There is a distinct difference between a salesperson and a professional. For many people, the term “salesperson” brings to mind someone who comes across as pushy or high pressure; whereas the “professional” takes another approach and comes across as helpful. In the water treatment business, a salesperson may employ a hard sell technique, such as a year of free soap and detergents, but only if the prospect buys that day. This is a big turnoff for many people and can hurt your business in the long-run.
Typically when making a larger purchase for the home, consumers want to know they are getting the best value; this means they will want to research your product and compare against other options. If you are a professional and educate the prospect on water quality and how treatment works, you have a better chance of making a sale as well as gaining a long-term client. For many years, the Water Quality Association (WQA) has offered training for treatment professionals, helping them in building credibility and trust. Making WQA certification a part of the training program for sales staff will be helpful to your organization.
Testing the wrong way
In the water treatment business there are a couple of testing methods used to help close sales that can be misleading to the prospect. For example, a common test still used today is the sludge test, in which the salesperson adds some chemical to the tap water and sludge begins to form. When done unethically, the chemical added is usually some kind of flocculant that combines with minerals and begins to precipitate. Harmless minerals make up the formed sludge, however unethical salespeople may comment that the sludge forming is dangerous in some way. I’ve talked with prospects that have had in-home demos where they were told this sludge was dangerous bacteria — which is completely false.
Another misleading test that has been improperly used in selling treatment equipment is called the precipitator test — when two metal rods are placed in the water and electricity is applied. A dark sludge is formed from the electricity breaking down the rods and the natural mineral content of the water. This is an impressive visual test the salesperson can use to scare the prospect into purchasing equipment.
These two methods are still used today in water treatment sales demonstrations and are often implemented to mislead prospects about the safety of their water. The WQA and several ethical treatment companies argue these tests should not be used as they are unethical and lead to the mistrust of the water treatment industry as a whole. There shouldn’t be a place for these kinds of tests in water treatment because they serve no purpose in diagnosing treatment needs.
Testing the right way
In order to diagnosis water treatment needs it is necessary to do some amount of testing. Performing certain simple tests onsite, including hardness, pH, iron and manganese, will be helpful if your prospect is only interested in getting a water softener. Talking your customer through any test you are running in the home is helpful in establishing trust. Explain to the consumer why it’s better to run certain tests like pH and chlorine onsite, so they better understand the dynamics of testing and trust in the results you produce.
If your prospect has other concerns about his or her water quality, take the time to ask questions to dig deeper into what your prospect really wants. Many people want more than just a softener. They want “safe” water and they rely on water treatment professionals to deliver that. The key to delivering safe water is to find out if there is anything “unsafe” present in the water that can be removed. Since it is impractical to test onsite for the many things that can make water unsafe, a comprehensive laboratory analysis may be recommended. This is another opportunity for you to build trust, by making recommendations on testing and giving your prospect a couple of options for testing.
Laboratory testing can get expensive, so narrow down what should be tested by taking into consideration the water supply, potential contaminants in the area as well as your customers' concerns and budgets. If you are unsure of your prospect’s budget concerns, it’s always good to offer a couple of options: Good, better and best. Consumers appreciate options, and providing a full explanation of why you recommend each option gives them the information needed to make the decision that is right for them.
Gone are the days of trying to close the sales on the first appointment. Give your prospects what they need: An education on water quality and the time to make an informed decision. Using high-pressure sales techniques can turn profits in the short-run, but if you are in it for the long-haul, this can be detrimental to building your business.
Marianne R. Metzger currently works for Certified National Analytics (CNA) Environmental, New Jersey Analytical Labs, Smith Environmental, International Hydronics and TestMyWater.info, providing various testing services for residential, commercial and government regulations. Most of her career has been spent working for laboratories with specialization in water treatment testing. She also worked for Accent Control Systems as a sales engineer. Accent Control Systems is a company that provides equipment for in-line and handheld analyzers, flow meters and chemical feed pumps to be used in water, wastewater and other fluid applications. Sales engineers worked in the field by educating clients about products and helping to diagnose system and sizing requirements.