"Everyone lives by selling something."
— Robert Louis Stevenson

Of course no one ever thought of Robert Louis Stevenson as a salesperson but he clearly understood that everyone (even a consultant like me) needs buyers for their "product." Whether you are in pool construction, service or retail, you will undoubtedly see opportunities to profit from selling equipment. Your goal, of course, is not to close a deal but instead to open a relationship. This article discusses a few ways to do that.

Creating a relationship that will result in a pool equipment upgrade usually means overcoming the buyer's roadblocks, of which there may be several. A pool owner's first objection to equipment replacement will be that their existing system seems to be working fine. Don't fix it if it isn't broken, right? Well, just because the equipment seems functional doesn't mean that it is operating efficiently or, more importantly, safely.

The second roadblock is usually the owner's reluctance to spend money. Even if you can convince them that their pool is no longer considered safe, they may choose frugality and justify that decision by saying, "The only thing making this pool less safe than it was five years ago is unnecessary government regulations." We can overcome some of those objections by showing how quickly an upgrade will pay for itself through reduced operating expense.

A third roadblock is often timing. Once a customer commits to upgrading equipment, they may delay the implementation for any number of reasons. This is where I simply explain that all of the benefits are only enjoyed after the upgrade is complete. Whether it's a matter of improving safety, reducing energy or cutting chemical expense, sooner is better.

The last roadblock is trust. Have you established trust with that customer so that he or she will buy from you? Or will they take your great ideas and find someone else to do it? Will they find the parts online and attempt to upgrade themselves? That is the test of the relationship you've built in the time you've been given.

A Graphical Approach

The sales process with equipment upgrades typically starts with a verbal discussion. At a retail store, for example, it might be the pool owner asking about new heaters because theirs isn't working as well anymore. That's the opportunity to ask about pumps, filters, chemical automation, LED lighting, etc.

In the case of a service professional on the job, the discussion might simply begin with a statement such as, "Good afternoon Mrs. Smith. The next time I visit we should have a serious discussion about upgrading that old filter of yours. It's so old and terribly inefficient that a new one will pay for itself in just 18 months!"

Once you have the customer's attention, keep things simple. Verbally listing 20+ reasons why all the various pieces of equipment could be better isn't going to work. The customer won't understand half of it (too technical) and as their attention drifts, they'll start thinking, "This guy is trying hard to sell me something I don't even think I need." Trust is lost and so is the potential customer — maybe forever!

One way to prevent this from happening is to prepare simple images that convey a concept without all of the technical details. These images can be a short presentation of just four or five slides on a tablet, or even printed on paper. If you want it to look like the info was customized for them, print it with their name on it and hand it to them. (Be sure your contact info is all over it, of course.)

For example, if you are trying to explain how much power their current pump uses versus a new variable speed pump operating at low RPM, then perhaps create a simple bar chart where 50 watt light bulbs are stacked to represent the power requirement. Customers generally don't know what kilowatts and watt-hours are but probably have a good understanding of the power requirements for lighting. Seeing it graphically will put it in perspective.

Graphical Opportunities

In many cases, the customer might only need a single piece of equipment replaced. In those cases, it won't make sense to present data that is only valid if multiple pieces of equipment are replaced. It is also easier to sell a single component at a smaller cost than to jump right in with a big number to replace everything. For these reasons, I would focus my equipment-upgrade sales tools on one component at a time.

If a customer needs a new pump and heater, for example, don't confuse them by talking about both simultaneously. Focus on the pump first. After showing them a couple of charts, try to close with something like, "Would you like to get this ordered today so you can begin enjoying these benefits as soon as possible?" Once they commit one way or another, then address the heater. "Now that the pump issue has been addressed, let's focus on the heater. I think you will be impressed with the new technology…"

Reasons to Pop

Let's list some of the most common reasons for equipment upgrades:

  • Failure or impending failure: Nothing lasts forever. Most pool owners recognize that.
  • Money savings: The amount of savings in an equipment upgrade is usually far above what pool owners expect.
  • Energy reduction: Forty-two states have adopted some form of energy code at the state level.
  • Improved safety: The VGBA has driven upgrades at the suction outlets and in some cases compliance may require changes at the pump including installation of SVRS devices or SVRS-protected pumps.
  • Reduced vibration and noise: Slow the pump down and everything gets quieter.
  • Reduced maintenance and repairs: New equipment may obviate or simplify service tech work.

