The science of sales for a new world of water

Dec. 9, 2014

A basic set of needs-based activities to use as sales calisthenics.

Today’s buyers are thinkers and self-educators. They feed their brains with immediate input through multiple electronic sources. Looking at the human brain and how it works, science identifies the left side as responsible for the logical and analytical thought; and additionally, it learns and decodes different languages and mathematics. While processing the spoken word, numeric and critical thinking uses the left side of your brain, the right side is the creative center. This side expresses and reads emotion and the right side enjoys hearing and creating music. It is the inner artist in all of us — the passion- and freedom-loving self.1

In sales, one aims to satisfy both hemispheres of the brain. Working to discover needs first will allow the experienced salesperson to provide sound engineering principles, economic advantages and practical science to assist the left side of the brain in recognizing a quantitative solution. Removing obstacles to find happiness will inspire the right side to make a decision and move forward with the qualitative solution.

Some people believe that men are left-brained and women are right-brained. “Old school” salespeople will often play to the logical left brain with a male audience and try to create emotion in the feminine right-brain audience. As water system advisers, our message is non-gender. Do not get caught up in creating emotion and playing to a male or female audience. Instead, stick to the facts and concentrate on establishing needs. In this way, one works with the clients to discover the “true” issues and work toward a positive long-term solution. It broadcasts through residential, commercial and even industrial sales.

Gone are the days of a right-brain approach. Soft water is not just a luxury. Pushing simply cleaner clothes, silky skin, soft hair and a shiny home is an intellectually lazy play to right-siders. Buyers today are better educated than ever. The water industry recently commissioned and embraced the Battelle Study, touting the return on investment (ROI) related to soft water.3

People have access to immediate information and they investigate the products, and the people selling those products, on the Internet before they ever call and speak to a salesperson. To succeed, the modern salesperson must be knowledgeable about the technologies and their applications. They are asked for advice on the best solutions and practices for complex water issues and/or maximum efficiencies and ROI. People are looking for left-brain information to make educated and wise buying decisions. The right-brain stimulation comes from a buyer’s belief that “they” made a quality choice. The salesperson was simply a trusted adviser who imparted knowledge and understanding to enable the buyer to make his or her own decision.

Whether selling to homeowners or to businesses, knowledge and the ability to communicate technical material are crucial for success in water treatment sales. The advantage of an educated sales force is the ability to cross-train people to sell into multiple markets. A knowledgeable salesperson can sell to the municipal homeowner, private well users and commercial water customers. The knowledge necessary to convey answers to water-related problems and applications is transferrable. 

Here is a basic set of needs-based activities to use as sales calisthenics.

Get to the point 

You should not go into a sales presentation just to tell people what your product is, what your ideas are and what you are selling. Do not try to get the client to see “your” point of view and buy what “you” are selling. You should also not use words and images to activate different parts of the brain to push an agenda.

A true water professional goes into any call trying to discover the perceived and actual issue and what the client is looking for as a result. Ask what is wrong and/or what is needed, then listen. At this point, 60 percent of the conversation is driven by the client and 40 percent by the adviser (salesperson) asking questions and clarifying the client’s statements.

Be a professional

People today are very busy. Respect their time and they will respect you. Be on time. Work in a direct manner and speak in a professional voice. Know the topics of discussion and never pretend to be an expert in fields outside of your own. One can offer to get answers to relevant questions within one’s level of expertise if a topic needs further details. Only provide information germane to your skill set. Support gathered information with peer-review documentation; in other words, if you are not a medical professional, then don’t give medical advice. 

Look, listen, test and confirm

After initial inquiries, review the site and existing systems. Audit the current systems and evaluate if they are correct for the application. Test the functionality of the systems and review the usage data. Determine volumetric, flow and pressure demands. Assess if the current equipment meets the hydraulic requirements and throughput demands base on the collected data and discovery. This is the time to be left-brained — and with the client — agree on the true system demands to fit the application. The needs are theirs and they need to own the solutions. 

Solutions and third-party objective criteria

The solution to water-related issues and water-process needs are seldom singular. Depending on the required result, there are often multiple technologies. When picking a technology, be prepared to support the choice with documentation. The “thinker” often wants third-party validation and peer-reviewed data. Offering objective criteria upfront lends credibility to the adviser and the offered solution. Sound science and engineering usually win over “soft and silky.” Technology is turning today’s buyers into left-brain consumers.

