Sales & Marketing: Educating the Buyer

Water Quality Products Magazine – Feb 2016

Marketing to stubborn buyers requires a dedicated approach…

  • “My water is perfect; I have a well.”
  • “I live near one of the freshest reservoirs in the state—why would I pay to install a water softener or filter?”
  • “I’ve read that I need those minerals in my water to survive, so why would I deliberately remove them?”

Do these statements sound familiar? My clients tell me these are just a few of the objections they must overcome regularly when selling water treatment systems. The longer I work in this industry, the more I learn about the science of water—which makes sense to me now—but I realize it can be challenging to change the perceptions of potential customers who are, for lack of a better term, stubborn.

Finding these potential customers is the easy part. Any data expert can help you locate untapped sales. The hard part is communicating in a clever, well-packaged marketing campaign and then converting potential customers to that sought-after sale.

Only after two years of working in this industry did I add a water softener and reverse osmosis (RO) system to my own home. Remember that time frame as you read the rest of this article. The trick is to help people unlearn what they have learned through a patient and dedicated educational marketing approach.

The Hard Sell

With water systems, we as an industry do not have the luxury of selling a “sexy” product. We are not selling a Caribbean vacation, a gym membership, a diamond ring or even a can of diet soda. Your customers will convince themselves they need special detergents with enzymes or a high-end dishwasher, or that the appliance they bought is a piece of garbage. They will clean faucets with special products and vinegar and tell you how well it works until the scale comes back. I am happy to say that now that we have a water softener, we no longer have to clean scale from our faucets, toilets and shower doors—and my dogs cannot get enough RO water.

In my case, it was an easier sell. I have city water. We do have a large reservoir near our home, and the creek that feeds our municipal water system starts in Canada and flows down through the Pocono Mountains, into Perkiomen Creek and eventually to my home. It seems like that water should be clean, for the most part, after it leaves the municipal treatment facility. However, water does not always arrive at the tap contaminant free. My first water industry client once asked me, “If I put a noodle in the water at the municipal plant, let it travel through the city pipe and then come out of your tap, would you eat it?” I was sold—that client installed my water softener and RO system.

Marketing on Education

Last winter, which was particularly icy, we had a problem in the Philadelphia Main Line, an upscale area of our region. Residents were complaining to the municipal authority that the tap water tasted salty. Seeing this as an opportunity to educate an entire region of potential customers, we immediately booked one of our Philadelphia-area clients (who we knew could adequately service that market size) on the most-watched local morning news show in greater Philadelphia. He explained how salt runoff was not filtered out of the tap water by the municipal treatment facilities. The anchors of the news show were stunned. He also educated them on the fact that prescription and over-the-counter medications, plus a number of other elements, also were not filtered.

This is an example of how even educated Americans can be surprised to find out that the municipal water authority cannot possibly filter everything. When marketing to your clientele, you must educate them about what is in the water and what is not. At the very least, explain why you can and will “fix” their water to make it safer and cleaner. Sales and offers are important, but your customer needs to rely on your credibility to change his or her perception before responding to your marketing efforts, sale or no sale. The catch: It takes time, repeat effort and dedication to the sale.

Well Water Challenges

Well water prospects are more complicated. Now you are not only battling the perception that a private well must be 99.99% pure, but that it is part of hearth and home.

Here is a great personal example: My brother has nearly the same dishwasher as me. To be fair, his is a bit older, but both are the same reputable brand and high-end model, and have quiet stainless steel inside and out. We both live in areas of the Northeast where limescale and minerals are prevalent. He has well water with no softener. I have city water with a softener.

He noticed my dishwasher soon after we bought it and informed me how badly it would wear and fall apart over time. At his home, the same unit looks as if it was sandblasted. Plastics, drains, wheels and even mechanical parts are disintegrating. He has replaced parts over and over. He says glasses are only spotless if the dishwasher is run right. “It’s your water,” I explained. “No,” he said, “I just need better detergent with enzymes. Plus, this thing’s a lemon.“

“No,” I insisted. It is your water. You are sandblasting it with minerals. Soften your water. Imagine what it is doing to your body and your appliances. “We need those minerals to survive,” he said. Of course you do. But you will not stop getting them in your overall diet by softening your water. My brother is well educated, affluent and a smart buyer. But convincing him to make a change will take time, effort and dedication. A single mailing, ad or TV spot will not do it.

Choose Your Battles

Marketing to and educating him and his neighbors is the only way to convince him. Seeing scientific information or having a neighbor who has a water system tell him what a difference it has made for his appliances are the only solutions. It goes back to a question I ask often: What is one customer worth over a lifetime relationship? If it is less than the time and expense to sell in his or her market, then perhaps you are not targeting the best market.

I do have clients who have consciously decided not to market to certain markets. A client in Illinois has sworn off a rural community near Lake Michigan. The effort and investment has not paid off to convince the prospects that their perceived prehistoric glacier water contains scale, minerals and other contaminants—and that they need water conditioning systems.

To sum it up, look at your market value. Once you begin to crack it, you will have more word-of-mouth supplemental marketing to help you consistently communicate with credibility and trust. But, in order to crack it, dedicate yourself to long-term marketing education and investment into success.

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