The contractors doing the best job in water management today are contractors who are successful in explaining why customers should save water instead of spending time telling customers how to save water.
If a customer or prospect does not understand the importance of saving water, they simply will not care about how you will save them water. Make sure you have the following marketing tools in your tool kit and you are well on your way to explaining the why, not the how.
A simple leave-behind.
Saving water will save money, and if you are installing tools to more effectively manage water, you should have more time to focus on other key areas of their landscape, therefore saving the customer labor costs or time. Your leave-behind should convey this message.
The key concept you need to make answers the question: Why save water? Saving water saves money and improves the look of your landscape.
You need to show them, preferably with a picture, what a water-efficient landscape looks like. A simple call to action – “call me for more information on how to save water, save money and improve your landscape” – provides an opportunity to further explain why your customer should want to save water. Be sure to include your contact information and website.
Water use analysis.
This analysis should include a minimum three-year history of water use on your customer’s property. Most water agencies accept a letter from your customer giving you authorization to access their water bills. Do this first – do not ask your customer to get the information for you. Water agencies will be happy to tell you exactly what they require in the letter so you get the proper authorization the first time.
The next step is calculating the proper amount of water the customer should have used based on their landscape and historical evapotranspiration. If it is a current customer you should have the square footage information and breakdown of percentages of groundcover, shrubs and turf. If it is a new customer, you may have to measure or use Google Earth or Bing maps for square footage information. These web services aren’t always perfect, but don’t let perfection get in the way of progress. A solid estimate can accurately forecast water savings.
Once you have the square footage and plant material estimates, you will need ET data for the property. There are a number of websites providing ET data for cities or whole ZIP codes. You will also need to estimate or calculate the efficiency of the irrigation system. If this is for a current customer you should have a good idea of this already. With a new customer you should gain permission to turn the system on and take some measurements.
Once you have gathered all this information, you will be able to put together your water use analysis and have something that looks like the table above.
This is a simple example of a water use analysis, and you have the opportunity to make it more specific based on the data available and time you spend on the analysis.
I would also include a monthly bar chart of projected water use compared to historical water use and a discussion of water price trends.
Instead of selling water management as the “right” thing to do to protect the environment and ensure the long term aesthetic of your landscape, the industry decided to sell the dollar savings.
As a result, customers won’t invest in water savings unless they see a return on their investment in less than two years. I’ve worked with some customers who won’t make an investment in saving water unless the ROI is less than a year. I have met with several who accept three years, but almost none who will agree to make changes if the ROI is more than four years.
The exception to this has been customers in California who, due to the drought, are now willing to spend money to be sustainable, not because it is going to pay off for them in a short period of time. Your calculation should include historic water costs, the projected dollar savings from the recommended changes and the amount of time the changes will take to “pay off.” Below is a simple example of an ROI calculation.
When presenting water management concepts to our customers, it is important to remember that they are asking one question: So what?
Keep this in mind and you will never find yourself straying into the world of distribution uniformity, Water Use Classification of Landscape Species or crop coefficients when trying to make a sale. That “so what” often leads to questions like, Why should I save water? How much money will I save? Will I have a better-looking landscape?
Once the so-what question is answered, the next thing they say is: “Prove it.”
The committees, decision makers and HOA boards typically hear similar promises from all companies. “We do the best work, we care about our work more, we will do a great job for you, and here is our price … is it low enough?”
Promises are made to decision makers who have been lied to before. We don’t provide them with the proof they need to select a higher price and we get mad when they go with the lowest price. Often it is our fault for not providing enough proof for them to select a higher price.
Water management case studies are the proof you and your customers need. Every water management job you start should begin with a case study in mind. Water management provides objective measurement, allowing you to document the results of the changes you made to an irrigation system. Take pictures of the property before you start your work. You already should have water use information from your water analysis so you can compare water use to previous years.
Keep your case study simple. I prefer a three-part case study. Part one states the challenges the customer is having. For example: White Horse HOA is a 20-year-old association with steep slopes surrounding homes and many of the slopes were planted with turf.
Part two provides the information for the solution. For example: We removed 60 percent of the turf and replaced it with a more water-wise landscape including drip irrigation. For the remaining turf areas we installed smart controllers that adjust water schedules daily based on actual water requirements.
Part three provides the results: The first year we cut water use by more than 50 percent for a total of $63,000 annually in water cost. This project paid for itself in the first eight months.
A simple challenge-solution-result formula provides the answer to the prove-it question your customer is asking. It provides a solution to their specific problem in an easy-to-understand manner. It provides the justification the customer needs to say yes to a higher price.
If you don’t have a job with water management history, you can create a case study when you start a job. The formula is very similar, but instead of results you include expected results.
For example: Based on our water use analysis, White Horse HOA will save 50 percent on water the first year, which equals $63,000 in annual water costs savings. Then supply a reference name and number for the prospect to call to see how the savings are progressing at another job. It is not as effective as actual results, but much more effective than just a blanket promise to save water. You need a case study for all the customer segments you work with. Don’t forget to share these case studies on your website and social media.
Once you have your water analysis, ROI calculation and case studies assembled, writing the proposal will be easy. A clean cover page with a picture of the property helps convey that this proposal was designed specifically for the customer and is not just a generic template.
A proposal is your opportunity to show the customer how you are solving their problem, so mention that right away: “A Water Management Solution for White Horse HOA.” I am providing a solution, not a proposal.
The next page should be your summary. Start by thanking the customer for the opportunity to provide the proposal. Tell them what you are going to do without going into too much detail: We are converting spray irrigation to drip irrigation, which has proven to be a much more efficient way to apply water. We are also recommending smart controllers, which have been shown to save 20-25 percent of water on similar properties.
The next paragraph should explain that what your client is about to see is the scope of your services, and the final paragraph covers why they should invest in their irrigation system: saving water, saving money and improving the look of their landscape is critical for the investment they have in their property.
The next page is where you go into the specifics of recommended products, the time it will take to do the project and the cost. This is where you insert your ROI calculation. Use this page to present any type of financing program you have to offer. The next page should be what every customer wants – the case study provides justification to pay a higher price and peace of mind because the contractor has the necessary experience to deliver on his promises.
The author is vice president, landscape solutions at Jain Irrigation. He is also the former director of water management solutions at ValleyCrest Landscape Co.
To download a template to create your own sales proposals, click here.