Different needs for different clients

Following the initial discovery comes the right-brain work. Technical innovations increasing efficiency, decreasing one’s carbon footprint and saving money, receive different priorities with different audiences. An industrial plant with a sustainability program or minimal/restricted discharge mandates will value technology geared toward maximum efficiency and lowered waste discharge. They will pay more for a deserved result. A commercial user sees efficiency as a way to recover an earlier ROI or looks to purchase a low-cost solution because of limited capital funds. A homeowner may look at savings through increased efficiency as a better family vacation or a way to help save Mother Nature. Establish a baseline for right-brain requirements in the way of economic or social needs and advise to those needs when choosing solutions.

Talk to your audience and know your audience

Talk to your audience and not at them. Respect their intelligence and do not necessarily over simplify. Be cognizant that everyone is not a water professional but may be self-educated in the topic. Some people will require a level of communication geared toward knowledge and skill sets — always be prepared to speak in layman’s terms when required. 

In commercial and industrial work, know your audience. A process engineer or boiler chief will normally possess advanced water knowledge. A commercial purchasing agent is a left-brain number cruncher — they care about dollars. 

Use verbal and nonverbal communication indicators to know when to stop talking. Information overload will quickly kill a sale. Knowing when to stop talking is a difficult skill to master and is developed with experience. People looking away or exhibiting a “lost-look” are probably done listening. If the conversation becomes totally one-sided, take a breath and observe a moment of silence. Give the other people in the room a chance to speak. If the silence is prolonged, others in the room may want the conversation to be over. Additional information can be very important, but there is only so much that a human brain can take at once. Leave additional information behind in the form of objective criteria.

Prepare for Q&A

A gifted communicator will answer questions only after listening to them entirely and carefully considering the required level of response. A rookie communicator starts developing a response before the questioner is done speaking, never hearing all of the questions. In question and answer (Q&A) sessions, it is important to understand the questions. Clarifying the question with another question and paraphrasing them helps communicate the appropriate answer. The original questions may require some fine-tuning to deliver the correct answer. 

If one does not possess the answer to a question, simple say, “I do not know.” If the answer is critical to the process, offer to find the response through an internal contact or outside professional. If the question is outside of the scope of the project and/or one’s level of expertise, suggest that the questioner seek an answer through their own sources. 

A Q&A is not a war of attrition where the salesperson works to overcome all objections. It is an opportunity to share thoughts and allow buyers to find the path to their own decisions — decisions that peak the right side of the brain while leaving the left side content with the financial outcome. Happy and satisfied buyers write quality remarks on service-evaluating websites and give five-star ratings on social networks. Unhappy customers create blogs and blast salespeople and employers on the Internet where future buyers go to learn about solution providers.

Use your brain

One cannot afford to stop learning. To stay sharp and current, become a lifelong learner. There are more avenues for learning and continued education available to water professionals than ever before. There is no good excuse for not improving and increasing one’s knowledge. Use the tools available to become an adviser, not just a salesperson. There is nothing wrong with being a salesperson, just be the best needs-based salesperson possible. 

As consumers practice left-brain activities and strive to become educated buyers, it is the salesperson job to become more right-brained and develop creative ways to overcome bad information and outlandish offers on the web. Rather than push the conversation to emotions and feelings, as needs-based salespeople, direct the left-brain conversation to logic and good practices. Promote the understanding that it is logical to purchase from a local service and system provider and have access to support. In having piece of mind that if there is a problem there is help available, makes good sense. Helping consumers to use their whole brain in making decisions concerning their water is the best outcome possible. 



Author’s note

Special thanks to Alan Wirth, my father and one of the last true soft water salesmen.

Matthew Wirth is the general manager of Pargreen Water Technologies (an industrial system and service group based in Chicago) and a water professional with over 34 years of experience. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in Communication and Organizations Management from Concordia University in St. Paul, Minnesota, and received his engineering training at the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City, South Dakota. Wirth is an experienced trainer and writer with expertise in industrial water applications, sales and water treatment system distribution. He can be reached by email at [email protected], or by phone at (630) 433-7760.  

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