Now let's examine those reasons on a product-by-product basis:

  • Pumps: Whether you're in the backyard or in a retail store, you should always focus on encouraging customers to upgrade their fixed-speed pumps to variable-speed pumps. (I'm not even considering two-speed pumps as a replacement. Variable speed technology provides more flexibility and the ability to reduce operating expense even further.)
  • Filters: Diatomaceous earth discharge rules have changed in many areas. Maybe the infrastructure (separator tanks, sewer connection, etc.) just isn't set up to handle D.E. per code any longer. Cartridge filters also have lower head loss than D.E. filters, providing a reduction in energy consumption.
  • Heaters: Today's heaters have higher efficiency and lower harmful emissions, making them an ideal upgrade for a green customer.
  • Chemical automation: Automation offers increased safety, reduced chemical use and healthier water.
  • Pool control systems: These systems offer wireless and wired options; a far cry from the mechanical time clock and valves some pool owners have.
  • Ozone systems and U.V. sterilization: Both offer reduced chlorine/acid consumption.
  • Solar: Captures the free energy from the sun.
  • Automatic safety covers: In many cases, they can be added to existing pools for safety, heat retention and reduced evaporative loss.
  • Automatic fill devices: There are still pools being filled manually with a hose!
  • Lights: LED offers longer life and reduced energy expense.

Before you try to get a customer to upgrade their equipment, spend a little time researching your local power company and state energy commission for potential rebate programs. They come and go depending on the funding, but you should know exactly how your customers can take advantage of rebates — and rebates can be very alluring to customers considering an upgrade.

In addition, it's helpful to become familiar with the energy savings tools available online. The big three manufacturers all have calculators that compare existing energy consumption with future consumption if a variable speed pump is used. These energy studies assume certain performance characteristics based on expected average plumbing configurations, but they are accurate enough for justifying equipment upgrades.

Removing Roadblocks

Your sales process should focus on a long-term strategy of creating relationships instead of simply trying to get the quick sale. By keeping things simple, you will overcome objections and build trust.

Once you quickly get through the basics, ask the customer if they have any more questions or if they would like more details. You certainly don't want to start with the minutiae, but occasionally a sophisticated customer might want a bit of that. Try to avoid the confusing discussion about total dynamic head, system curves, etc. It is important for you to understand it but probably not necessary for you to explain it.

Depending on the type of equipment being replaced, it might be the case that certain warranties are only valid if an authorized installer does the work. There may be contractor licenses or electrical codes requiring specific certifications for the installer. Certainly issues such as programming and calibration should only be done by someone specially trained for the task.

These are all things that builders, service professionals and retailers can do that are not available from an Internet purchase. Keep that in mind when developing the sales strategy and documents to support the sale. Your last slide or sheet of paper should simply list a few key bullets that separate you from others:

  • We are an authorized dealer.
  • We will install, test and calibrate the equipment.
  • We are local and capable of quickly handling any warranty service items.

And when you inevitably get a "no", don't think of it as a waste of time. Even if you pitch and upgrade and they don't buy immediately, at least they know who to contact when the time is right for them.

 

Symbols Communicate

If you are going to relate things to power consumption, use a symbol such as a light bulb and make the units of measure actually mean something. For example, 1 bulb = 50 watts. If you are comparing money savings, use currency as the icon. Everyone understands that the short stack of bills is worth less than the tall stack of bills (assuming the denomination is the same).

It is important to think about the context in which the graphic is being used as well. If we are trying to reduce operating expenses, then fewer light bulbs is more desirable than more light bulbs. On the other hand, people would rather have a larger stack of money than a shorter stack — in that case, use language like "more money in your pocket if you replace your [equipment type]" to get that message across.

 

David Peterson, P.E., SWD, is president of Watershape Consulting, a pool design firm in San Diego. He obtained his B.S. in Civil Engineering at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and is a licensed engineer in several states. A 20-year veteran of the industry, Peterson is a Platinum Member of Genesis, where he is chairman of education.

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail editors@aquamagazine.com.