As business leaders, we often make assumptions about what our field service personnel know. In addition, they make their own assumptions about us. The result is they know less than we think, and think they know more than they do. Here are seven things your service plumbers should know about their profession.

1. Plumbing is a great profession

Let’s start with esteem. Plumbing is an awesome profession. Victor Davis Hansen, one of the nation’s leading intellectuals, often talks favorably about the virtues of people who work in “muscular” professions. Hansen is a multi-generation farmer as well as a Stanford professor who teaches the classics, such as reading “The Iliad” in Greek. Hansen compares his neighboring farmers with his Stanford colleagues. Farmers win. Plumbers would, too.

When Eric Dutton was recruiting a kid for his plumbing company, he told him, “Mothers want their daughters to marry plumbers.” It’s true. Plumbers can fix things. Plumbers are handy. When the zombie apocalypse comes, would you rather have a son-in-law who is a lawyer or a plumber?

People need plumbing. They can’t live without it. When it breaks, you become their best friend. They need you. So, be proud of what you do. Be proud of your profession. The country needs you.

2. The difference between gross and net profit

Too many plumbers see what they charge for a repair, mentally subtract what the cost of the parts, subtract what they are paid and conclude the boss is making bank. They don’t understand overhead. They don’t understand what it costs to run a plumbing company. Why should they? Who has told them?

Try this. Break out your profit and loss statement. Round everything to the nearest whole percent. Take each employee, one at a time, and hand the employee a hundred, dollar bills. Say, this is the gross revenue of the company. The employee gets to keep the net. For each expense of the income statement, tell the employee to hand over one dollar for every whole percentage point. If gross profit is 65%, ask for $35 for direct costs of sales. For each overhead item, ask for one dollar for each percentage point. At the end, you will have around $15 to $20 (less if you fail to charge enough). Now, introduce taxes and depreciation. This exercise drives home the cost of running a service company.

Your job is to offer options and education about those options. People can then make their own choices.

3. Customers want to buy

Sales trainer Charlie Greer likes to stress that customers want to buy. He is correct. People do not request a plumber for the fun of it. They call because they have a problem or a need and want it solved. The last thing they want is to call another plumber. Customers want to buy from you. They hope you will end their ordeal.

4. Consumers are ignorant

OK, it’s not nice to call people ignorant, but they are. They do not know what their options are. They do not know why one faucet is better than another. They do not know how a tankless water heater could improve their life. They do not know what’s involved with water purification. They have never thought about the total dissolved solids in their tap water. They have never considered natural gas piping to their backyard grill, so they won’t have to deal with running out of propane at the exact moment they have guests over and put the steaks on. It is your job to educate them, to let people know what is available and what is possible. After all, you are the expert.

5. You are the product

In a service company, people are the product. The plumber is the product. You are the product. Before people can buy what you sell, they must buy you. They judge the service they will receive based on you, based on your appearance and conduct. How do you look? How clean are you? How well groomed? Do you stand up straight and look people in the eye? Do you smile? What does your truck look like?

6. You should never pre-judge

It is a mistake to judge what a customer can or cannot afford based on the size of the house and the car in the driveway. Some people have high incomes and correspondingly high expenses. They struggle to pay the mortgages on their McMansions. Conversely, there are people living below their means in trailer parks with excess disposable income.

How can you know who has money and who does not? You cannot. Do not try. Your job is to offer options and education about those options. People can then make their own choices.

There are two types of people who choose cheap options. First are those who cannot afford anything else because they simply do not have the money. Next are those who are wealthy enough that they can afford to make a mistake and buy a do-over. Those with less means often buy better quality because they cannot afford a mistake.

7. The grass is not necessarily greener

As long as there is more work than plumbers, plumbers will be recruited by other plumbing companies. The grass always seems greener at the other companies. It may or may not be the case. Even if the money is better, these may not be great places to work. Be careful before you jump, and when you do, do not burn bridges. You might realize you made a mistake and want to return.

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