Among other things, members of the group learned the truth about there being strength in numbers.
“We are facing a lot,” said Sarah Clark, meeting attendee and employee at commercial HVAC contractor AirTight. The company specializes in mission critical and data center applications. “We have to show customers how going with us is more valuable. We have a lot of things to offer our customers, and that’s what makes people OK with our price,” she said.
A GOOD MIXThere is a broad range of experience to draw from at these meetings, she continued. “Some people there have been around longer and others have been around less time than me. It’s a great mentoring tool.”
“We had a good mix of seasoned vets and new people,” said Woody Woodall of W.E. Bowers, who also was one of the presenters. “One of the new things that the group does, we pass out cards that ask ‘one burning question,’ specific things that they’re looking for. Some were newer questions; others were geared toward seasoned people.
“One of the things that came out more than anything is that it’s not what you do every day for everybody” that makes your business stand out; it’s what you do that goes above and beyond. “If there’s been a fair partnership with your customer, you don’t mind extending yourself a little bit.”
The interactive, three-day class provided takeaways, tips, and strategies for everyone in the sales organization. “A lot of our members are feeling the effects of this economic climate,” said Julie Bishop, Unified Group executive director. “This forum is a great opportunity for them to network with the best minds in the industry, to find out what they are doing to bring new sales to their organizations.”
General session topics included marketing LEED and green to your customers, the process of selling, prospecting and tracking tools, and networking and building relationships. Breakout sessions dug deeper into topics such as instilling value in a price-driven market, sales management and coaching, selling energy conservation measures, and prospecting and cold calling.
VERIFICATION AND VALUESClark said she got a lot of benefit from sessions on verification calls and the selling process. “It’s essentially an informal meeting before you give the signup proposal to the customer, to make sure you’re on the same page and they know what you have to offer.” It also gives the contractor a chance to address any last questions that might still be on the table, and “to get them to verbally agree that they will be going with you,” Clark said.
“In sales, it’s my job to educate the customer and show them what the right option might be,” she said. Regarding whether to make verification calls face-to-face or over the phone - “If it was a relatively new customer, I might want it to be face-to-face,” she said. “If it’s somebody I knew a long time, we could do it on the phone.
“From a sales point of view, it gives you the chance to ask the harder questions,” Clark said. “It gives you more of a comfort level and helps you be able to ask the questions where you know you can provide the best opportunity.”
The value proposition is where contractors really get to the heart of what they do that sets them apart from their competitors, which is what their clients (and potential clients) need to know.
“A lot of discussion revolved around low-cost competitors, and them either not performing the maintenance or sending out poor technicians to do it,” said Jim Bartolotta, managing partner of the Unified Group. “There are effects on lifecycle costing. How do we communicate that message that they should spend a little bit more on maintenance?
“We broke our group into teams and did role playing,” Bartolotta said. “We went through the verification, getting information and getting buy-in from that client. We made a competition out of it. It’s not just for the people on the fence, but digging deeper for things they don’t know about,” like the effects of coil cleanliness. “It shows more of a level of caring that most organizations don’t have.”
During the session on value propositions, attendees put down in writing the unique things they each bring to the table as companies. “By sharing them with clients, we might develop a distinction,” Woodall said. Brainstorming sessions looked for things that would be fair for a customer to expect, and things that differentiate contractors, all of which needs to be communicated to everyone in the company.
“The interesting thing about that whole situation is, all of us know all of the things and the uniqueness that our companies bring,” said Woodall. “It’s a matter of sitting down and writing it down. ‘Every single time we provide service, you can expect a clean truck and a clean uniform,’ but what else? I walked away with a pad full of notes that I thought would be neat to implement at our place.”
During a breakout session on green marketing and sustainability, half the group met to discuss how to develop green PM programs. “That was a great session, a sharing session with people bringing things to the table,” said Woodall.
“One of the things about the Unified Group is to get input from everyone,” he said. “Certainly there are sessions with specific speakers, but there’s also a lot of sharing.
“The dynamics of this group are so unusual and refreshing,” Woodall said. “We become 50-some friends and partners out there doing business. I get a sense from everyone that they are truly in our corner, pulling for us. In this kind of environment and market, it’s so nice to have those kinds of friends.”
For more information, visit www.theunifiedgroup.com.