By Thomas Cooksey

Recruiting, interviewing, hiring and training in-home residential salespeople in the water treatment industry is an activity filled with risk. Some of the risk can be mitigated through sound selection and on-boarding practices. The foundation for these practices is to always be recruiting and to have a stack of candidates to call when you have an opening. Another vital component is the in-home demonstration before hiring for the candidate and their spouse. In this way, you allow your potential salesperson to know and understand what they will be doing before either one of you says yes to your opportunity.

Formal training will cascade down from the reactions the couple has from the demonstration; for example: “Joe, don’t you remember how Mary reacted when we washed her hands in soft water?” Most importantly, however, is that you get to meet the sales manager with whom your new salesperson lives. In my experience, behind every great salesperson is a great life partner supporting their success through the ups and downs of a career in sales. Because salespeople swim in a sea of rejection, it’s important to understand the attitudes at home where they refuel at the end of the day and what grade of octane is being put in their tank.

After training comes the launch. Immediately following training, the salesperson should do 10 warm-market presentations of their own: friends, relatives and neighbors. This allows the salesperson to practice in a nurturing environment and not on the store’s prospects. Then the GM or the sales manager (preferably not another salesperson) should go on the first 10 appointments with the new salesperson, reviewing what they have learned, helping them with closing, sizing and the paperwork.

“This sounds great. I can see where I have made crucial mistakes in crisis hiring, no pre-hiring demonstration and the launch. So, what can cause my new salesperson to still fail?” The answer is “plenty”, but there are four basic reasons residential salespeople in the field fail.

1. They take shortcuts. That beautifully crafted, one-hour presentation they learned, practiced and launched quickly becomes a thing of the past. Negative influences from other salespeople (who have no vested interest in anyone new being successful), customer reaction or lack of memorization will cause shortcutting. Specifically your salesperson will:

  • Stop asking interview questions to probe previous experience or biases, to uncover competitive in-home or on-line shopping, or plumb the emotional depth of involvement the prospect has with their problem. A new salesperson should know 50 active questions beginning with ‘who, what, when, where, how or why.’
  • Stop justifying the price of treatment through savings from cleaning products, commercial beverages or operating budgets. $60 a month in cleaning product savings, $50 a month in commercial beverage savings and $40 in salt and regeneration water savings gets thrown right out the window. Before you know it, the investment in your equipment is being compared to a big, fat zero.
  • Stop demonstrating and comparing their water with the water your prospect could have in their home. No more ice-cube lick, ice-cube bob or comparisons (TDS, conductivity light, tea, precipitation, handwashing or soap flask). But somehow, they always test the water for hardness. “Looks like it’s 12 grains hard and that’s real hard.”
  • Stop showing the Value Proposition or 3-Way Close. Progressive managers always ask for the closing sheet to see what was presented at the end to thwart this mistake. Salespeople will respect you for what you inspect rather than what you expect.

2. The salesperson starts putting ‘their stuff’ ahead of the prospect’s interests and don’t:

  • Carry a gallon of high-quality water and show the RO on every call.
  • Quote the finance payment. They only show rental and a discounted price for low-end equipment.
  • Show or sell the store’s full-line. If every sale you see is the smallest softener you sell and it’s discounted, you have a huge problem. Your salesperson is not sold on ‘what we do has value.’ New salespeople sell benefits and top-of-the-line, while older salespeople (i.e., six months after training) tend to sell features and as little as they can get away with.
  • Stay positive and introduce new details into the close before a decision is made (usually a negative aspect to having water treatment). For example: “You have to change the filters and that’s $100 and then the membrane will go out and that’s another $200. We deliver salt at $9.95 a bag but it’s cheaper to pick it up at the grocery store. The maintenance plan is another thirty dollars a month…” Stop it! KISS (Keep It Simple, Stupid). “Which one of these two plans makes the most sense to you here tonight?” Write the order then positively dispose of the details after you have a commitment.

3. Poor follow-through. A salesman fails to:

  • Send thank-you cards after every demonstration, whether they close it or not. (I had a Salesperson of the Year who didn’t sell systems, did a lousy demo and couldn’t close.) What he did do was religiously send a thank-you card the night of every presentation and have six builders at his disposal, giving him two extra places to go, week in, week out (see prospecting below).
  • Keep their word and call back on new installations within 30 days to find out where their next appointment is happening. Eighty percent of success is just showing up—go back and find out where you are going next.
  • Follow up on referrals within two days of receiving them. Don’t call when you get a round tuit. Zig Ziglar says call right away.

4. They don’t have enough places to go and depend on the store to provide them with all their leads. They adjust their living standard and your store’s revenue to the house leads they receive. Regarding prospecting programs, in addition to referrals, a salesperson:

  • Needs 5 to stay ALIVE
  • Needs 8 to be GREAT
  • Needs 10 to be TOPS

It should be noted that every appointment an average salesperson adds to their weekly average (1 appointment x 50 weeks = 50 appointments) will equal a $10,000 per year raise. So if a salesperson averaging five house leads a week has prospecting programs that puts him in two more houses every week for a year, he just gave himself a $20,000 bonus.

Now that you understand the reasons for failure, what can you, the manager, do to avoid it? Love your salesperson enough to go out with them regularly in the field and observe them over five calls. Then work with them to fix where they have gone off the reservation and have adopted some lone-wolf habits. If you are a salesperson and no one will go out with you, what can you do? One person I knew in Phoenix, who brought more new dynamic people into the industry than you can shake a stick at, had a basic rule: “If you miss three house leads in a row, you must tape record the fourth, listen to it and self-correct.” Whether it is self-correction or the love of a manager, avoid these reasons for failure at all costs.

About the author
Thomas Cooksey is a graduate of Denison University and a former Peace Corps volunteer to West Africa. He grew up in his family’s Culligan business in Youngstown, OH and has worked in the water treatment industry for 40 years. Cooksey worked for Culligan USA as a field person, store manager and franchise development manager. He was Vice-President of Sales and Marketing for the Bruner Corporation in Milwaukee, WI; held the same position for Clearwater Systems in Akron, OH and was VP/General Manager for Rabb/Kinetico Water in Warsaw, IN. From 2008 to mid-2015, Cooksey was Manager of Residential Products and Training for the Midwest Region for Hall’s Culligan Water, Wichita, KS. He has since retired and is now a consultant to the water treatment industry.



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