Using a Cleaning Consultant to Purchase Cleaning Supplies

Purchasing cleaning products to operate a private college or university very simply isn't what it used to be. It's much more complicated today, mainly because there are literally thousands of cleaning products to select from: some costing more than others, some environmentally preferable and others not, some designed to improve worker productivity and others that focus primarily on performance benefits; the list goes on from there.

This is one of the reasons we have trade publications such as this. They help us know what products are available, which might best serve our needs and introduce us to those products that could best benefit our schools. While these and similar trade publications play a vital role in helping steer their readers through the cleaning supply maze and confusion, procurement difficulties can still arise.

Because of this, if your role at your private college/university is to be in charge of building services and the purchasing of cleaning products, tools, and equipment, selecting a distributor that can manage all this information well and provide customized solutions-while staying within budget and accomplishing campus goals as to cleaning and environmental concerns-can be a great help.

This is what I have realized after more than fifteen years in the professional cleaning industry. It has become very clear to me that end-customers-our industry’s term for you, the administrators of private colleges and universities-want much more from a janitorial distributor. Very simply, they want such things as the following:

  • To have help uncovering their cleaning needs (as we shall discuss later, this is often one of the biggest problems end-customers face)
  • To discuss cleaning challenges and needs with their distributor
  • To have the distributor identify product options that can address those needs
  • To have the distributor evaluate current products, suggesting those that have proven value and others that may need to be replaced
  • To allow the distributor to help their customers narrow the alternatives and select the most cost-effective cleaning product options
  • To watch the working relationship grow over time
  • To benefit from distributor-provided training and after-sale support.

Some astute janitorial distributors are taking note of what their customers want. Consequently, they are making changes to their traditional marketing role with clients and becoming “consultants,” advising their clients on cleaning solutions, products, and equipment that help their customers address all of these issues.

Consultative Selling

Consultative selling, as it has come to be known, evolved after World War II and reached its zenith in the 1960s and 1970s. Then, for a variety of reasons, the concept faltered. However, it has seen a rebirth- virtually out of necessity-in the past ten to fifteen years. One of the key reasons for its rebirth was the fact that in the past twenty plus years, the number of distributors in the professional cleaning industry has dwindled dramatically. Some have gone out of business entirely, usually because they were not changing with the times; many merged with other distributors, or were purchased by other companies. Those distributors that remain, and are meeting the needs of today’s end-customer, realized that a new marketing approach was necessary.

A working definition of consultative selling is “an exchange of information in which the salesperson uncovers and develops a true understanding of a facility’s needs [as it pertains to cleaning and maintenance] and helps them select products and tools that will address those needs.” The word “uncovers” is very important. In many ways, this is the essence of consultative selling. Administrators benefit from what can be termed “hand holding” guidance to help uncover what their cleaning needs are, what their goals are when it comes to cleaning, and most specifically, what types of cleaning products are available that will better serve those needs.

We mentioned earlier that today there are far more cleaning products to choose from than decades ago. As an example, back in the 1960s and earlier, there were only a handful of chemical manufacturers in the janitorial industry marketing products in the U.S. Now there are scores from all over the world. For instance, the “Buyers Guide” on the ISSA, (the worldwide cleaning association) website, allows us to search for manufacturers of floor finish. It turns out there are 170 manufacturers of floor finish, no longer five or six. And we can also assume each manufacturer is making more than one product. So let’s assume that each company is making five different types of floor finish.

That gives us more than 800 brands of floor finish to investigate to determine which are sustainable, which are not, which are most cost effective, which perform most effectively, and which will work best in our private college or university. This can be a major hurdle to tackle. Do your administrators have the time to analyze all of these products? That’s why help is often needed. Fortunately, some janitorial distributors now have access to software databases, “apps,” and what are called “online dashboard systems” that help them and their clients evaluate many of these brands, helping to select those that best meet your specific needs and criteria. These technologies allow the distributor- with their customer at their side-to see and compare literally hundreds of products. These technologies provide the added information necessary for school administrators to make what we can call “thought-based” decisions when making product selections.

It’s a Health Issue

Ultimately, the consultative selling approach is very beneficial for private colleges and universities. One of the best things about it, because it allows us to make thought-based decisions, is that it can eliminate purchasing cleaning products that either are not effective or do not protect the health of a facility. We must always remember that while one of the goals of cleaning is to keep a facility looking its best, the key goal of cleaning is to make sure everyone using that facility stays healthy. When it comes to health, private college and university administrators are advised not to go it alone, but rather to leverage the knowledge base and technological tools available through a distributor, enabling them to make thought-based cleaning product and equipment decisions.

About the Author
Michael Wilson is Vice President of Marketing for AFFLINK ( developers of the ELEVATE process, an online system that allows users to learn about and select products that will help operate their facilities in a greener, more sustainable, healthier, and more cost effective manner.