Many salespeople in the building service contracting industry got their start years or decades ago, when in-person relationships were king and the height of business technology was the telephone. Unfortunately, the same tried-and-true sales techniques in 2006 may not be as successful as they were in 1976.

For one thing, although relationships do count for something, they’re not nearly as important as they used to be, says Fred Broder, Ph.D, a professional speaker and sales trainer in Dunwoody, Ga.

“Buyers are more sophisticated,” says Broder. “Years ago, I think a lot of selling and salespeople depended on relationships and history — if they came in and liked each other, it worked. Nowadays, people are much more bottom-line-oriented as a result of consolidations.”

Buyers are concerned about protecting their company and its facilities, and ensuring everything is done efficiently and profitably.

“They’re interested in what they can do qualitatively,” Broder says. “If you’re a nice guy, that’s gravy.”

Also, technology and an influx of younger customers have contributed to the changing buyer’s market.

Tech Trends
Technology has diminished the role of relationships in selling cleaning services.

“I think technology has been a major source of frustration for the salesperson,” says Broder. “Many times, sales people who want to make appointments make a call and they can’t get to a human being to speak with; they’ll get voice mail or have to e-mail.”

However, technology also has its benefits — it can improve efficiency and facilitate communication when human-to-human interaction does occur.

“Selling today is different mostly because of the Internet, faxes and mobile phones,” says David Merritt, president of EnviroUSA in Memphis. “All of these things allow us to respond to requests much more rapidly. In some cases, it is possible for the prospect to receive a written proposal almost before you leave the prospect’s office.”

The Next Generation
Another potential minefield for veteran salespeople is working with a younger generation of buyers. Once used to working with elders and peers, they now find themselves at the mercy of a buyer who could be their child — or grandchild.

“Selling to people in their 20s and 30s definitely is different from selling to ‘Boomers,’” or those born between the mid-1940s and mid-1960s, says Merritt. “For one, since I am a Boomer too, we relate to each other pretty well. But I find that in many cases, the younger customers are more demanding, and expect more for less than their Boomer counterparts.”

One reason for this disconnect, Merritt speculates, is that younger buyers may not be as educated about what BSCs do, and what it takes to do a good job.

“For this reason, it is incumbent upon all of us to educate property managers and the like, as to just what steps we have to take, and ‘hoops’ to jump through to achieve the desired results,” he says. “It is in all of our best interests to do so, and may make some of them understand why things cost what they do.”

To reach this new generation of buyers, pay attention to both the contents and packaging of your proposals, Merritt says.

“The art of the proposal has in essence remained the same over the years,” Merritt says. “The objectives for the customer and our company have remained the same. However, the challenges and the way we achieve these goals and present them has changed a great deal.”

For example, Merritt says color is a must.

“This sets you apart from other companies who haven’t made the switch to color yet,” he says. “I expect eventually all will, but right now, using color can make you stand out from the crowd.

Also, In Merritt’s experience, prospective customers are increasingly interested a company’s reputation, training and professional affiliations.

In addition, be sure to point out how and why changing cleaning contractors will be in the customer’s best interest — and offer proof.

“Most customers will listen to new ideas,” Merritt says. “However as with change on anything, many are slow to embrace it. Proof of improvement will convince them.”

Editor’s note: Dr. Fred Broder will be speaking at ISSA/Interclean® in Chicago on Wednesday, October 4. His presentation titled “Improve Communication Skills For Successful Selling” will be sponsored by Contracting Profits.

Leadership — And Life — Lessons From Sept. 11
By Stacie H. Rosenzweig, Editor

“Leadership” by Rudolph W. Giuliani (Hyperion, 2002, $25.95). Also available in paperback and audio formats.

Former New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani was in the middle of writing his memoir-cum-how-to book, “Leadership,” when the planes struck the World Trade Center and changed the city, his term in office and his book.

The chapters born from tragedy are the books strengths — regardless of one’s political affiliations, it would be hard not to come away from the sections in which he describes his reactions, both official and personal, to the events of September 11. The first and third sections are dedicated entirely to the day of the disaster and its aftermath, respectively, but there are anecdotes sprinkled liberally throughout the rest of the book.

The middle section of “Leadership” takes on a more tried-and-true advice format, and little of it is novel — the chapter titles, such as “Prepare Relentlessly” and “Develop and Communicate Strong Beliefs,” aren’t anything readers haven’t heard before. Still, the advice is solid; a few notable exceptions to the tried-and-true (especially one on why attending weddings is discretionary, but funerals mandatory) and Giuliani’s straightforward style throughout makes for an interesting read.

Editor’s note: Rudolph W. Giuliani will be delivering the keynote address, “Principles of Leadership,” at ISSA/Interclean® in Chicago at 8:30 a.m. on Thursday, October 5.