Water Conditioning & Purification Magazine

Scare-Tactic Demonstrations

By Kelly R. Thompson, MWS, CI

  • “Residents Say New Flint Lead Data a ‘False Sense of Security” NBC News“Study: Public water supply is unsafe for millions of Americans” CNN
  • “Trump Administration Rolls Back Clean Water Protections” The New York Times
  • “New study claims 43 states expose millions to dangerous chemical in drinking water” CBS News
  • “Four billion particles of microplastics discovered in major body of water” Science Daily

There is plenty for us to be worried about and the media makes sure that those of us in and out of the industry know it. A quick glance at any newspaper (yes, they do still exist in places) or an Internet search will bring up countless stories. It can be hard to decipher which news outlets have succumbed to the polarized nature of today’s political environment, but nearly all of them have scary headlines. The reality is that we do have some serious problems in this country (and around the world) with our drinking water, with naturally occurring substances such as arsenic or man-made emerging chemicals like PFAS. We will continue to see more of these problems as our infrastructure continues to deteriorate and the technology continues to improve our ability to test for the stuff we’ve been dumping into the ground and our water supplies.

It is no secret that our industry has long been plagued with a fair amount of unscrupulous individuals who prey on the elderly or most naïve, as they peddle their over-priced equipment. Many of our test kits are designed to build the emotional level high enough that the customer will write a check for any amount we ask. But I strongly believe that it is not the demonstrations in these kits at fault but rather, the way these demonstrations are presented. Many of the tools in demonstration water test kits that we use in the home come with both tests and demonstrations. A test is something that gives you quantifiable results and tells you what type and size of equipment you might recommend. Hardness, iron, pH or TDS tests are examples of this.

A demonstration is a way of taking these results and making them mean something relatable to the customer. They also are a great way of showing the difference in varying types of water, like RO versus tap or soft versus hard water. We can show how much less soap is needed by shaking soap flasks. We can show how TDS makes a difference by making tea and we can help the customer visualize how much five grains of hardness is by showing them an aspirin tablet. These are valuable and often necessary tools in the sales process.

The problem with demonstrations though is that they are often poorly explained and misused, especially when there is a customer who is already nervous about the quality of their water supply. One of the most commonly misused or misinterpreted demonstrations is the precipitation demo. This demonstration is a very effective and legitimate tool for showing the customer what happens to the dissolved rock in the water when it’s heated up in the water heater. This is done by coloring the water a yellowish green color and then chemically heating the water. The result is often a disgusting-looking mass of precipitated calcium on the bottom of the test tube with hard water in it and the other one is a clear, albeit green water.

There is nothing unethical about this demonstration but the emotionally visual impact it can have will often overpower even a proper explanation of what it is demonstrating. This demonstration has nothing to do with whether the water is safe or unsafe, yet customers will often exclaim something like: “Eew…that’s what we’re drinking?” This is the part where sales people often fail to correct the impression. This demonstration is a ‘water that goes on you’ not a ‘water that goes in you’ tool.

I don’t believe that most sales people who are doing these demonstrations are necessarily malicious or unscrupulous, though as I mentioned, there are a few. Just recently a customer showed me a softener brochure from a company on Long Island where the sales person had actually drawn a skull and cross bones on it, and we’ve all seen the hidden camera exposés on TV. We are water treatment professionals and we do have the solutions to address many of these issues. But how do we balance the line of educating our customers without trying to scare them into buying our products?

First and foremost, WQA members should become aware of and abide by the WQA Code of Ethics, Marketing Guidelines and Best Practices, which can be found at www.wqa.org. Of course, competitors who are not members do not have to abide by these rules, which is a strong argument for marketing your membership to your customers as a way to differentiate you from them. Next, my rule-of-thumb when it comes to what demonstrations I use is whether or not it can be duplicated by the customer without special chemicals and with the equipment they had installed.

For example, if two weeks after the customer has installed a reverse-osmosis system they are laying in bed in the middle of the night wondering if they got ripped off, I want them to be able get up and duplicate the tea demonstration I did during the sales presentation (for tea demonstration instructions, visit www.moti-vitality.com). They can easily do this with their tap water and the water from the new RO and they will get the same results. They cannot duplicate the precipitation demo without my special chemicals. I recommend doing your demonstration in front of your friends and family or even your co-workers. Ask them to alert you of anything that might say comes across as a scare tactic and if it does, then I’d suggest eliminating that from your presentation or finding another way to present the information.

The bottom line is that there are plenty of resources to which we can direct customers, to find information about their water. We will increase our credibility far more by erring on the side of caution with what we say or show them and instead, directing them to third-party resources. I often advise sales professionals that if you wouldn’t say or do it it in front of a Dateline camera crew, don’t say or do it.

About the author
Kelly Thompson MWS, CI, has more than two decades in the water treatment industry, starting as a straight-commission sales professional. He is now the owner of Moti-Vitality. Thompson’s book, Flowing to Success (An Excellent Book with a Cheesy Title for the Water Treatment Sales Professional) has sold over 5,000 copies in eight different countries. He is also a WQA Award of Merit recipient.

About the company
Moti-Vitality specializes in hiring and training sales and management professionals specifically for the water treatment industry. The e-commerce division of the company provides affordable test kits and water treatment dealer specific supplies. Visit the website at www.moti-vitality.com

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