Those of you tasked with selling fire detection and security systems for your company (and we are all in sales in one form or another) look for ways to set your company apart from the competition; most companies try to promote their strengths and benefits to an owner. For example, “We use only the best equipment” or “We are authorized dealers” or “We are factory trained.”

However, your competition uses the same arguments. If you follow the same tactics, you will ensure a position in a commodity-based market and simply be an order-taker—and then only when your price is the lowest. So how do you set your company apart?

The first step is to change your approach when dealing with building owners. Typically, once a project is completed, you wait for the next project without any thought given to the long-term use and implementation of the systems you have sold and installed in the most recently completed one. Or, you move on to the next project without developing a relationship with the owner of the building you just finished. As a professional, you need to understand the owner’s needs. Their fear is that a safety system, such as a fire alarm or security system, will fail when they need it the most.

After your systems have been in place for a few months, call the owner to find out if everything is operating to their satisfaction. For the most part, you will find the owner seems satisfied with the initial installation. But be prepared to immediately repair something that is not working properly.

The next phase of the conversation should be to discuss the owner’s expectations for ongoing systems reliability and what the effects would be if the system suddenly failed. Armed with that information, you can present the maintenance and testing requirements of the National Fire Alarm Code (NFPA 72-2007) and the Standard for the Installation of Electronic Premises Security Systems (NFPA 731-2006) as a prelude to discussing these systems operational reliability. Of course, knowing the codes and standards is a prerequisite for being able to provide the owner with the correct minimum requirements.

Testing and maintenance

Most owners assume the electronic systems that have been installed in their buildings have a certain life cycle. These same owners also may assume these systems can operate for years without attention. You already know from experience this is an incorrect assumption; therefore, you need to point out how an effective test and maintenance program will serve to enhance the life cycle of the installed equipment and increase its operational reliability.

You can include in your offering a review of the as-built drawings and the actual equipment installation with the additional offer of maintaining copies of the documentation at your facility in the event of a catastrophic incident in the building.

Another option is an audit of the system now that the owner has moved into the building (possibly making changes that would warrant additional equipment) to ensure the systems as installed will continue to meet the owner’s needs. It may be the original system designs, although code-compliant when installed, are lacking now due to the owner’s operations or changes to the interior layout. Additionally, you can offer to update the drawings to record these changes.

Once you capture the appropriate information on the systems and what the owner expects in terms of operational reliability, you can develop a fact-based reliability model of these safety systems.

Of course, with all of the above being said, the owner may not recognize that when his or her security system fails, it leaves them vulnerable to burglary attempts. Or, if the fire alarm system is not working, he or she may be open to a citation from the fire official and may be in danger of a building closure depending on the gravity of the situation.

Your job is to convince the owner you are a problem solver. If something happens, your company will respond immediately, and you will interface with the fire official to ensure the authority understands the system impairment will be temporary at best.

If you promote your company as a problem solver, other building owners will call you when their systems fail. Preparing to become a problem solver takes commitment and training, but by making this commitment, the professional contractor will be able to ensure his place above the competition and will not be treated as a commodity price-based operation. 

MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a co-editor of the current National Fire Alarm Code Handbook. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office.