Knowledge of a pest’s biology and behavior makes the difference between simply killing a pest and managing a pest population. How often do we as IPM practitioners fall short on this objective? How often do we fall back on the past practices of using body counts on the floor as a means to demonstrate our success rather than realizing the only part of the population of consequence is the live ones remaining? Why with all the information available today are we still finding it difficult to face challenges openly and achieve the results we are capable of?
I recognize that there are customers whose thinking is so entrenched in the past that the concept of body counts is their only way to measure your success. Without a body count, their perception is that what you are doing is not working so “treat more often.” Getting them to realize the objective has been reached and the lack of dead bodies is the result of a successful program — and no additional weekly pesticide applications are required — oftentimes simply falls on deaf ears. And convincing people with this mindset that their participation and support is required often results in an invitation to leave.
The concept of population management should be looked at as an investment in operations. Many times I do not feel we have marketed the approach in a manner that customers fully understand. Our customers are not pest management professionals, they are business people. I have been in situations where the approach taken by the PMP has been based on the science of pest management and not once touched on the financial benefits of a successful program for their customer. It was a great and factual science-based presentation but the PMP could have just as easily made it in an empty room because the result was the same. The science-based program has to demonstrate value to them in order for the PMP to achieve the cooperation he needs.
Consider using your knowledge of pest biology and behavior for a different approach. Rather than stating your case in detached scientific terms that mean little or nothing to your audience, approach it from their perspective. Learn to present information in a manner that motivates them to make the right decisions. What impact and cost to them will the pest issues have on their business? Product loss, customer dissatisfaction, regulatory intervention and brand damage are important issues for them. Present the information in this way rather than stressing that an insect will reproduce at this rate and it will cost this much to get rid of. Place a tangible value on your service to prevent costs.
Business people need business information to make sound business decisions. Pest professionals have a tendency to push the science of pest management onto them. This is not their language. We continually tell them that they need to clean their operations better because insects and rodents do well when there is food available. We push them to seal their building, replace roll-up doors and fix water leaks and other deficiencies because it will benefit the pest management effort. These are all valid points but the total cost for what we are describing is sometimes far more expensive than the total pest management contract. In their mind, you are the less expensive alternative when looked at against how you have presented your case.
Due in part to a disassociated relationship many pest professionals have with some of their accounts and a lack of understanding of their customers’ business, they are unaware of the vital information they need — and how to use it. Explain it to customers in their “business” language: How many shipments were rejected by the operation’s customers in the last year due to defects associated with a pest issue? How much would such an event cost the company in real dollars? What is the value of the production time lost due to having to shut down for insecticide applications in order to “get control” of an insect issue? What was the cost of ingredients disposed of or the additional labor costs associated with discovery of an infestation in a piece of equipment or warehouse area?
These are the real costs associated with the investment you are requesting them to make. Keep your level of effort and contract out of the discussion and deal with their costs and return on the investment. The return they will likely realize will often make your cost for service relatively insignificant and not a major factor in their decision process.
Your knowledge of how to better manage a pest population, combined with examples of actual savings associated with changes you are suggesting, offers a tangible value to the party you are talking with. This type of approach demonstrates that the suggestions you make are linked to direct benefits for them and places you on a far different level for future interactions with the customer. When you learn to put their needs above your own, the motivation to accomplish such changes is understandably higher.
Knowledge of a Pest.
At this point, some of you are reading this and running ideas through your head about how to use this discussion to turn things around and drive company revenue. “Get the salespeople in here; we are going to take a different approach.” STOP! Rather than focusing on how to get what will be a very short-term gain, consider how to make this a long-term investment for your company.
Would you as a business person enthusiastically pay more or listen more to a company that has not met your needs up to this point? Take a hard look inward and honestly assess your talent pool. Are your employees ready to take on this level of responsibility and performance? It is not just a matter of getting your best salesperson to promote this concept, as a company you have to commit to it. Is your staff ready to perform at this level in any situation they encounter?
Remember that your technicians’ understanding of biology and behavior of pests will yield a higher volume of growth and revenue than any individual salesperson, regardless of the account. Without proper knowledge, how many opportunities that benefit your customer do even your residential technicians walk past every service visit? All that sticky stuff on the driveway is not just sap from the trees; it is likely related to aphids or other pest issues that need to be dealt with. Are they aware of the need for exclusion work to keep the pest from getting into the home or do you believe that if they fix that problem the customer will simply cancel the service? Why is the lawn dying in that corner of the yard? That particular technician may not be able to address all of these issues but many companies have people on staff who can.
Have the technicians at your company who work in commercial food accounts studied the biology and behavior of the insects and rodents they are likely to encounter? Do they apply this knowledge to find solutions for the pest problems? Are they familiar with the operations they work in and understand how to evaluate existing prerequisite programs to obtain a long-lasting solution to the pest problem? Do they know what materials are used in the food plant and what the risks are for specific pests? Their knowledge of biology and behavior not only gives them a list of suspects but also how and where to monitor and eliminate an issue before it takes hold to become a costly event. That knowledge leads to success and to their being respected as professionals who are listened to.
Knowledge is Key.
The industry is not looking for “super technicians.” There is no need to have a requirement that every technician have a Ph.D. to be successful. What we do need are informed professionals who understand the importance of what they do. They have an important job to do — and most take their tasks seriously every day they come to work. The question is: How much more could they achieve professionally and personally if they had more knowledge?
When is the last time you went out and spent the day opening metal boxes along a wall, scanning a bar code and moving onto the next one? When did you last go outside and open plastic boxes, change the bait, scan them and move on? Just how long could you stay interested in the job just doing this every day? More knowledge opens more opportunity to provide a more comprehensive and challenging service. As a technician grows, so does your business.
Over the years I have listened to the argument that this type of service “was all the customer would pay for.” Too often it was what a salesperson sold because he wanted the sale and the perception was that it was all the technician could do. From the customer’s perspective there is a definite logic that if “this is all I will be getting for the service, then this is all I will pay for.” As IPM and pest professionals, we are past the point of needing a change in this type of mindset. But only our performance and successes in solving pest issues for our customers — while enhancing their business — will change current perceptions. Continuous failure to do so will only perpetuate the distrust and unfavorable opinion we too often encounter.
It is well past the time for people to break out of this repressive attitude. The pressures throughout the industry require far more. The food industry needs to realize that the best-looking documentation does not necessarily correlate to the least amount of issues in the facility. The pest management industry needs to realize the full potential of the people we entrust to keep us, our home, business and health protected. The industry has to make sure they have the knowledge and willingness to do so.
The most challenging issue I see before us is that there are no easy fixes to many pest issues. Regardless of how many new gadgets or programs we come up with, pest management will always take a knowledgeable individual with the willingness to get the job done.
The author is director of education and food safety, Clark Pest Control, Lodi, Calif.