By Rob Samborn

“The victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined for defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.” — Sun Tzu, The Art of War

These words may apply to warfare, and though they were written over two thousand years ago by a Chinese general, they could not be more accurate than when applied to today’s sales techniques.

So how does today’s water industry sales rep assure victory? With two very valuable weapons: Information and instruments.

We all know that water filtration and bottling is a growing industry. Sales these days are considerably easier than when “bottled water” meant a Boy Scout’s canteen. But let’s face it—unless she’s in the water industry, even the sweet elderly lady shouting answers at Alex Trebek has never heard of TDS. And for the majority of consumers, conductivity is just a blip in the memory of 10th grade chemistry. By arming himself with information, the soldier salesman can win a sale simply through explanation and transference of knowledge.

People hear things. They’re susceptible to advertising. They buy bottled water. They believe their tap water isn’t good, but they don’t know why. How bad is a home’s tap water? Does it warrant getting a filtration system, or is bottled water more conducive to their lifestyle? Can an office save money by installing a filtration system instead of continuously purchasing cooler bottles? How pure is the water? These are just a handful of the questions consumers are faced with when considering an improvement in their water supply.

The primary question is obvious: Is the current water supply bad enough to warrant a change?

The choices available all hinge upon the answer to the above question being a resolute “yes.” The soldier salesman may be armed to the teeth with instruments that test everything from chlorine to pH, but the current weapon of choice for most sales reps is a handheld TDS meter. Due to it’s ease of use and ability to present a clear difference between unfiltered and filtered water (excluding ultraviolet), with a pen-sized meter, the rep can simply dip, measure and display—certainly enough to pique any water drinker’s interest and almost enough to close a sale right then and there.

Of course, simply displaying a number on a screen may not be enough for the educated consumer. An explanation of TDS should always be offered. However, it’s probably not necessary to explain that “Total Dissolved Solids” is actually a misnomer. As we know, TDS is a sales term based on conductivity. Readings can vary greatly depending upon the type of calibration solution used for the meter. And in addition to low-conductivity dissolved solids, there may also be undissolved solids in the water that a TDS meter does not record. More accurate terminology would be “Total Charged Ions,” for that’s what TDS and conductivity meters really test. But as previously mentioned, it’s typically not necessary to explain that. Why? Because a difference of 1 or 10 ppm means nothing to the vast majority of consumers. What’s important is an explanation of ranges.

Informing a water drinker that the EPA’s maximum contamination level is 500 ppm and ideal drinking water should be under 50 ppm works wonders when the tap water reads 402. A TDS meter is the quickest, easiest and most effective way to achieve that level of understanding.

Okay, so you want a TDS meter. But a quick web search yields over ten different varieties made by at least five different companies. Some meters are pocket-sized and can be dipped in a water sample; others are larger but include a built-in cup. Then there are styles that have probes at the end of cables. Add to that a difference in ranges, accuracy, batteries, durability, warranty and price and it’ll make your head spin—something a soldier simply can’t have before heading to the battlefield.

When selecting the TDS meter that is best for you, the following characteristics should be taken into account:
Size—Does size matter to you? If so, for the soldier salesman, smaller and lighter is better. The lightest TDS meter on the market weighs in at just 1.13 oz (32 grams). It can easily fit in your pocket, even if you prefer skin-tight camouflage pants. But size has its limitations too. Many smaller meters also have smaller screens and buttons. If you prefer to carry all your tools in a case, a larger meter may be the choice for you.

Range—The majority of TDS meters on the market measure from 0-1,999 parts per million. Others go all the way up to 10,000 or beyond. Then there are higher-end units that measure to the tenth of a ppm or in parts per thousand (ppt). Some companies manufacture a variety of meters, each with its own specific range. Which is right for you? It depends on what you’re measuring. The average home in the United States has tap water that won’t exceed 1,000 ppm. What’s essential for any meter, regardless of the range, is that it must be calibrated as closely to the water being measured as you can estimate.

Accuracy—Accuracy speaks for itself. The soldier salesman demands perfection, but TDS is not an exact science. Therefore, the question becomes: What level of inaccuracy is acceptable? Is it worth spending $200 more on a meter for one more percent of accuracy? Again, it depends on what you’re testing. If it’s water in a semiconductor lab, then yes. If it’s water from a faucet, probably not. Typically, an accuracy of ± 2 percent of each scale is acceptable.

Batteries—It doesn’t take a four-star general to figure out that power consumption could quickly equal the cost of the meter itself. What to look for? Fewer batteries with a more efficient microprocessor. This will save you not only money, but also countless headaches as nothing is more embarrassing to a salesperson than an instrument that won’t even turn on.

Ease-Of-Use—The majority of handheld meters have a single on/off switch, which couldn’t be easier to use. But how big is the screen? Does the meter have a ‘hold’ button that saves the reading, allowing you to take it out of the glass and display it to your customer? Or do you need to hold the button while she cranes her neck to read the screen. These are important things to consider.

Calibration—Though calibration can fall into the ease-of-use category, the importance of it demands special attention. Many meters require calibration, which makes it more accurate, but is a time-consuming process, especially if it needs to be re-calibrated often. Many other meters come factory-calibrated and are considerably easier to use, but can be inaccurate if testing water that is far off from what the meter was originally calibrated to (a further explanation of this would require an entire article). Ideally, you want a meter that comes factory-calibrated, but can be easily re-calibrated.

Durability—High-density plastic. Solid parts and workmanship. Shock-proof. Waterproof? Only if you have butterfingers and don’t mind forking over the extra cash.

Warranty—Something not to be overlooked. The warranty speaks to the durability of the product, as typically the longer the warranty, the more a company stands by its product lasting through years in the field.

Cost—Ah, the bottom line. With price ranges almost as great as TDS ranges, the question of cost looms large. The answer once again depends on usage and application. If accuracy down to a tenth of a ppm is necessary, then it’s probably worth spending a few hundred dollars. If measuring tap water and comparing TDS levels within ranges, a reasonable cost for a reliable meter should be under fifty dollars.

In the modern age of sales warfare, information and instruments could not be more important to the water industry professional. So when seeking victory on the battlefield of sales, the great strategist knows he will close a deal when armed with the right knowledge and weapons. Surely Sun Tzu would agree.

About the author
Rob Samborn is director of sales & marketing for HM Digital, Inc., located in Los Angeles. He is a seasoned salesman and avid water drinker. He can be reached at


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