All customers make a buying decision for one of three reasons. First, they buy to avail themselves of an opportunity: investing in the stock market would be an example.

Secondly, they buy to satisfy a need such as stopping at a service station to have a meal.

Finally, they will make a decision to purchase to solve a problem. An example could be the employment of a security guard to deter theft and lower costly insurance premiums.

It is this third area which most closely applies to the decision to invest in a textile rental service. One of the biggest problems we face is that because our services are highly necessary or sometimes mandatory for a business to continue trading, any potential customer is already being supplied by another company. (The exception to this rule would be a new-build situation.) So what can be done to get around this issue?

The most profitable way to induce a customer to drop an existing supplier is to create a level of dissatisfaction with the product or service which is acute enough to make them take action. However, this is a lot more easily said than done. Getting access to decision makers is the first hurdle to negotiate. Once we’re face-to-face with a prospect, getting them to acknowledge that they have a problem is the next task we face.

Many people don’t like admitting that there’s a weakness with their present situation, very often because they made the decision to buy in the first place. So we need to find a subtle but effective way to make them consider their present arrangements – and we do that by asking questions in three phases.

Before we look at the first phase, take a look at the quiz below (answers are at the end of this article).

1. You’re planning your questioning strategy and pattern. You should:

a) Ask them if they want to make, or save, more money

b) Ask if they have any problems

c) Enquire about their present supplier and then put the boot in

2. It’s all about asking the right

questions. Your questions should:

a) Start with the general and move to the specific

b) Be as loaded as Richard Branson

c) Start with phrases like: “Do you…” and “Have you…”

3. Asking multiple questions:

a) Gives you a chance to show how much you know

b) Hinders communication

c) Is a fast way to get information.

Let’s assume that you’re talking to a company about replacing their paper towels and tablet soap with towel cabinets and a liquid soap dispensing system, and that you’re talking to the decision maker.

The first phase of questions should be aimed at the prospect’s current situation. Examples could be:

• Who are you buying the soap and towels from?

l Where are they located? (If you don’t already know)

• In what quantities and how often?

• Are towels virgin pulp or recycled?

• What sort of dispenser is used?

• Who replaces the towels and new soap tablets, and how often?

• What price are you paying for each?

Obviously, if you can survey the washroom first, some of these questions aren’t necessary!

Needs and problems

Having identified the prospect’s buying arrangements, the second step of our questioning sequence focuses on needs and problems. This is where knowledge of other suppliers and other washroom systems is critical. The questions lead towards the potential weaknesses of each service, which will then form the basis of our sales pitch.

The table below maps out the strengths and weaknesses of the most popular methods of hand drying and washing.

Examples of questions aimed at problems therefore include :

• What happens to the towels after use?

• How do you control the number of towels used?

• How much time does your janitor spend on replacing towels and soap?

• What does the soap look like after it’s been used a number of times?

These four questions lead to the problem areas of litter, excessive costs, time wasting and poor image.

They may not buy

However, just because we’ve got the customer or prospect to admit that there is a problem doesn’t mean that they’ll definitely buy. The customer may acknowledge there is a problem, but be happy to live with it. In this case, any sales presentation won’t work – because the size of the problem hasn’t been built up in the customer’s mind to the extent that they want it resolved.

It’s rather like crossing a bridge. If the customer is happy to live with the problem, they haven’t yet crossed the bridge and their buying journey has halted. On the other hand, if they’re convinced that the problem can’t be tolerated any longer, they cross the bridge and their journey into the promised land of cabinet towels continues. So how can we help the customer decide to resolve the problem?

Achieving resolution

The answer is to get them to focus on the future and to consider the ramifications of not taking action. Let’s say they acknowledge that their paper towels bring two attendant problems: litter and the strong possibility of theft. The ramifications of ignoring the problem include unhygienic and unsafe washrooms, lower staff morale and lower profitability. Couched in these terms, action should be taken. Note: the customer must articulate these problems, not be told about them by the sales executive.

The third phase of questions is sometimes referred to as the pre-close. Once the customer acknowledges that there is a problem, we can ask: “If I could solve those problems for you, would you be interested?” We are now ready to present the benefits of textile rental, as indicated in the table above.

Objections to the concept

No matter how well the questioning was handled, there will always be a percentage of customers who have some basic objections to rental versus outright purchase. This is understandable. As a society, we are moving towards more ownership, be it television sets or cars. However, in business, rental or leasing is often the best way forward as there is less risk involved than buying outright, especially as cash generation has moved to the forefront of business financial ratios.

Listed below are the more common objections to the rental concept and the recommended response. This time, workwear has been used to provide an example. (Note: It is recommended that any objection be acknowledged as valid in the first instance; an immediate “shoot from the hip” reply often generates a competitive atmosphere. You win the argument but lose the sale.)

• I’d rather buy outright

This can make quality control and image more difficult. If staff are left to wash their own workwear, many will, but some may not. The standard of wash will also vary from person to person. Image can suffer through a poor personal appearance, be it through dirty clothing or repairs left undone.

• It’s more expensive to rent

Highly contentious. (Please don’t say that to the customer!) In many countries the tax service now appears to allow both outright sale and rental contributions as 100% tax deductible. But when renting workwear, your money remains in your bank account, reducing bank charges. It can also be invested in working assets such as production machinery.

• I don’t want to sign a contract

The contract is there for the benefit of both parties. The customer has peace of mind, knowing that all repairs will be carried out on time, first time for the duration of the agreement. This can also be used to remind the customer of one of the main benefits: they spend their time running their business instead of worrying about overalls.

Textile rental carries many benefits for industry and commerce, and it’s strengths certainly outweigh any initial customer reticence. It’s better to rent, because you’re money’s not spent.