By Gary Coon
Sound like a tall order? It isn’t. It’s all about selling the right product at the right price. This is more easily accomplished by providing the proper incentives and employing the right sales technique. The most successful dealers in the country have used this strategy for decades. Here is how to do it.
The Right Product
Because your skin is semipermeable, chemicals can invade your body through your tissues as you bathe. This isn’t earth-shattering news. Many of us have used (or know someone who has used) a skin patch to deliver analgesics, nicotine, Dramamine, etc. What’s more, there are a host of drugs that pregnant women cannot safely handle, and early Spanish sailors suffered heavy metal poisoning from handling quicksilver (mercury). Even sodium hypochlorite (chlorine) that municipalities use to disinfect the water poses a problem, because it is not only absorbed, it volatilizes at room temperature and we inhale it into our lungs as we shower. Because our bodies have to contend with environmental hazards either absorbed or ingested, it is important for water dealers to include in their product mix a whole-house water conditioning system that softens as well as detoxifies the water (I refer to water refined to this extent as totally conditioned). This is readily accomplished either by acquiring a hybrid system that contains resin and carbon in the main conditioning tank, assembling such, or by simply offering a taste and odor filter (a tank full of carbon) along with the water softener.
Adjusting your product mix to include totally conditioned water eliminates large retailers as competitors because their sales associates generally haven’t been adequately trained to sell anything beyond a typical water softener. And once educated, a consumer will choose totally conditioned water over merely softened water every time. As a young salesman, I took hundreds of deals away from competitors who were simply offering water softeners, even though their softeners were priced at one-fifth of what I was asking for a total conditioning system.
The Right Price
If you wanted to sell a water treatment system, how would you price it so no one refused your offer? I‘ve posed this question to every group of potential hires I’ve interviewed. Answers varied, but eventually someone would shout out the word Free. That is to say, if I gave it to you, would you take it? In reality, nothing that you pay for is free, but when properly marketed, a water treatment system can appear to reward the customer with an immediate 100-percent return on his or her investment, along with years of continued savings. And the easiest way to move this perception from the abstract to the concrete is to include a soap package with your treatment system.
When I began in the business in 1983, an average family of four spent between $60 to $80 (USD) a month on soaps and cleaners. That’s about 15 to 20 percent of a $400 monthly grocery bill. Then, like now, there were numerous companies that manufactured biodegradable soap products formulated for people who have soft water. And for between $150 and $200 (prices are a bit higher today) these companies would put together enough laundry, dish and bar soap, household cleaner and shampoo to last an average family of four about four years. At $60 per month, a four-year soap package is worth $2,880 to a consumer.
If you had priced your system at or below $2,880, it’s easy to see how a salesman could make the case that investing in a water treatment system that includes all the soaps and cleaners needed to clean oneself and one’s home for four years makes more financial sense than wasting money on products that don’t work well in hard water. And when properly presented, this is an enticing offer that’s hard to resist, especially if the offer accompanies financing with a monthly payment that approaches the buyer’s total monthly expenditure on soap, wasted energy, bottled water, etc. (For this to be effective, your prospects need to be made aware of these costs during your presentation).
The reason this works so well has to do with the nature of incentives and how they impact buying behavior. If you give someone a reason to buy your product, you have a 50 percent chance of making the sale. If you give someone an excuse…still 50 percent. But give them a reason and an excuse—well, your chances are not 100 percent, but they are decidedly better than 50 percent. The collective benefits of clean water make up an irrefutable reason and a few thousand dollars worth of soap products is a world class excuse. After all, if you have to buy soap anyway, why not get clean water as a freebie?
For an incentive to work, however, it has to have an expiration date. In the water treatment business, the soap offer needs to expire once the salesman leaves the home, i.e. the dreaded one-time offer. Here’s how to make soap a one-time offer backed by solid economics.
“Bob, Mary, I realize that you’ve given some consideration to the condition your water is in, or I wouldn’t be here this evening. Before tonight, however, you may or may not have given any serious consideration to taking care of this problem. So, until inflation causes us to raise our price, you can get clean water tonight for $2,880, or six months from now; it doesn’t make a difference. But, our marketing department realizes that time is money, and it costs a certain amount of money to send me around like this. Now, I see about six people during the week and two on the weekends for a total of eight people. And 80 percent of the people I talk to invest in clean water for what I think are some fairly obvious reasons. If I had to return to everyone’s home two or three times to provide them with clean water, it would cut our business volume in half. So, for that reason, if you are really concerned about the condition of your water, you would like to do something about it, and you would be willing to accept our offer this evening, for saving us the time and money, we will do the same for you in an enormous way. In that event, we will give you absolutely free, a 100- percent biodegradable, pure soap package that’s estimated to last a family of four for four years! (Sell the soap package as though it were the winning lottery numbers).
All of the companies that provide four-year soap packages have presentation brochures and product sample kits that make selling their products a breeze. What’s more, a soap program not only makes closing easier, it makes recruiting salespeople easier as well. Representing a product that everyone needs and pays for itself is every salesperson’s dream. As a sales manager, I had considerable success luring top-shelf sales talent (even from Fortune 500 companies) to sign on as an in-home water treatment sales specialist.
Okay, you’ve made the sale, now what? It’s time to post close. My very first month in the water treatment industry, I wrote 22 deals, but 11 of them resulted in cancellations. I went to my sales manager and said, “What gives?” He looked at me and said, “Are you post closing?” I replied, “Post what-ing?” Post closing is the cure for cancellations. It’s all about what questions you ask your newly minted customers before leaving their home with paperwork. There are five steps to post closing, four of which are questions.
