One of the few bright spots about an economic downturn for a business or an industry is that it can result in long-term positive changes.
While the economy has not impacted the professional cleaning industry as much as it has, for instance, the real estate industry, most cleaning contractors and JanSan distributors will agree that, in the past few years, they have had their share of turmoil.
As a result of this, many contractors and distributors are looking for new ways to help solidify their customer relationships, minimizing the ups and downs that come with economic disorder.
Providing top-quality service and competitive prices is, of course, the “gold standard,” but many contractors and distributors are going further.
A promising option many have embraced is to become their customers’ “experts” when it comes to building maintenance — helping facilities managers lower overall operating costs, transfer to green cleaning strategies and become more sustainable.
They are adopting a principle that has gone in and out of fashion over the past 40 years: Consultative selling, which is based on a 1970 book by the same name authored by Mack Hanan.
The book describes what is essentially a selling technique in which the salesperson — or, in our case, the contractor or distributor — is no longer just selling a product or a service; instead, he or she has become a building manager’s expert consultant.
That puts the contractor into a totally different playing field with the customer, making him or her an integral part of the facility’s operation.
How It Works
In order to make consultative selling work and strengthen customer relationships, contractors and distributors must first perform some groundwork, asking and answering questions such as the following:
- What types of cleaning products, tools and equipment are being used in the facility?
- Does the facility have a green cleaning program in place or is such a program being considered for the near future?
- What level of sanitation and cleanliness is expected in the location?
- How many square feet does the location have?
- What is the frequency of service?
- How many people are cleaning the location and how many square feet are custodial workers cleaning?
Contractors and distributors may not realize just how important these and other questions are for some end customers.
At the recent 2012 ISSA/INTERCLEAN North America trade show in Chicago, one of the presenters, Dave Frank, president of the American Institute for Cleaning Sciences (AICS), mentioned that his work with school districts revealed that many district managers do not know what cleaning products their cleaning crews are using, how many square feet their crews are cleaning or are expected to clean or how many vendors they work with to ensure the upkeep and cleanliness of their facilities.
For many school districts and other facilities operating with severely constricted budgets during these tough economic times, this information is vital.
Peter Drucker, the famed business management consultant, is credited for saying, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.”
This applies to the aforementioned school districts and other facilities in this same situation.
Dealing With The Data
“Consultative selling is a great concept — if you can manage the data,” says Brian Grillo, e-Commerce manager for AFFLINK. “To make it work, contractors, suppliers and distributors need a process to first input and then interpret the data, and this can be cumbersome in the professional cleaning industry.”
Grillo says this is because there are so many different cleaning products by so many different manufacturers.
Further, some are conventional, some are best used in certain settings or facilities, some are green and some may be green certified by one organization and not another, which can be an issue for those managers that prefer to have all environmentally preferable products certified by same organization.
Fortunately, software programs and analytical tools have recently been developed that can help analyze the data and help contractors and distributors and their end customers find, among other things, alternative tools and products that can potentially lower costs, help them transfer to green and sustainable cleaning and recommend new products that may perform more effectively.
“Not all the new technologies are the same, and some may provide more information than others,” adds Grillo. “However, their goals are similar: They can all be used to facilitate consultative selling, build customer loyalty and provide insight so that contractors and distributors can make fact-based decisions that benefit their customers.”