Are You an Electrical Contractor or a Consultant?

I’m pretty sure that, when you read the question above you answered, "electrical contractor!" After all, this magazine is all about the electrical contractor and the electrical contracting industry. What you may not realize is that the most successful electrical contractors are successful because they have learned how to perform consultative selling. You may be wondering why that type of selling is better than telling your prospective client that you will “just meet Code.” Maybe in your mind, the client called you for a fire alarm system quote, and that is what you provided.

Although the economy seems to be in an upward turn and there is a fair amount of work to bid on, the client who sees you as a trusted advisor will continue to use your services even during a poor economy.

The question in the title above regarding being a consultant is a little misleading, but what I want to emphasize is consultative selling. Many who are providing fire alarm systems today seem to have forgotten how to sell fire alarm systems. Most salespersons seem to be nothing more than order takers. Order takers use the “just meet Code” selling approach.

Consultative salespersons keep asking questions and listening to the client. Anyone can bid on a “Code-compliant” fire alarm system (whatever that is), but there are at least two things wrong with that approach:

  1. NFPA 72 is an installation code, so you have no choice but to install the fire alarm system in accordance with NFPA 72
  2. By selling to the Code, you limit every sale to the list of requirements of the building or fire code, therefore limiting the equipment sold.

With consultative selling, you can ask simple questions to guide the client toward a more operationally efficient fire alarm system that will meet your client’s fire protection needs. For example, ask questions like, “Do you intend for this fire alarm system to provide life safety for the occupants, or is the fire alarm system for property protection?” or, “What are your expectations of the fire alarm system?”

You would be surprised how many people think one smoke detector in the hallway of an office building will detect smoke from a small fire in an office. Your job as a consultative salesperson is to ensure your prospective client knows the protection limitations of a “Code-compliant” fire alarm system. Once they know how little protection is provided, you have the chance to sell more detection equipment or possibly upgrade to an emergency voice alarm communications system (EVACS). In fact, there is always the opportunity to sell the client a mass notification system (MNS), even though the codes do not require them to install an MNS.

The key is to ask the client what their fire protection goals are. That one question will lead to larger fire alarm systems sales.

So are you simply an electrical contractor or a consultant? I hope you are convinced that being a consultant and sharing your knowledge is the answer.

About the Author

Wayne D. Moore

Fire/Life Safety Columnist

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

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