I'm speaking at my Toastmasters club again tomorrow. I'm working my way through The Professional Speaker series. It's five speeches, each of which are 15-20 minutes long.
Tomorrow's assignment, the third in the series, is the Sales Training Speech. I'm supposed to be pumping up the sales troops for a company. I've chosen Astrum Solar as my company. I'll be throwing red meat to my sales force to get them to sell solar collectors.
This book is driving me crazy. The typical assignment book requires 5-10 speeches, each 5-7 minutes in length. I feel like I'm working hard to get to my Advanced Communicator Bronze designation. When I complained to one of our Distinguished Toastmasters about it, he told me that the book used to be 20-40 minutes per speech. Another of our three Distinguished Toastmasters managed to get through the more demanding version. I shut my mouth and sucked it up after hearing that. Fifteen minutes doesn't seem so bad.
A friend of mine is fond of saying that everyone should have three jobs in their life: manual labor, customer service, and selling. I've done manual labor. Does working in a grocery store count as customer service? I've never come close to selling. This will be as close as I'm likely to get.
My goal is to finish off the last two speeches before the Toastmasters year closes on 30-Jun-2012. If I can do that, I'll have achieved Advanced Communicator Bronze status. It'll be another rung on the ladder. Can I make it to Distinguished Toastmaster? We'll see.
Here's the text of my speech:
The Professional Speaker Project 3: The Sales Training Speech
(The company is Astrum Solar, a company that installs photovoltaic panels in the area.)
Solar energy has had a long, successful history. The sun has been delivering 5900 times the amount of energy that humans consume today every day for the last five billion years! A small fraction of what’s produced – just 0.016% - would be sufficient to satisfy the current needs residential, industrial, commercial, and transportation energy needs for every individual on the planet.
The source has been holding up its end of the bargain. There have been no outages, no equipment failures, no CEO mea culpas, no angry customers.
It’s the harvesting end that’s fallen short. Fellow sales professionals, I’m here to tell you that the sales process is an integral part of breaking the stranglehold that fossil fuels have on the hearts, minds, and checkbooks of consumers. It’s time for us to recognize the crucial part we have to play in changing our energy production and consumption habits.
How are we supposed to do that, you might ask?
Before I go further, let’s talk about how not to achieve this goal. Let’s look at arguments that have been made in the past and see how they’ve failed.
Solar energy was a very hot topic forty years ago. The United States experienced significant disruptions in oil supplies in 1973 and 1979. There were lines at gas stations. Prices skyrocketed. Consumers were looking for any technology that could deliver them.
If that wasn’t enough, we had the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979. Wouldn’t such an event, one that ended the construction of new nuclear plants in the United States, make a low-cost, low-risk alternative seem more attractive?
Alas, this has not been the case. Solar energy continues to grow slowly, but it still delivers less than 10% of total consumption.
You can make appeals to serving the greater good. Individuals can use the sun to capture energy for power and heat in their home, cutting down on their reliance on public sources.
Our reliance on imported oil would be reduced. Imagine how different the world would be if we didn’t rely so heavily on oil for our energy needs! Wars to guarantee our supply would be a thing of the past. The transfer of wealth to oil-producing countries would end.
We could continue to spur economic growth without worrying about the amount of carbon dioxide we pump back into the atmosphere. Concerns about climate change and environmental impact could be decoupled from the Hobson’s choice of ceasing all economic activity.
These arguments seem pretty compelling, don’t they? Do you see solar collectors on every house? No! Are oil tankers being converted into cruise ships in the Arabian Sea? I don't see them. The appeals to the greater good have not made a dent.
They were true forty years ago. The fundamental story has not changed in all that time.
Why have customers not been persuaded? Why isn’t solar energy more popular with consumers?
Initial capital costs are relatively high. No one is going to lay out a lot of money to buy equipment that won’t pay back in twenty years.
There’s a well-established infrastructure in place to transport heating oil, gas, or electricity to our homes and to make it usable.
