When selling any type of electrical system, including fire and life safety systems, you can get caught up in a sales dilemma: you need the work, but you feel you must reduce your prices to get it. This is partially due to the economy, where your competitors are all chasing after the same projects that you intend to bid.

In addition to economic factors, I believe many in the business of selling fire alarm and life safety systems have simply forgotten how to sell. Because you have heard some property owners insist, “Just meet code,” you may believe all owners feel the same way.

Consider that analyzing what an owner really needs and providing a fire alarm system to meet those site--specific needs offers you a dynamic selling opportunity. You can create a unique selling climate by emphasizing a value-added approach tailored to each of your potential customers.

Readers may feel that I am too harsh. We all face tough economic times. New construction has fallen to an all-time low. As a result, you have less opportunity to sell, but don’t forget that you are in the life safety business. You sell some of the most essential equipment that a customer could possibly need.

When was the last time you asked a customer what fire protection goals he or she had determined for his or her property? Of course, in conducting this customer interview, you need to know what questions to ask. Which of the five primary goals most concerns your customer? Is it life safety, property protection, mission continuity, heritage preservation, or environmental protection?

Now, most customers will immediately latch on to either life safety or property protection. Here’s where your enhanced selling skills come into play. Explore with the customer the nuances of “mission continuity.” Does whatever this facility has as a product need to continue, no matter what? Does the product from this facility feed into other facilities so that the loss of this facility would cripple the production at other locations? Will those who purchase this particular product or service seek that product or service from a competitor if they cannot get it from this facility?

What about heritage preservation? Does this facility have business records or critical manufacturing components, such as patterns or tools and dies that must remain intact in order to meet repeat customer orders? Does it have some inherent historical value that the owner must preserve?

What size fire can be tolerated at the facility? How big an area of a facility can an owner stand to lose? What critical processes does the owner need to protect in order to maintain as quick a restoration as possible following a fire?

I know some owners will say, “I have insurance for that.” Don’t let it stop you from mentioning that insurance won’t replace his or her customers who will go elsewhere while the owner rebuilds. Many companies go out of business after a fire for just such a reason. Dig deeper and listen to what the owner expresses as real needs that go well beyond the request for code compliance.

You can help solve a customer’s false alarm problem or replace his or her outdated equipment, but you can’t sell that equipment or solve the customer’s problem if you do not know your customer.

You see, with skillful selling techniques and a solid knowledge or the underlying philosophy of fire protection, you can provide a valuable service for your customers by guiding them to consider more more goals than the seemingly readily apparent ones. If you develop ongoing problem-solving relationships with your customers and understand their needs, you will become the person they call when they have any fire alarm system issue.

Harvey MacKay, author of The New York Times’ No. 1 bestseller, “Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive,” also writes a syndicated business column. He has written many times about the “Mackay 66,” a 66-question customer profile that he developed as a young salesman.

As he states in a recent article, the profile has no information about the product a customer buys (in his case, envelopes), but concentrates on the person who does the buying. The profile focuses on what they are like as human beings, what they are proud of accomplishing, and what their life is like outside the office. In other words, what makes them tick? You could also ask, “What are your life safety needs?”
As MacKay writes, “In tough times, having an established relationship with a person often determines the outcome of the sales call.”

I also recommend that you stop using “the code mandates” as an excuse to limit your sales and your service to your customer. Understand your customers’ life safety needs and know your products better than anyone else. Offer solutions to the customers’ problems beyond the simple fact of meeting a code requirement. Not only will you have more, and more satisfied, customers, you will feel better as a life safety sales professional.


MOORE, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and an expert in the life safety field, is a past chair of the NFPA 72 Technical Correlating Committee. Moore is a principal with Hughes Associates Inc. at the Warwick, R.I., office. He can be reached at wmoore@haifire.com.