critical Air Force facilities for aircraft launch and recovery. It supports the beddown of weapon systems required to initiate and sustain operations in an austere bare base environment, including remote hostile locations.” Of course today, that means Afghanistan, and these eight members of the 819TH drill water wells and install submersible pumps and controls. They’re some of the first guys in, since it’s pretty hard to build a runway without a reliable supply of water.

I originally met Tech Sargent Joe Adair of the 819TH at the Montana Water Well Convention. Sargent Adair, along with several members of his team, were going booth to booth asking questions and gathering information. The longer we talked, the more apparent it became that his team was well-trained and very competent on well drilling. Where they freely admitted that their expertise came up short was what happened after a well was drilled. They needed more information on everything that goes into a well and controls the pump.

We made arrangements for me to spend a day with the squadron at their facility on Malmstrom AFB. I have never had a better, more attentive and appreciative class. We kicked off early in the morning and finished up after 4 o’clock. I “dumped the whole truck load on them”, reviewing everything from large pump sizing all the way through high horsepower VFDs and soft starts. You name it, we covered it. To a person, their attention never wavered, they took tons of notes, and when they didn’t understand something, they asked all the right questions until they did.

For me, it was a terrific opportunity to “Support our Troops” in a small, but real way. It was also a very personal reminder of just how truly outstanding the men and women in our Armed Forces are today. They are truly the best of us.

They don’t know exactly when, but the 819TH is headed back to Afghanistan soon. They promised to call me if they hit any snags. I hope they don’t have any problems, but a part of me is hoping to hear from them. In any case, I’ll be thinking about them.

Training without asking for your credit card

I was recently perusing the website of a company that competes with us on certain products. I was especially interested in what this company had to offer in terms of product training classes. It turns out that they have an extensive list of training options, and it’s all laid out nicely in terms of class content, directions to their training location, and class dates. But what really caught my eye was the “TUITION” section. A half-day class at their facility is $150 per participant and it goes up from there for longer classes. To make it “convenient”, there’s a form on the website for you to provide your credit card information. That doesn’t include lodging or transportation; you’re on your own there, although they do offer a list of nearby hotels and rental car companies that serve their airport. The above is for training at their facility. If you need someone to come provide product training in the field, that fee schedule starts at $3000 for 1 day.

I don’t get it … If I’m a distributor or a contractor or an installer, and you want me to buy and install and recommend your products, training and support should be part of the package. Don’t ask me to hand you my credit card to go learn about your products. Continue reading