Moving the machines works best when presenting the robots as another tool that will lead customers to cleaner, safer, greener facilities, at a lower cost — not as a cool gadget to acquire. That being said, the robots’ “cool factor” does help to crack open the door.

“One of the catch lines that I use is, ‘I sell robots,’” says Carrizales. “The customer is naturally curious as they know we are a cleaning supply and equipment distributor. It opens a discussion on the merits of robotic cleaning and the cost benefit driven by extremely high efficiencies produced by the machines.”

While retaining a robot in-house may be an exciting prospect for some customers, that’s unlikely to be enough to get customers to seal the deal. Just as with other large-scale purchases, distributors will face a slew of customer objections throughout the sales journey.

Topping the list? Price, say distributors, followed by safety concerns, cleaning quality, onboarding, maintenance requirements, and programming.
“People aren’t saying, ‘Whoa, I really need a robot,’” says Schneringer. “They’re saying ‘I need more people.’ More frequently they’ve added 100,000 square feet and they don’t have a person to help with that. What the robots allow for is the ability to add a staff member.”

Huizenga admits getting customers to buy-in is a challenge. Some customers can’t wrap their head around the robots’ cleaning or navigation capabilities — or simply expect the machines to perform much more intricate tasks than they currently can provide, like cleaning around office cubicles (they usually can’t).

Distributors often have to remind customers that the machine will need to recharge, or need to be reprogrammed with each new cleaning route. Either way, selling the machines has become an exercise in managing expectations.

“It’s a real-world [application],” says Schneringer. “It runs out of solution, but that happens with a real autoscrubber. There is a part of us that has seen the movies and TV shows, and they see robots as sentient beings. They’re like, ‘What does it all do? That’s cool.’ And then you have to bring them back down to Earth.”

Robotic floor care equipment providers supply distributors with sales materials, talking points and operating guides. Some manufacturers will even handle the training and onboarding demos at a distributor customer’s building site. But it’s up to the distributor to ensure the system is a good fit for the building, customer and application.

So far, the robots are best suited for facilities with wide-open spaces and corridors, such as schools, hospitals and office buildings. Clients in smaller facilities aren’t going to be as receptive to the “labor reallocation” conversation, distributors say, which negates the heart of the sales pitch.

Huizenga suggests distributors reach out to their tech-savvy customers first, instead of casting a wide net across the sales pipeline.

“We purposely presented to our sales team to be able to educate them and have them talk about it [with customers]. If you have a space, talk to your customer about it,” says Huizenga. “If your customer is lamenting about how hard it is to hire today, or complaining about the labor pool, we say, ‘How can we help you solve your problem? Have you seen this?’ And present it to customers.”

Carrizales says distributors should stick to focusing on robotics’ benefits.
“For us, it is not about decreasing full-time employees, it is about getting a better quality clean by freeing up the building service contractor’s current resources,” he says. “This type of mentality builds value for the BSC and can make it easier for them to retain the contract, increase revenue and possibly expand their business.”

Now that floor care cleaning robots are a reality, many distributors are wondering if the machines will become just another routine tool on the cleaning roster, such as autoscrubbers, or become “the next big thing.” For some distributors, it’s hard to predict if the robots will really take off on the sales floor.

While distributors say the floor cleaning robots data connectivity capabilities will draw some customers who are tuned into the Internet of the Things — the machines can often be programmed, monitored and operated from a remote smart device — the technology alone isn’t a compelling enough argument for customers to purchase the equipment. There has to be an economic benefit.
“There’s always going to be hype,” says Schneringer. “If we can help people do their jobs more effectively, then it will always be the next big thing. But I think that the things that are always evergreen, are always in style, is how we can help people do their jobs more effectively. That’s the next big thing.”

Stephanie S. Beecher is a freelancer based in Milwaukee. She is a former Associate Editor of Sanitary Maintenance.

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Selling Floor Cleaning Robots