Going to 'Hell in a Hand Basket'

September 26, 2003

Government, media focus too much on water treatment industry

The image in the media--more importantly, the image may have in ourselves--is that we are going to hell in a hand basket. We are seen as an industry full of charlatans, praying on the weak with high pressure tactics. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I have to write this article about the erosion of our American values--especially free speech in our industry. It seems that our industry is allowing a gradual whittling away of our rights, and I'd hate to see that happen. The image in the media--more importantly, the image may have in ourselves--is that we are going to hell in a hand basket. We are seen as an industry full of charlatans, praying on the weak with high pressure tactics. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Facts Have Been Twisted

I work as a trainer, recruiter and consultant, so I know the marketing techniques of many dealers pretty well. I believe our industry has a smaller percentage of "bad apples" than other industries. Sure, we have some crooks in our ranks--every industry does--and they should be charged with whichever laws they are breaking.

I watched the most recent expose of our industry on TV in horror--not at the facts that were presented but what was left out. What I have heard is thatthe manufacturer went to great lengths to fix the damage caused by a single renegade dealer in its ranks. I have been told (but I have not verified it) that the company offered the customers involved full refunds, delivered soap packages that a dealer reneged on and bent over backwards to show its honor and honesty. Where were these facts in the expos?©? Nowhere, because a story of honesty and integrity gets smaller audiences than an expos?© with hidden cameras. I could tell hundreds of stories--and I am sure you could, too--of dealers who have gone beyond the call of duty to satisfy customers and dealers who have donated bottled water in times of disaster. Why doesn't TV ever show that?

I would like to know how many salespeople are secretly taped before one does something wrong. Why don't they report the percentage of salespeople they taped were accurate and honest?

Overstepping Their Bounds

Added to media that is not bound by the facts are governments who I believe may be overstepping their bounds. More and more dealers tell me they receive calls from their state governments telling them what they can and cannot do. Several dealers in a Midwestern state told me that the Attorney General told them they cannot show articles from the web or magazines as part of their demonstration. I cannot recall any law or area of the constitution that says you cannot show articles by medical experts and published in magazines. Other dealers tell me that they have been raided and forced to show everything in their kits, all training materials, flip books and recent customer contracts. It gets to me that our government will defend a person's right to watch pornography in a taxpayer-funded library but can prevent trained water professionals from showing articles that are published online and in prestigious medical magazines.

What Is Right and What Is Wrong?

The facts are clear. It is wrong to lie to customers and potential customers. It is wrong to cause undue alarm for no reason. However, I believe that if you stick squarely to the facts and you are doing it for the customers' good, right is on your side.

What Exactly Is a Scare Tactic?

Scare tactics have been exaggerated to create scorn for many normal selling techniques. This term is applied to our industry too much. If a realtor says to a prospective home buyer, "You'd better get into owning a home now or rising prices will put them out of your reach," is that a scare tactic? I would say not because they are facts that are true and are being said to help the client make the right decision.

I notice a difference in how we are judged as to how the rest of the world is judged. For example, if 60 Minutes or Dateline does an expos?© of poor water conditions in Atlanta, they are praised for their good work. If a water equipment dealer uses the same facts, he is condemned. What's the difference? Some say it is because the water dealer is using the facts to make money. This line of reasoning over looks the fact that TV shows also run stories to make money. I for one am not ashamed to tell you I do things for money. I don't think it alters my ethics as I am a big believer in free enterprise. If a company does good things, the public will reward it. If a company takes advantage, I believe it eventually catches up.

Can It Be Because They Supply the Water?

I believe that the reason the government is more interested in controlling the truth our industry spreads is because it treats the water. It's not about the public, it's about reputation and job security. Remember, that when you talk about improving water, some interpret that as saying the government is not doing a good job. Notice there has been no crack down on dealers who improve the air. That's because the government doesn't "treat" the air.

Do Seniors Need Protection?

I am rapidly approaching my senior years. Thank goodness I can still make purchasing decisions on my own, and I am still able to resist high pressure. The do-gooders who would regulate you tell me I will reach an age soon where I will willingly write out a check to a high pressure salesperson for a product I cannot understand and do not need. My mother-in-law is 84 and I would hate to be a salesperson who tried to pressure her. Out of thousands of salespeople I have met, I would consider only two high pressure. I would love to hear from any readers who have purchased anything from high pressure salespeople. The fact is that as an industry, we suffer from low pressure sales--not high. Sure, there are some who use questionable tactics, but they are few and far between. The fact is, the product we sell is so good, you don't need to use high pressure to sell it.

What To Do About It

If you want the highest standards for your company, you don't need to throw out all good sales practices. Here are a few things I suggest to make sure your ethics are high.

  • Set high written standards. Make sure you have in writing what each member of your sales team is and is not allowed to say and do. Write out a script for the demo and make your sales team do their demo for you on a regular basis. Ride along on some appointments, so you can see what they do. Inspect their kits and books. What do they have in the way of articles, and how do they use them? Know what is going on and discipline where necessary.
  • Strong associations. Call and write your state and national Water Quality Association and let them know they should continue lobbying to protect you from government incursion. They should be prepared to take unconstitutional laws and practices to trial if necessary. Keep these organizations informed of any practices or changes in laws that you are facing.
  • Encourage manufacturers to act. Contact your manufacturer and ask it to fight as well. Some manufacturers may act sheepish, hoping that if a controversy arises, it can prove it had nothing to do with it. They should assist their dealers in lobbying and in making sure that no state controls the industry more than what is lawful and necessary.
  • Take a stand. Is it the law or an extension of power? I am in favor of obeying all laws with regard to selling as well as keeping high moral standards. However, does it seem unAmerican for states to tell water equipment dealers they cannot show customers articles written in prestigious medical journals, published in magazines or on the Internet? Do you wonder by what authority states have seized the presentation books of dealers who have not been charged with any crime to audit them for "offending material?"

If you are against this type of abuse of power, if you feel it is unlawful and unwarranted, take a stand before it is too late.

Carl Davidson is president of Sales & Management Solutions Inc. a company that specializes in training, recruiting and consulting for the water equipment industry. For more than 20 years, 4,000 companies in seven countries have used his services to increase sales and profits. To comment on this article, or for more information, you can reach Carl at davidson@salesco.net or 800-941-0068. For more information, visit www.salesco.net

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