Selling Only Your Part of a Bigger Solution

Often, we sell one part of a large solution. It happens when our service/product solves a portion of a bigger problem than our offering alone can solve.

However, selling one part of a solution backfires when clients wonder why their big problem isn’t solved even though they only bought one part of the solution from you.

But there is a way forward. And it doesn’t require providers to integrate other lines of business to get it done.

With all large and/or novel sales opportunities, the way forward starts by redefining the present situation; to create an encompassing story from a holistic perspective; to describe the unseen that’s happening in the moment.

This is the situation clients know to be true, but no one talks about it because that story hasn’t been told yet.

So, here’s a sales approach providers can take when they only sell one part of a larger solution:

  1. Create an encompassing story from a holistic perspective
  2. Enlist a multi-provider team & together engineer an entire solution
  3. Propose the big solution to the top of the buying chain as a multi-provider team

Yeah, I get it. That numbered list is a big hill to climb let alone understand.

But collaborating in multi-provider teams has a big upside. Working with other providers can increase sales intel, rope in potential referrals, and expand cross-selling through subcontractors.

Here’s an example of that first step “1.Create an encompassing story from a holistic perspective.” Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) may not seem a very exciting sales topic at first but when HVAC, engineering, and janitorial providers sell IAQ upgrades they can easily disappoint tenants/occupants who don’t feel noticeable improvements. This can make building owners and managers who bought those upgrades gun shy of further investments.

The following is as an example of an encompassing story from a holistic perspective — it just isn’t on clients’ radars yet.

EXAMPLE: “Clearing the Air About IAQ”

Are we looking at Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) the wrong way? How we view IAQ matters. If we look at its challenges separately, we miss improvements and under-size change. It’s the parable of the blind men and the elephant…

Long ago, several blind men heard about an elephant and decided to explore it by touch.

      • the 1st Man put his hands on the elephant’s side and said, “It feels like a solid wall.”
      • the 2nd Man felt the ear and insisted, “No, it’s like a large, flat fan.”
      • the 3rd Man touched the tusk and said, “This elephant is sharp and pointed, like a spear.”

Each blind man was convinced they were right — and they were but only partially. It was the village elder who told them they’d missed the entire truth that their individual perspectives didn’t grasp the magnificence of the elephant.

IAQ is like that elephant.

Until we look at IAQ in its entirety, our solutions fall short of protecting occupants’ health. And poor health indoors means less productivity, lower wages, higher costs, and less profits. Outcomes to avoid.

IAQ Today — Layered Approach

The purpose of IAQ evolved from reducing indoor pollutants and improving energy usage to now include more protection from infectious aerosols, such as  Sars-COV-2 (COVID-19), RSV, Influenza, etc.

Today, post-pandemic protections layer finer HVAC filters, more outside air, antimicrobial touchpoint programs, surface disinfection, hand hygiene, along with advanced technologies, such as:

Guidelines and recommendations evolved too, such as OSHA’s 3430-04: Indoor Air Quality in Commercial and Institutional Buildings, ASHRAE Standard 241, Control of Infectious Aerosols, CDC’s COVID-19 Ventilation in Buildings, etc.

But there’s still something missing.

How are infectious pathogens getting into buildings?

The layered approach to IAQ, while important and necessary, misses the elephant in the room — the people problem (occupants).

The IAQ Elephant in the Room

Pollutants Pathogens PresenteeismWhen sick people go to work, infectious pathogens come with them: Into the air, landing on surfaces, and infecting other people.

One infectious cough or sneeze and touchpoints become transmission pathways — regardless of whether those touchpoints were disinfected minutes earlier.

One sick person exhaling infectious aerosols can have HVAC systems send that air throughout a building — often before HVAC filters can remove them, or without the required dwell time/exposure for UVGI, oxidation, or ionization systems to work.

The Whole IAQ Elephant

Let’s expand what IAQ means to…

Protect occupants’ health from airborne pollutants, aerosolized and surface pathogens, AND presenteeism (people working while sick)

In this holistic IAQ picture, presenteeism is added to IAQ threats of pollutants and pathogens. This primary pathogen source can now begin to be addressed as part of a whole IAQ solution. Otherwise, improvements patch holes while large leaks pour pathogens into buildings.

Presenteeism is Costly & Complex

When people go to work sick, they are a costly contributor to unhealthy IAQ. One estimate puts presenteeism costs at 10 times larger (US $1,500B/year) than absenteeism costs (US $150B/year), based on data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

One sick worker can quickly lead to outbreaks, exponentially infecting large numbers of other workers, which:

    • Increases absenteeism
    • Reduces productivity
    • Potentially increases health care costs to an organization

The financial costs to organizations seem obvious. But due to presenteeism’s complexity, the problem hasn’t gained the financial awareness needed to be fully addressed. This is why it’s been easier to invest in HVAC improvements because hard ROI (energy reductions) is easier to calculate than presenteeism’s soft ROI (increased employee productivity).

