Replace Toxic With Professional

February 5, 2011

The importance of true professionalism for your staff

While it may not seem like it for many of us patiently waiting for the signs of economic recovery to hit us, there have been some positive consequences of the past few years. Most of those out-of-the-garage competitors that low-balled their prices and lied to customers about anything and everything have closed their doors and moved on to other things.

While the economy has taken many honest hardworking victims as well, there are many of us left that have been forced to re-evaluate how we do business. We have been forced to focus more on our customers. We have been reminded, because our customers are demanding it, that service means far more than what happens when something goes wrong.

Of course, the first step to making the changes that are allowing us to survive and even prosper these days must begin within our own doors. Our entire team must believe that we should discard the title of “Water Treatment People” and embrace ourselves as “Water Treatment Professionals.” This means clearly defining professionalism and eliminating the toxic members of your team and replacing them with professionals.  

Eliminating Toxicity

Yet, while many owners or managers feel and genuinely recognize the need to do this, they either do not know how or are trapped in a situation that is difficult to get out of. Many dealer/owners grew up in the industry, working for the companies their dads started years ago. Many others started as plumbers or well drillers and brought the water treatment division on as a necessary addition to their existing business. Few have had formal management training, but rather have simply managed with a style of working harder than anyone else and having a strong commitment to their customers and employees. Sometimes, because most of these individuals are genuinely good-hearted people, toxicity infiltrates the organization. It is often in the form of a relative, but it can also be an administrative assistant or manager. Or maybe it is a salesperson who has always closed well when house leads were provided, but now that he or she actually has to work to find leads, would rather complain about what the company does not offer rather than work to help the company grow.

Unfortunately, it is tough to fire a relative, and the salesperson who wants more and more is difficult to let go because there would be no one left to handle what leads do come in. The truth is, if your company is going to grow, or survive, now is the time to make these changes. There are many good, solid professionals out there right now looking for work. If a dealer or owner determines to keep the toxic people in the organization and hire professionals and create change around them, that leader must recognize that these toxic individuals could sabotage any productive changes.

The holidays are over and any guilt associated with letting a person go who is not helping your company move forward should be gone as well. I recognize that there are many challenges, both legal and personal. It is necessary to protect your company with detailed documentation as to why you are letting a person go. You may want to seek advice from a human resources professional on the necessary steps for this to occur. These individuals are costing your company its reputation, money and growth potential.

Of course, once you have a place for a professional in your organization you will need to find someone to fill that role. The first step in this challenging task is to define what professional means.

What is Professional Worth?

I read somewhere not long ago that the national average income for a water treatment salesperson was around $30,000 annually. When I think about other professionals, this seems a bit low. Often, when I am doing a seminar, I will ask the attendees what they think a professional should make. What types of careers would they consider “professional?”

Most people consider doctors, lawyers, teachers or accountants to be in the professional field. What is a good professional income? Most people agree that $50,000 would be a low-paid professional. They believe that a professional, entry-level salary should begin at no less than $75,000. So why isn’t the national average for water treatment salespeople at least $50,000? I think it is because there are too many salespeople in our industry and not enough sales professionals. If you want to be paid and treated like a professional, then it is important to become a professional. There are not many jobs out there that a person can work part-time and make a full-time, above-average income. Water treatment sales are no exception.

It is my belief that our industry is every bit as noble and necessary as any of the other learned professions. We work in an industry that can potentially affect our world as much as any other and more than most. The benefits our industry can provide transcend politics, education or economic status. We are reducing the number of plastic bottles filling our landfills and continuing to decrease dependence on foreign oil. We are saving lives by providing people a much higher quality and safer drinking water. We are saving families billions of dollars a year on everything from filters and appliances to bottled water and soap. Ours is an industry that I am proud to be part of and one that truly can make a measurable impact on the way human beings live on this planet.    

Identifying Professionals

So how do you identify a professional? I started by looking at some of the characteristics of other professionals. For example, a doctor did not just wake up and say one day, “I think I will be a doctor today”—at least not one that I want to go to for a checkup. In order to become a doctor, one must study, learn and work. Those individuals must immerse themselves in the world of medicine. They intern with other doctors who have more experience; they strive to emulate the qualities that impress them and learn from the mistakes of others. Even after their formal education, they read industry literature and often take the time to contribute to the knowledge of the medical community by writing in medical journals or online bulletin boards.

Doctors generally work by appointment. In many cases, they also consider their time so valuable that if you do not show up for an appointment, they charge you anyway. Wouldn’t it be great if we could do that for those prospects that stand us up for that evening appointment?

Once we have defined the type of individual we want to invite to our team, we need to make sure there is an infrastructure in place to support that person. How are you going to pay? What benefits are they going to have? Will they be on straight commission, salary or both? Do you have an employee manual detailing everything from your disciplinary policy to your vacation plan? Who is going to train them? Who will they answer to?

Sometimes the preparation for welcoming a new professional into your organization can seem overwhelming. But if time is spent at the beginning laying the groundwork for that person’s place, you will find much better results.

Kelly R. Thompson, CWS-VI, is president of Moti-Vitality LLC. Thompson can be reached at kellyt@moti-vitality.com or 810.560.2788.

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