There’s a chain of contributors that must work together to change this industry:
• Scientists need to be hard at work in their labs, driving the efficiency of photovoltaic materials up above 10% while keeping costs low.
• Engineers need to be hard at work taking progress in basic science and designing it into robust, affordable systems.
• Machinists and assembly workers need to be hard at work plying their crafts to create high quality, affordable products.
• Field service personnel need to live up to expectations as partners and representatives of Astrum Solar.
All these things are in full swing, but they don’t mean a thing unless we can make the case to customers that it’s in their best interest to make the switch from electricity generated by centralized power plants.
Do you see a theme here? What are the two things that our customers want?
First, they want energy to be affordable. Heating oil is currently around $3-4 per gallon; prices are relatively stable. A homeowner using oil to heat their home can predict what their heating costs will be for a given heating season.
Second, they want access to energy to be reliable. Sitting in the dark and cold won’t do. Breakdowns must be rare. When they do happen, there has to be a person on the other end of a phone line who can quickly sort out the situation.
Affordability is a function of large economic forces that are outside the control of the company.
1. We can’t control the price of oil.
2. We can’t wave a magic wand and make a scientific breakthrough happen.
3. We can’t change the fact that the sun doesn’t shine on rainy days.
But we can influence how our customers perceive Astrum Solar. It’s our job to tell them that this is a reliable company. We need to educate them about the fact that our products can provide power with a degree of reliability that matches or exceeds that of traditional power suppliers. We must engage them as a trusted partner, one that will stand behind the product and make right any breakdowns in a timely way.
Do you remember fall of 2011? I do. I’ve lived in my house for a long time. The worse power outage I’ve ever experienced prior to last year was the three days without power after Hurricane Gloria back in Sep 1985. For almost thirty years I’ve been able to count on power and heat in my house without fail, except for a few odd hours.
That clean record was sullied in the last six months. I had to endure not one, but two nine-day periods without power! Thank goodness both happened before winter had set in. My pipes would have been in real trouble if temperatures had dropped below freezing. Repair crews were already having trouble keeping up in the relatively mild fall conditions. Can you imagine having to repair a state-wide failure of the grid in sub-freezing temperatures or in the midst of a blizzard?
When my power was finally restored in November, my first thought was prevention: How could I ensure that this never happened again? I went out and bought a gas-powered generator and had a transfer switch wired in, but it seems like a temporary solution.
I think it’s time for something more permanent. It’s time to install solar panels at my residence that will supply electricity sufficient to meet my needs and even allow me to sell excess back to the electric company.
So how can we help?
We need to address affordability.
• Sales people need to work with field service personnel to properly size equipment to meet the needs of each individual household, taking into account special features of each site.
• Sales people need to inform customers about all available energy conservation programs. Minimizing power needs makes the installation’s job easier. Most customers can benefit from better insulation in attics and weather stripping in doors and windows.
• Sales people need to explore every subsidy from federal and state sources that might defer portions of the economic burden of installing solar equipment.
We need to address reliability.
• Sales people need to educate customers about warranty agreements that guarantee the uninterrupted operation of their installations.
• Sales people need to ensure that field service personnel are partners with customers to instill confidence and ensure reliability.
One day I was walking on a beach where the tide had gone out. The sand was covered with starfish, left behind by the sea. I encountered a small boy who was walking along, bending down from time to time, and throwing a starfish back into the ocean. I watched the boy throw starfish after starfish, yet they still stretched out on the sand as far as the eye could see. I went up to the boy and said, "Give it up! There must be thousands of starfish washed up on shore. What difference can you possibly make by throwing them back?" The boy looked at me without saying a word, then he picked up another one and threw it as far as he could. It landed with a splunk! "I made a difference to that one!" he replied.
We can fulfill that grand, large-scale goal of moving this country to a sustainable, independent, renewable energy economy. But we’ll have to do it one customer at a time. We must make Astrum Solar a trusted partner whose reliability exceeds that of traditional power suppliers. I urge you to be the public face of Astrum Solar. Our future, and more, depends on you.