Are You a Salesman or an Adviser? Helping Customers Understand Their Needs

0819 Fire/Life Safety

If I have learned one thing by working directly with owners, it is that they don’t know what they don’t know. It is important, therefore, to analyze what an owner really needs and provide a fire alarm system to meet those site-specific needs. This offers you a unique and dynamic selling opportunity.

Now, most owners will latch on to wanting either life safety or property protection provided for their facilities and to “just meet code.” Both are important, but you can create a totally different selling climate by emphasizing a value-added approach tailored to each potential customer. Here’s where your enhanced selling skills come into play.

Explore with the owner the nuances of mission continuity. For example, you should ask the following questions:

  • Does production at this facility need to continue no matter what?
  • Does the product from this facility feed into other facilities such that the loss of this facility will cripple the production at other locations?
  • Do those who purchase this facility’s product or service have to have it or else they will seek it out from a competitor?
  • Does this facility have business records or critical manufacturing components, such as patterns or tools and dies that must remain intact to meet repeat customer orders?
  • Does this facility have some inherent historical value that the owner must preserve?
  • What size fire can they tolerate at their facility?
  • What critical processes does the owner need to protect to maintain as quick a restoration as possible following a fire?

The one question I always save for last is, “What do you want left after the fire?” This question makes the owner think more intensely about the previous seven questions.

Some owners will respond, “I have insurance for those issues.” But don’t let that stop you from mentioning that insurance won’t replace their customers who will go elsewhere while the they rebuild. In fact, many companies go out of business after a fire for just such a reason.

It is important to dig deeper and listen to what the owner expresses as real needs that go beyond the request for code compliance. With skillful selling techniques and a solid knowledge of the underlying philosophy of fire protection, you can provide a valuable service for your customers by guiding them to consider more than the goals that might seem obvious.

Quoting Harvey MacKay, author of “ Swim With the Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive ,” “Position yourself as a consultant. The mark of a good salesperson is that his customer doesn’t regard him as a salesperson at all, but a trusted and indispensable adviser.”

Stop using the code mandates as an excuse to limit sales and service to your customer. If you develop ongoing relationships with your customers as a problem solver, and understand their needs, you will become the person they call when they have any fire alarm system issue.

What does the electrical engineer look for? For starters, a typical engineer is not well-versed in NFPA 72, National Fire Alarm and Signaling Code requirements. They also will only want to have a system that meets minimum code requirements, and they will not ask the owner the questions suggested above because they assume the owner only cares about cost.

If you plan on working with engineers, you need to set yourself apart from the competition. How? First, know the codes and standards that apply to the project. Second, understand fire alarm system applications. You need to advise the engineer if you identify any issues of improper applications.

Another way to set yourself apart from the competition when dealing with engineers is to provide quality shop drawings, submittals and a comprehensive operational narrative. Engineers also appreciate your meeting the deadlines that the owner requests and being ready for the acceptance test when the authority having jurisdiction (AHJ) shows up. Ultimately, both the owner and engineer will appreciate you using your leverage with the AHJ and knowing the local requirements of the local jurisdiction. There are always traps that will appear, such as the AHJ’s interpretation of the codes or local ordinances that will surprise both the engineer and the owner.

If you constantly manage to avoid these surprises, your worth increases to both the owner and the engineer. Ultimately, you want to be the liaison between the owner, engineer and the AHJ so that your fire alarm system installations are always approved after the first acceptance test. Not only will you have more, and more satisfied, owners and engineers who want your services, you will feel better as a life safety professional and continue to grow your business and bottom line.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

Wayne D. Moore, a licensed fire protection engineer, frequent speaker and expert in the life safety field, is a principal member and past chair of NFPA 72, Chapter 24. He is a vice president with Jensen Hughes at the Warwick, R.I., office and can be...

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