- What did you invest in this evening?
Should the answer be “a water softener,” you need to revisit the difference between soft and totally conditioned water. It’s critical to your sale that they fully understand the distinction. I’ve found it useful to point out that merely buying a water softener amounts to little more than filling a doctor’s prescription for a drug that only treats a few of your symptoms, and leaves you permanently sick. Remember, any large retailer can sell your customer a water softener. Don’t compete with them; make them compete with you. I assure you they are ill equipped to do so.
- What are you looking forward to the most about having conditioned water in your home?
The answer reveals their hot buttons. Should they sum up every benefit you unearthed during your sink demonstration, you’re good to go. If their response is something like, “I’m looking forward to spotless dishes,” and that’s all, it’s time to revisit the many benefits they are going to experience from having conditioned water in their home. If you don’t do this, your customer may wake up the following morning with the sinking feeling that they just spent thousands of dollars on a spot remover—never a good thing.
- How much is clean water costing you?
If you hear, “Nothing, it pays for itself,” your sale is solid. If they merely recite back to you the purchase price, they haven’t internalized the savings. You need to reexamine the difference between price and cost. Price is a one-time thing; cost is ongoing. Take time to reinforce the distinction.
- Have you ever bought anything from Sears? (the Sears Comparison)
Here is where you take the large retailers to the woodshed. This works most effectively if you are selling a total water conditioning system that detoxifies, clarifies (filters out debris at least larger than 50 microns), softens the water, and includes an RO drinking water system installed under the sink. It also helps if your product has a hefty warranty. The Sears comparison begins by hauling out a copy of the Sears catalog (you can still order them) and asking, “Have you ever bought anything from Sears?” (And who hasn’t?) “Let me show you what Sears has to offer (mind you, what I’m about to share with you is mid-to-late 1980s pricing). According to the catalog, the top of the line Sears Kenmore 100 water softener sells for $749. Now, to remove the pebbles and other stuff that routinely clogs your faucet aerators, you will also have to buy their water clarifier. This is because a Sears softener only filters the water down to 100 microns; what’s visible to the naked eye is around 50 microns; our system filters the water down to five (whatever, as long as it is at least 50 microns). Their clarifier will run you an additional $399.99. Should you want the chemicals removed from your water, which is not a bad idea, you are going to need their taste and odor filter. Ka-ching, another $399.99. Tack on a reverse osmosis water system for cooking and drinking water: $399.99. Total it up, and you are looking at $2,049. But wait, there’s more. Sales tax takes it to about $2,172, and installation can run north of $500, bringing your tab to $2672. Last, but not least, should you prefer a three-year comprehensive warranty over a standard warranty, that only covers the brine and conditioning tanks against leaks for three years, you need to cough up another $433 for their extended coverage. The resulting damage, for $3,105, you get a system with a three-year warranty, you don’t get any soap and you’d have a tank farm in your garage.” (So much for the Big Box Stores!)
Now is the time to say, “Mr. and Mrs. Customer, you’ve made a wise decision. Nothing on this planet improves the quality of our lives like clean water does. It pervades every aspect of our living: cooking, drinking, bathing…. And you and your family have just taken the first step into a cleaner, healthier and thriftier world. Congratulations!”
After congratulating them, I frequently turn their purchase into a metaphor for something more. For instance, if they have a young child, I’ve said: “You know, Mr. & Mrs. Customer, by the time your young son (or daughter) is ready to go to college, clean water may have saved you enough money to pay for the first and possibly the second year of his tuition. And the only thing you have to give up to make that happen is this (hold up the precipitation test with all the undissolved rock adrift in the test tube). And that’s not such a terrible sacrifice (dramatic pause) is it?” Suddenly, buying a water conditioner is sending their kid to college. Think they’ll cancel now?
When you post close, you are arming your customer with enough information to protect your sale. Chances are, your customer is going to waltz into work the following morning reveling in his/her latest acquisition, only to have a deal-junkie friend (we all have one) tell him that they could have gotten him a better deal. It often plays out like this: “$2,880, you gotta’ be kiddin’ me. You could have bought one at Sears for only $750!” But because you took the time to post close, your customer can respond, “No, I could have only purchased a water softener from Sears for that price. I wanted more than just soft water for me and my family’ I wanted totally conditioned water. And to get that from Sears, would have set me back over $3,000.” Results: your sale is saved, and the deal junkie slinks quietly into the shadow of the office water cooler. The moral: Always post close, or you are offering the Grim Reaper of Retail a shot at picking his teeth with the skeletal remains of your commission!
Fast forward to 2011. Clearly, any major retailer can cobble together a total water treatment system, but current pricing (including extended warranties, sales tax, and installation) often exceeds $4,500. And as I suggested before, sales clerks are rarely equipped to close a transaction of this magnitude. That’s why many successful dealers who are offering soap packages along with total water conditioning systems are fetching over $6,000 on a one-call close. Granted, soap packages cost a bit more than they did 25 years ago, but the value of the package to the consumer is also greater. Although including a carbon tank and an RO drinking water system along with the water softener will increase your cost of sale, the question to ask yourself as a dealer is this: Is getting $4,500 to $6,000 per sale worth it? Perhaps it merits a look. Good luck, good selling and, above all, have great day.
About the author
Gary Coon, a 16-year veteran of the water conditioning industry, has successfully trained hundreds of water treatment sales professionals. His seminars, ‘What They Mean by What They Say’ and ‘The Theater of Selling Water’ offer instruction in closing methodologies and presentation techniques. Learn more by visiting www.theonecallclose.com