Updated: Oct 14, 2022
So, I was standing out in the reception area of the cleaning supplies distributor and a short stout man in a gray suit introduces himself as Larry. The previous evening some deviant had “tagged” the electrical box in front of my new office with fresh spray paint. I explained my problem and asked for graffiti remover. To my amazement, Larry pulls a tattered white dampened terry cloth from a large plastic zip lock bag. I could smell it from across the counter, a strong citrus, a high pH mixture. The towel had an ink spot the size of a dollar coin on it. The salesman then reached for a container and pours this concoction onto the ink spot using a medium hardness nylon brush, the showman scrubbed the blue spot to displace a portion of the ink. I’m thinking neat parlor trick but my issue was spray paint on a painted surface.
“Have you ever seen anything work so well, what would you have used to remove that ink stain?
Smirking, there are many kinds of ink (but I wasn't looking for a confrontation) so instead, I tried to sidestep the question.
“Well, being that it's just an old rag, I would probably just throw it away rather than bother to try and remove a large ink stain from it”. Okay, the wisecrack was uncalled for.
"I need something that will work on oil-based paint".
"This will work for that"
I could see that Larry was not easily deterred from trying to tear down the barriers between him and his sale. Not meaning to come across so arrogantly I just hoped to save us both some time.
“Larry, I actually wrote a book about the science of cleaning so I do not wish to have a lesson on cleaning agents.”
He persists: “So what products do you use?”
I am reluctant at this point to be specific, I do not wish to invite debate, but nor did I want to be rude, so I say;
“I use the specific cleaning agents formulated for stains and the surface that I am cleaning.”
Next came a persistent attempt to eliminate my objections. He clearly has not gotten my signal. The hardest part of the business is communication: People tend to hear what they want to hear.
Larry remains confident that he can prove that his purported superior line of cleaning products will win me over, implying that they work better than anything else on the market.
The eager sales representative presses for me to name some of the products that I currently use.
“The brand name I like is aptly called “Graffiti Remover” but there are many brands that would work just fine, I’m just trying to find out what is available locally.”
The active ingredients in graffiti remover are acetone, turpentine, and/or alcohol. Cleaning agents generally haven't changed all that much since James Gamble discovered synthesized soap in 1837. Brands are mostly differentiated whether they are water or oil-based, and by packaging, coloring and fragrance. Those in the cleaning trade tend to gravitate toward professional-grade cleaning agents since they come more concentrated. Basically, you are not paying for as much water as what you get from the box stores. This means that the higher concentrated chemicals can be diluted according to the demand of the application.
The first barrier to my buying Larry’s solutions was the fact that I needed to clean a "factory-painted" steel box (housing an underground electrical service panel) not a cotton towel. Secondly, I wasn’t dealing with a water-based stain. Larry's pitch was not oriented toward my specific problem, but rather he seemed very determined to sell me what he happened to have on the shelf.
If Larry knocks on enough doors, sooner or later he is certain to find someone who is will buy his ink removal product. Someone with a coincidental urgent need would likely find his timely arrival heaven-sent. I just wasn't that guy. I really just wanted to move on.
Larry finally seemed to sense as much and changed tactics. He said:
“How do you feel about creating jobs for urban youth?
I started to get interested maybe even a little excited:
“Are the products cooked in an urban manufacturing plant? Is the line employing urban kids? What's the deal? “I asked.
At this point, I am considering possibly making a donation of some kind, but I needed to know more about how my purchase would serve that end. Larry didn't even attempt to answer my very specific question and he didn't seem to have anything new to add either. I got the impression that he wanted me to take his claim of social benefit at face value.
So, I asked directly for more information.
There didn't seem to be any tools in Larry's presentations that could frame his offering as something that would add value on its own merit. I really liked his talking point of helping urban kids, but there didn't seem to be any data to convince me that that was really the case. I was looking to purchase but the place simply didn’t have what I needed.
When I indicated that the products were not going to work for me, Larry answered my inquiry with vague social proof about satisfied customers, the convenience of delivery, and his thirty years of experience which did strengthen his credibility (but not his offer) in my eyes. At that point, I was actually looking for some common ground where I might be able to do business with him.
I would have liked to have heard more about the social impact of the program if such a thing actually existed. I was not open or willing to get a lesson about the cleaning line because frankly, I have invested so much in such education already. Larry had completely missed my signals that I didn't want to have the conversation he was insisting on.
A quality approach is where someone is very knowledgeable about his products or services and really listens to his prospects. Both high pressure and dog and pony shows turn me off. At Happy Window Cleaning, we train our technicians to respond to stains on exterior surfaces based on what the stain and surface are when it is possible to determine them.
More times than not a trained eye can determine a stain. A cleaning technician needs to know the physical and chemical properties of the surfaces he interacts with. As a franchisor in the space, Happy Window Cleaning operates from the guiding first principle “to do no harm”. The services our franchise model offers, pressure washing and soft washing siding, roofs, concrete, dryer vent cleaning (to prevent fires), and gutter cleaning (to prevent water damage) basically sell themselves. The only barrier to purchasing our services is whether prospects are able to pay a reasonable fee to cover the expenses of delivering value and leave a little residue coin in our pockets, I wasn't impressed with Larry’s approach to doing business and ultimately exited the distributorship with empty hands and an indelible impression of what I didn’t want my own cleaning company to be. Later the same day, I found what I needed for the graffiti at a neighborhood hardware outlet.