Last week I got a call from an unknown number – the fourth that day. I answered, ready to tell the robotic voice on the other end in no uncertain terms that I wasn’t interested in whatever snake oil they were peddling from whatever reaches of the planet they were peddling it from.
“I’m with your local fire department,” the actual human said before I could launch into my diatribe. “We’re looking for donations to this year’s student education program.”
My tone changed. The conversation happened. When the young volunteer and I hung up after several minutes of friendly conversation, I thought, “It’s hard to cold call and plead your case in any scenario. It must be even harder when nine-tenths of those doing the same have less virtuous motives.”
Suddenly, my affinity for the guy on the other end made even more sense. To some extent, I could relate.
When I got into the radiant barrier business, there was no spray-applied competition, since I invented the technology. Gaining customers wasn’t easy, per se, but the hurdles SOLEC faced weren’t any steeper than those faced by fellow entrepreneurs trying to move innovative product. Once prospective customers felt the SOLEC difference, they were sold – but getting them there wasn’t easy.
Still, business was good. I anticipated and even welcomed competition, and it came. More and more companies started getting into the low emissivity coating game, promising customers they could cool their homes and cut their AC bills via paint applied to the underside of roofs. It was the same promise we offered, with one critical difference:
Most of these other products didn’t work.
We suspected as much based on the available science (and the horror stories we heard from homeowners who’d been burnt). Our hunch was confirmed when we helped launch an independent, industry-wide study of all the competing coatings through RIMA-I, the trade industry body for all radiant barrier reflective products. Nineteen coatings, including three of our own, were sent off to a lab for analysis. Of the nineteen tested, only six met the emissivity standards for these products created by ASTM (Three of which were ours). Now I knew for sure why sales felt twice as hard as before: I wasn’t just facing competition. I was facing competition that was ruining the playing field for the rest of us by tarnishing our industry’s name.
Selling is hard. Selling from a perceived snake pit is harder. Here’s what I’ve garnered in my years in an industry that’s been largely hijacked by phonies:
REMEMBER: WHAT’S REAL RISES. Truth floats. If you’re a reputable business in what’s perceived as a largely questionable field, your hurdle – guilty by association – CAN be trumped by your truth: You’re good and your product works. Spend your time promoting the science behind your products and demonstrating why the science is true. Lead the horse to water, then the horse will ultimately drink when it’s thirsty.
RELY ON YOUR REPUTATION. You’ve worked hard to build a brand and a business and you have great customers. Don’t be afraid to lean on them for testimonials to your truth. Establish systems for rewarding and quoting satisfied customers. Audiences might not trust YOU, but they’ll trust a real-life success story or someone they can relate to. Don’t let audiences’ propensity for disdain get you down. Instead, focus on the customers whose worlds you rock once they experience your product or service.
WATCH YOUR WORDS. It’s tempting to go on and on about companies giving yours a bad name. Resist the urge. Put that energy instead into well-considered education tools that present the competition’s missteps constructively, with citations and other credible sources. Talk is cheap and quickly becomes toxic. Smart information holds water – and earns respect.
President, SOLEC-Solar Energy Corp.