FM Frequency: The Sales Rep’s Guide To Facility Managers

By Jeff Crane, P.E., LEED® AP
Published in the July 2008 issue of Today’s Facility Manager

This column is dedicated to Today’s Facility Manager (TFM) readers who make a living selling products and services to busy facility managers (fms). While some fms and suppliers view their relationship as one based on the “master/servant” dynamic, many more recognize we’re all servants and that suppliers are critical extensions of the facilities department. With the latter view, fms and suppliers can (and should) work together as business partners with mutually high expectations, benefits, and results.

For an fm having a bad day (or even a bad month), an excellent therapy session might include inviting a favorite supplier to lunch and asking him or her to describe the alternating anxiety and excitement of a career where managers use advanced (and sometimes creative) differential equations to establish quotas, territory growth, and client retention goals.

This month, FM Frequency attempts to play matchmaker and offers a few dos and don’ts for suppliers who call on fms around the world.

Don’t: When leaving a voice mail, don’t ask (or expect) the fm to call you back. It’s ok to leave your phone number, but always offer to call again.

Do: During a cold call, leave a brief voice mail introducing yourself and stating the purpose of your call. If you say you’ll call back on Thursday at 2:00 pm, make sure to call back on Thursday at 2:00 pm. If a supplier doesn’t follow through on a minor commitment, how will they deliver on more critical promises?

Jeff Crane on Sales Reps for FMsDon’t: When cold calling on the phone or in person, don’t be disappointed if your call isn’t returned or if the fm doesn’t come out to greet you. Many fms screen calls and visitors and rarely share direct phone numbers.

Do: To improve odds of reaching a busy fm by phone, try calling before 8:00 am or after 5:00 pm (or even on Saturday morning). The call screener might not be on duty, and the fm may think it’s a personal call or the boss.

Don’t: Don’t give up! About seven of 10 cold callers only call an fm once. A few more might call two or three times, but only about one in 10 salespeople will call 10 times or more before earning a personal introduction.

Do: Mail or drop off personal notes attached to product brochures or articles that might be of interest to the fm. Color copies of FM Frequency articles are excellent things to keep in the briefcase!

Don’t: Don’t be impatient with an fm’s interest in your product or service. The best sales people are exceptionally patient and willing to make contacts over numerous weeks or even several months.

Do: Network with fms at local International Facility Management Association (IFMA), Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) International, or Association for Facilities Engineering (AFE) meetings and conferences. Trade organizations are always in need of volunteers to arrange meetings, tours, or speakers. This is a great way to meet fms and demonstrate commitment to the industry.

Don’t: Don’t abuse trade groups to deliver unsolicited sales pitches. Many organizations have sponsorship opportunities but also have strict policies about networking in low pressure meetings. Trade groups allowing aggressive sales tactics tend to have supplier-only meetings.

Do: Read TFM and a variety of trade journals. Publish articles. Become a dependable reference for your products or services. Fms must be jacks of all trades, but they count on suppliers to be well versed in the details.

Don’t: Never, never, never take fm clients for granted. It takes a lot more time and effort to find new business than to maintain existing accounts.

Do: Be a proactive business partner. Quickly acknowledge mistakes, and make swift corrections. Help the fm regain a sense of confidence after a problem; assure him or her that concerns are understood and explain how processes are changing to prevent future problems.

Don’t: Don’t be defensive or argumentative. The fm knows his or her customers are NOT always right, but that’s not the point; perceptions are the fm’s reality. Professionals take all complaints and concerns seriously and with a sense of urgency.

Do: Provide the best possible products and services at the lowest possible prices. Be value oriented and consistently ethical. Most fms recognize that the best value is not always the lowest price.

Don’t: Don’t offer “low ball” pricing or gimmicks only to ratchet up prices after an initial sale. This might generate short-term results, but business is more like a marathon than a sprint. Respect in the industry (and the community) is much easier lost than earned.

Do: Ask your best fm clients if they have colleagues who might wish to meet you. Ask if they would be willing to sign reference letters endorsing specific products or services. Offer to create a draft of the letter, and make it easy for fms to cut and paste it to their letterhead.

Crane is amechanical engineer and regional property manager with Childress Klein Properties, a leading real estate developer and property managementservices provider in the Southeast.