How do you "sell" quality to a price-focused customer who doesn't know a fuse from a breaker? Do you need to lower your standards of design and workmanship to stay competitive? This depends on how well you communicate the value of what you provide.

It's one thing to lose fairly to a competitor who does good work; it's quite another to see someone undercut you on price by supplying work you'd fire your own people for doing.

You can't always blame your competitor. Sometimes, an electrically illiterate customer dictates electrical policy. Surely, you've faced that. You want to educate your customer, but your customer won't listen. An industrial customer may tell you, "I hear what you're saying about the Code, but it doesn't apply to us." This is the same mentality you see when people walk through an area with equipment running, but don't wear safety glasses. "I'm not operating the equipment, so the laws of physics will be different for me."

Fortunately, you can do something about this. First, you must know who is actually "killing the deal." You may be selling to a knowledgeable engineer who is unable to convince the gatekeepers to release funds. To battle this, request a meeting so you may articulate what's necessary to complete a project that will operate safely and reliably. For a large project, attend that meeting with one of your project managers and/or one of your most articulate technical people. Such "horsepower" is your best tool for helping your customer open those purse strings.

Second, you must quantify the cost of not conforming to standards such as the National Electrical Code (NEC). You may ultimately have to do a detailed risk analysis, but in most circumstances, if you justify the $4,000 premium your design places over another design, you will have won over your customer. Show how your $4,000 premium will prevent a $400,000 liability that has a high probability of occurring. You need to provide numbers your customer can plug into a spreadsheet or financial analysis program.

Third, you must show benefits. Your numbers may not make a compelling case in some situations. Let's say your people route wires neatly, and they label things clearly. The Code is vague on how well people need to do this. So, your competitor comes in with people who work for far less than yours do; but they also lack the training and expertise that result in quality workmanship. This is where photos and case histories come into play. A photo of a sloppy control cabinet placed next to one of your well-laid-out cabinets makes a strong statement. So does a photo of asymmetrical conduit runs placed next to a photo of your own neatly laid-out conduit. You can get some underwhelming response when it comes to good working drawings. You may have to build a troubleshooting/cost of downtime scenario for your customer to appreciate these benefits.

Determine what the customer really wants to do. Often, you can provide the customer with cost savings and superior work. B.J. VanCleave, of National Industrial Services, bid on a job that involved adding a PLC to a production machine. Concurrent with this was rewiring it and replacing some switches.

After VanCleave thought about the project, he realized it was cheaper to convert the whole thing to PLC control and eliminate the switches entirely. And the job would look neater, when done. His competitors looked only at what the customer wanted, not what the customer needed. And he convinced the customer to want what it needed.

Since the customer was introducing PLCs, VanCleave also figured the customer's long-term goals called for PLC conversions on all the equipment. This opened the door to still more work, thus leveraging that one sales call into a series of sales.

When the customer balked at losing those switches. However, VanCleave listed all the benefits of a 100% conversion over a hybrid system. Sold.

On another project, a customer wanted to drive ground rods for individual equipment, but insisted the equipment not be bonded together. Why? It hired a consultant months ago, and this is what the consultant recommended. However, consultants aren't always right.

What it took was taking voltage measurements before and after bonding one equipment set (transformer, panel, skid, metal rails) to the building's structural steel; all this for free.

What the customer really wanted was an end to the voltage buildup/discharge cycles that were blowing circuit boards. What the customer thought he wanted was individually-driven ground rods and no bonding.

Grounding, bonding, and circuit protection are common areas for corner cutting. These things are largely invisible, until something happens. There's money to be made if you can ferret out hidden "cost-savings" and return the design to some semblance of sanity.

Join the SWOT team. The sidebar shows what a SWOT analysis is. SWOT analysis can be convincing when you need to sell a particular project or methodology. Suppose you are trying to sell the concept of breaker testing. It would break down, as shown in the sidebar.

Sometimes, you should provide other information, such as financials that include cost/benefit and return on investment analysis. Your goal is to provide your potential customer with ammunition for making the right decision. If you can do that, both your customer and you should be right on target when it comes to making a profit.




Sidebar: SWOT Your Breakers

Here is an example preliminary SWOT for breaker testing. Notice how this analysis tailors itself to the needs of the customer.

Strengths

1.The ability to predict and prevent breaker-related shutdowns nuisances on Extruders 1, 2, and 3; Batch mixers 1, 2, 3, 4, 5; Scrap grinders 2 and 3; Hexane extraction machines 2 and 3; the West control room, and Production engineering offices.

2.For these same areas, the ability to provide reliable protection; as opposed to leaving them unprotected from current overload and the resulting fire/explosion that would require replacement of all these assets. Overall risk reduction.

Weaknesses

1.Will require planned shutdown and special security concerns to do the testing.

2.The testing is not cheap.

Opportunities

1.Including this testing in the ISO9000 documentation may give a competitive edge.

2.Coordinating and combining these tests with other electrical tests should raise reliability to record levels.

Threats

1.A defective breaker may not reopen or reclose during testing.

2.All maintenance activities in these areas contain risk, so their implementation must be minimal.