Proper and consistent technical and safety training can increase sales.

Over the years I’ve conducted hundreds of technical sales training sessions. To set the stage for this month’s column about the price of training, I’m going to discuss a particular class session a few years ago because it highlights several bullet points for the column. You may be able to use these ideas for your own training class.

I was in the habit of performing “autopsies” on old water heaters as they came into the shop for recycling. I noticed that frequently, the temperature and pressure valves appeared to be anything but functional. Based upon sales data from our shop, I also knew that our plumbers were rarely checking these last-line-of-defense safety devices, so I decided to demonstrate the importance of these in order to encourage our crews to pay more attention to them.

The demonstration was pretty simple. Using a 6-gallon, 110v electric water heater on a stand, I piped it with a pressure gauge and ball valve on the inlet. For demonstration purposes, I installed a couple of noncode devices. On the tank outlet was an expansion tank with a ball valve between it and the tank. I also installed a ball valve between the tank and the T&P valve.

Remember, I’m illustrating the importance of these safety devices, not proper installation design!

I topped off the tank with water and disconnected the water supply so we had a full tank sitting at 0 pounds per square inch gauge. Then we applied power. As I recall, in less than 10 minutes, with the expansion tank valve off, the pressure hit 125 psig and the T&P valve began to weep. Opening the valve to the expansion tank reduced the pressure dramatically, allowing the tank to reach the thermostat setting before the pressure went too high again. All of my plumbers intellectually knew about the expansion properties of water as it is heated but all were surprised to actually see how quickly the pressure rose in that little tank with a 110v element.

After demonstrating the physical properties, we spent the remainder of the session using our flat-rate price book as a step-by-step guide for presenting the various water heater services we could offer. Our plumbers weren’t ignorant, they all knew the facts about water heater safety, but testing the safety devices had never been at the top of their minds unless they were specifically servicing a water heater.

Immediately following this class, one plumber sold an expansion tank which solved a problem that had been unsolved by another company. In the weeks following the class, our water heater service and replacement business saw a spike, reflecting the heightened awareness our crews had for water heater safety.

The budget for that training session, less than $200, was a little higher than the typical training session but the payoff in better sales and customer service far eclipsed that meager investment. For contractors who recognize the benefits of training, a $200 investment might seem laughably insignificant. I’m not writing to them. I’m writing to those who don’t spend that much in an entire year.

If your training investment doesn’t have it’s own line item in the budget, then you’re probably paying more fornottraining than you’ll ever spend actually training your field personnel. But how do you know your lack of training is costing your business cold, hard cash?

To determine the impact of training on your bottom line, you need to look backward and compile your sales and productivity history. Progressive contractors track several metrics but we can use your average invoice as a base line. If you don’t already know this number, you’re probably spending too much time putting out fires and not enough time managing your business. If you don’t know your average, task your bookkeeper with collecting at least six months of data. If it’s not at his fingertips, he’ll have to sort through invoices. Do what it takes to get this data.

Training The Basics

With your average invoice as your base line, the next step is to take the initiative in your training efforts. Let’s take a moment to define training. According to the American Heritage dictionary,trainmeans:
1.To coach in or accustom to a mode of behavior or performance.
2.To make proficient with specialized instruction and practice.

Let’s illustrate with a football analogy. During training, the coach shows his players what he wants them to do and how to do it. Once the game starts, the coach directs the strategies and tactics which he has already taught his players. Without the prior training, he does not have a team, he has a herd of players.

After the game, win or lose, there will be discussion about what went right and what went wrong. This is part of the training process, but don’t confuse “Monday morning quarterbacking” with training. A Monday morning quarterback, with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, is always able to point out what went wrong and what should have been done differently. There is some value to this debriefing but don’t confuse forensics with training.

Training in the basics is quite acceptable, according to legendary Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi. One of his famous quotes illustrates the importance of the basics: “Gentlemen, this is a football.” There are many training methods and tools on the market but let’s keep it simple for now. The first step in your training program is simply to initiate training opportunities rather than playing the role of a forensic examiner. Pick an area of your service which you would like to improve. Perhaps you’d like to sell more toilet replacements or see more air-conditioning thermostat upgrades.

Using a part or a service for your focal point makes it easier to offer sales and communication skills by blending sales training with technical training. If you’re not accustomed to sales training, just use this simple formula: Features x Benefits = Value.

On the technical side, you are teaching about features. Easy to clean, programmable set back, instant hot water are all examples of features. A customer can purchase those features for a price. The benefit of features is what the customer ultimately desires. For example, let’s say that a programmable thermostat offers multiple settings for each day.

The customer then receives the benefit of coming home to a comfortable home after a hard day’s work. The value received for the investment is the energy dollars saved by reducing the heating or cooling load during the day, when the home is empty.

In 15 to 20 minutes of training, you’ve moved a product or service to the top of your technicians minds and you’ve demonstrated a simple way to present the item for sale to customers. Now all you have to do is measure the results.

Measure And Compare

Obviously, if you see a spike in sales for the items you have demonstrated, you’ll know your training was a success. But don’t settle for anecdotal evidence. When you’re about six months into your new training regime, compare your average invoice to the base line you established before you began formal training. If you’re like most contractors, you’ll see a pleasant boost in sales.

This alone should encourage you to upgrade your commitment to training, but let’s hammer the concept down with one more exercise. What is the difference in sales between post-training and pre-training? If you had an average invoice of $500 before your training program and it now stands at $575, then multiply $75 by the number of invoices your crews performed before you began your training program. A hundred invoices equal a potential of $7,500 in sales that may have been missed due to inadequate training.

This number is useful for one primary purpose. It demonstrates that you are spending more money not training than you will invest in training. If you’re going to spend the money anyway, why not make it count?

Note: I have prepared a demonstration video which can help you with a training session. You can view it online or download it to your computer for later viewing. All you have to do is add the Features x Benefits = Value formula and you have a training session. Visit www.WaterHeaterBlast.comand you’ll see how much fun training can be.