Editor's Blog

Family, Friends and House of Worship

July 11, 2011
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It’s as inevitable as death and taxes. Be a contractor long enough and you’re going to end up selling stuff to your family, friend or house of worship.  

Here’s another axiom that is true. When something can go wrong, it’s bound to happen at your relative’s home, your friend’s home or your house of worship!  

What can you do?  

Like most problems you can lower the chances of problems happening by being better at prevention. Here’s what I know from my work as a sales person at my own company and advising other contractors. Most problems occur during the selling process than in the actual work process. Go figure?  

That just means take the extra step of setting clear expectations about what the thing you’re going to do or sell can and can’t do for them. This also means don’t skip the step of diagnosing the customer. This step is the most important you’ll ever learn to take if you want to stay out of hot water with your family, your friends and your congregation.  

When I was selling to these special customers, they’d be the first to say, “I trust you. You don’t have to go to the trouble of writing up a formal proposal. Just tell me what it’ll cost and how soon you can start.”

Watch out!

After falling into that hole too often, I learned to say the following reply, “I appreciate that. But, I want to stay good [friends, family or a member in good standing]. That’s why I’ve learned that I owe it to you to explain exactly what this will do for you and just as important, what it won’t do for you. That’s why we’re going to take as much time as necessary to make sure I’ve diagnosed the job and that I’ve clearly heard what you desire and need to have happen when I’m done.”

Memories fade fast when something goes wrong. Suddenly, people forget what was discussed when the stuff hits the fan. It’s not personal it’s just the way we are as human beings. That’s why I continue to preach to any contractor who will listen, “If it’s not written. It’s not real.”  

This applies to all your communications with customers and your own employees and especially when it comes to writing out a proper job price quote. I’ll spare you the agony. It took me years of bumping my head into the wall of problems and getting the bumps and bruises to learn that we, as people, listen with our own filters. In other words, what you say when you speak can be totally different from what they hear. If you have kids this might sound familiar.  

The next best thing I did years ago was to create job templates so I could quickly and consistently create a customized solution for these “special customers.” It helped me make sure I asked good questions, did a thorough job of looking at the whole system and verified to them that I was listening because they saw me taking notes. Experience as a Tech had taught me to look around because whatever went wrong for the next two weeks in their home, their business or the house of worship after I had been there for a service call...I’d be to blame.  

Armed with that new knowledge, I saw the wisdom of pointing out things like old gate valves on a water main; circuit breaker panels that were old, undersized or obsolete; and pre-existing cracks on fixtures.  

Remember, if you touch anything or do any work - in their minds - anything that goes wrong is because of something you did.  

Okay now that you’re a little wiser, here’s a pop quiz:  

When should you ask about the rooms that don’t heat? Before or after you do the work?
Answer: BEFORE! Otherwise, you own this headache. Make sense?

All of this process applies to any trade you’re in.  

The funny thing about this process of asking good questions, writing down their answers so they know they’ve been heard and looking around the home, the business or the house of worship is it will lead to their liking you even more. That’s because they’ll appreciate your thoroughness, the quality of your questions and they’ll be more receptive when you end up suggesting legitimate things that will improve their comfort, their health or protect their safety.


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