Class Act Creates Loyal Clients

By establishing a highly successful education program for its existing clientele, prospects and AHJs, a fire and security systems integrator has made a powerful case for value-added selling. It demonstrates how relationship and revenue building go hand-in-hand.

In today’s tough economy, upselling clients beyond the minimum code requirements for life-safety systems is becoming more and more difficult. Proving necessity is indeed the mother of invention, a regional integrator operating out of the Pacific Northwest has found a unique way to keep its revenue growth on an upward trajectory even as competitors battle to stay in business.

Headquartered in Portland, Ore., with offices in Bothell and Sequim, Wash., Performance Systems Integration Corp. has long embraced NICET education and certification of its employees. Recently, the company began taking education to a new level, with the result making a positive impact on its bottom line. It has created a number of classes and educational opportunities directed at clients and authorities having jurisdiction (AHJs).

This is the story of how Performance Systems is successfully leveraging education to upsell and retain customers.

Recruited for One-Off Presentation

It all began when the Oregon State Fire Marshals Association asked the integrator to provide a class on effectively completing acceptance testing of new fire alarm systems at its 2008 annual conference. With no precedent in the education field, Performance Systems’ personnel carefully reviewed NFPA 72, Chapter 10, on testing requirements. From that, a non-product-specific class outline was created that detailed the critical points of a correctly executed acceptance test.

A PowerPoint slide presentation was developed for a class of 15 to 25 fire professionals. Teaching straight out of NFPA 72, Chapter 10, the integrator’s representatives addressed how and why to test each type of device covered in the codebook’s chapter. Time was spent on the required documentation of systems, for both after acceptance testing and ongoing maintenance.

“We covered what’s required and who’s required to do it, right out of the book. We want people on the same page, just doing it accurately and equitably,” says Scott Dulaney, president of Performance Systems.

The class was well received and positively compared to similar classes attendees had received on suppression systems. However, those were always provided by a manufacturer’s rep and based around a specific brand.

Word Spreads Like Wildfire

With the completion of the association meeting, Performance Systems didn’t give much thought to creating more classes. That changed, however, when the company was contacted by the Portland Fire Department. The agency was interested in sending additional field inspectors through the class that had been provided to the Fire Marshals Association.

Executive management of Performance Systems debated the merits of expending nonrevenue-producing time on educational endeavors. Given that this pursuit would further relations with the firm’s largest local AHJ, it was deemed worthwhile to establish a deeper, more valued relationship on both sides.

Things then began to snowball. Once the class date was set it became a much-discussed topic among other local AHJs. The State Fire Marshal was contacted regarding the upcoming class, who then sent a statewide E-mail informing all of Oregon’s AHJs of Performance Systems’ educational offering.

As planning for the first class progressed, the integrator decided that since multiple jurisdictions would be in attendance an hour of group discussion would be highly beneficial for both its own interests, as well as those of the AHJs. The forum would allow some of the smaller, less experienced agencies to improve their approach to how final acceptance tests would be performed. These informal talks would prove to vastly improve testing standards in the area and wreak havoc with the “trunk-slammers.”

Following the first class being conducted, many attendees subsequently requested future dates to allow colleagues to acquire the same benefits. So more classes were held during the next four months, allowing approximately 120 of Oregon’s inspectors and AHJs (along with a few from out of state) to participate. Praise flowed about the information and how it was presented.

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