Presenteeism is complex as it occurs for different reasons, such as employees:

    • Having a strong sense of duty to work and/or their colleagues (e.g., doctors & nurses), and/or
    • Fear of Missing Out (FOMO) on career opportunities (e.g., executives & managers), and/or
    • Needing to earn money they’d miss by not working

While a sense of duty and FOMO contribute to presenteeism, it’s likely “needing to earn money” when sick is more common, especially for lower wage workers who lack sick leave or paid time off (PTO).

Reducing Presenteeism: IAQ Benefits & Limitations

Each IAQ improvement has limitations, whether it’s costs, efficacy, or ROI validation. New technologies have operational limitations, such as:

    • How close must infectious aerosols get to sources of needlepoint bipolar oxidation, photocatalytic ionization, or UVGI energy — and for how long before being effective?
    • Are potentially harmful radiation or byproducts produced during operation?

Measures to reduce presenteeism also have their limitations, such as cultural change, long-term costs, and hard to figure out ROI. These make it hard for profit and non-profit entities to try.

But since technological advancements come to market ever faster, isn’t it time to try reducing presenteeism as well?

Think about it. If there was a statistically proven technology that reduced the costs of presenteeism with hard ROI, it’d have every Shark Tank investor crawling over each other to invest.

An interesting reality about reducing presenteeism is that most of it already exists. One part by itself is not enough, it’ll take the whole elephant to change IAQ in a persistent and meaningful way.

Here are a few commonsense ways to reduce presenteeism:

1. Paid Time Off (PTO), Sick Pay, Paid Family & Medical Leave

    • Upside:
      • Enables employees to stay home when sick and/or care for family members
      • Reduces organizational costs of illnesses
      • Increases employee productivity
    • Downside:
      • Added company & employee benefit costs
      • New HR policies
      • More personnel administration

2. Living Wage Minimums

    • Upside:
      • Increases employee satisfaction & loyalty about compensation
      • Reduces recruitment & training costs from churn
      • Higher productivity from kept knowledge
      • Demonstrates company commitment to employees
    • Downside:
      • Higher labor costs
      • Lower first profits
      • Less financial room for strategic failures

3. Full Health Care Coverage

    • Upside:
      • Attracts top talent & raises recruiting success
      • Healthier, more productive workforce
      • Demonstrates company commitment to employees
    • Downside:
      • Added costs to company & employees
      • Raises costs of company’s benefit administration

4. Sick Leave Policy

    • Upside:
      • Encourages employees to stay home when sick
      • Reduces ambiguity of when to avoid coming to work
      • Provides legal cover against intimidation and/or harassment
    • Downside:
      • New HR policies & Legal review
      • Costs of new education & awareness program

5. Vaccination Support

    • Upside:
      • Educate & support employees
      • Avoids disinformation for more stable workforce
      • Reduces absenteeism costs & raises productivity from healthier employees
    • Downside:
      • Additional PTO costs for vaccinations & recovery from side effects
      • New HR policies & Legal review
      • Increases supervisory/management overseeing shift changes

6. Hand Hygiene Practices

    • Upside:
      • Healthier employees with less illness spread at work
      • Reduced absenteeism costs
      • Greater productivity & employee confidence in healthy workplace
    • Downside:
      • Added costs for dispensers & hand sanitizer
      • Maintenance labor costs filling dispensers

7. Education & Awareness

    • Upside:
      • Employees know to stay home when sick
      • Reduces absenteeism costs, increases loyalty, & raises productivity
      • Communicates company commitment to employees
    • Downside:
      • Costs of new education & awareness program
      • New HR policies & Legal review

A Holistic IAQ Discussion

IAQSeeing the whole IAQ elephant means improvements can be layered over time as part of real change rather than made piecemeal as one-and-done upgrades to HVAC filters, increased airflow, or UVGI investments.

The whole IAQ elephant was discussed in-depth in Jeff Cross’ ISSA Straight Talk  “Clearing the Air: The Holistic Truth about Improving IAQ

This interview with Dinesh Wadhwani, ThinkLite Air CEO and founder, and John Bergman, Science-Proven Microbial Control (SPMC) President dives deep into real-world challenges of making IAQ improvements.

SUMMARY: Selling One Part of a Bigger Solution

  • To win more large sales and/or novel opportunities, providers can take a collaborative approach when they only sell one part of a larger solution:
    1. Create an encompassing story from a holistic perspective
    2. Enlist a multi-provider team & together engineer an entire solution
    3. Propose the big solution to the top of the buying chain as a multi-provider team
  • Other benefits of collaborating in multi-provider teams can include:
    • Increase sales intel
    • Rope in potential referrals
    • Expand cross-selling through subcontractors
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