Sell doesnt have to be a four-letter word

ONE OF THE FIRST hard facts that I learned about the plumbing industry when I started covering it 13 years ago is this: Plumbers dont know how to sell. Now, even though that statement may sound as if its an opinion, I call it a hard fact because people used to tell me this with such certainty in their voices. It was never presented to me as somebodys point of view but always as a foregone conclusion.

ONE OF THE FIRST hard facts that I learned about the plumbing industry when I started covering it 13 years ago is this: Plumbers don’t know how to sell.

Now, even though that statement may sound as if it’s an opinion, I call it a “hard fact” because people used to tell me this with such certainty in their voices. It was never presented to me as somebody’s point of view but always as a foregone conclusion.

I should mention that my first job in this industry was as an editor of a magazine read by plumbing wholesalers. So, I would hear about plumbing contractors’ lack of selling, marketing and merchandising skills from wholesalers, manufacturers reps and manufacturers.

What really drove them nuts, however, is the relationship that plumbers have with their customers, especially the access they have to their customers’ homes. Many wholesalers, reps and manufacturers would almost kill for the opportunity to get to speak face to face with a homeowner to sell him (or more likely, her) their most expensive fixtures and faucets. They couldn’t comprehend why plumbers didn’t take advantage of their inherent advantages instead of settling for selling modestly priced “white and chrome” products.

While I still was with the other magazine, I once interviewed a plumbing contractor and asked him about this. He told me that plumbers look at their customers differently than wholesalers, reps and manufacturers do. While the others might view homeowners as targets for that one-time Big Sale, most contractors want a long-term relationship with their customers.

Plumbers enjoy having access into a home, but they want to make sure they’re invited back again. So, more often than not, they may steer customers away from very expensive items if for no other reason than to demonstrate that they have the homeowners’ best interests at heart. It’s more a matter of trust than salesmanship.

Much has changed in the last 13 years, although the “hard fact” about plumbers’ selling skills still is hanging around. Many wholesalers, reps, manufacturers and even a few contractors still cling to this belief, despite evidence to the contrary. Contractors such as Genzink Plumbing in Holland, Mich., demonstrate that building trust and selling high-end products are not mutually exclusive.

Not only does one not contradict the other, but establishing a customer’s trust is the basic tenet of the sales philosophy of Genzink Plumbing and other like-minded contractors. Part of this trust is based on a contractor’s willingness to get to know a customer well; much of the rest comes from the customer’s belief that no one knows more about plumbing than a plumber. That’s a built-in advantage for contractors that retailers, kitchen-and-bath dealers and other competitors do not possess.

As the marketplace has become more competitive, contractors interested in developing their selling skills should take advantage of training offered by manufacturers and their local wholesalers. While some manufacturers and wholesalers may complain about contractors’ ability to merchandize their products, most are more than willing to help out on sales training.

Trade associations and best practices groups are other good educational resources. If you’re happy with your company’s selling proficiency, that’s fine. If not, plenty of help is available.

Another way Genzink Plumbing differentiates itself from its competitors is by offering products or models that are not readily available from retailers and other contractors. Genzink has found that it does not have to be as competitive on price when customers can’t price-shop the same product at local home centers.

Most of you know this, of course, and that’s why many of you have complained over the years about certain plumbing brands being available at retail as well as wholesale. While retail sales of plumbing products are not going away, many contractors can make more of an effort to sell higher-end models and labels not routinely carried by home centers.

Many contractors also can do a better job of selling their installation services and warranties on products that are available elsewhere. Educating consumers on the wisdom of purchasing the whole package — product, installation and warranty — can be a huge learning curve, but it should be a process that’s ultimately rewarding for you and your customers.

And the final sale will depend on your ability at selling, building trust and, most of all, delivering the level of service that most customers desire.