NO!” This word stands between you and everything you want. No wonder it is such a tough word to hear. But if you are going to survive in this industry, you are going to have to learn to hear “no” for an answer!

I’m not being pessimistic. The truth is if you can hear “no” and not go home and put your head under your pillow, you will make it to the next “Yes!” Everything is sales, my friend. To get good at sales you need to get comfortable with “no.”

You may say you don’t want to be a salesperson, that you hate sales and salespeople. Instead, you wish you could just plumb! Really, it’s not the sales part, but the “no” part that makes you hate your salesperson duties. It’s fun to make a good sale. To help someone fix their problem. To make it all better.

It’s no fun to hear, “Whaddareya crazy? I’ll have my brother-in-law’s cousin come over and fix it for free, for cryin’ out loud!” But that is going to happen now and then.

In the PHC business, we look for sales over the phone — booking the service call — and in the field — when the technician makes his recommendations to the customer. Here is a survival course in taking “no” for an answer.

Over The Phone: When the phone rings, your job is to “catch the call,” and schedule a service appointment. That’s the “sale.” When you are pressed to give a price over the phone you lose the opportunity to differentiate yourself from the competition. In the “how much do you charge” contest, the low price wins the sale and schedules the service call. How can you handle the “No thanks, I can get it done cheaper” rejection?

Seems like the most common “shop around” call is for a water heater replacement. Even contractors who don’t generally give out prices over the phone are tempted to quote water heater prices. Why? Well, water heaters are treated like a commodity in this business. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Let me share a sure-fire way to handle this call:

You: Good afternoon, Ace Plumbing Company, how may I help you? (Professional, real live person answering the phone — big plus.)

Customer: How much do you charge for a new water heater?

You: Oh dear, problem with the water heater? Well, let’s see if we’ve been of service to you in the past. May I have your name? (Relate as a human being — it’s no fun to need a plumber! And best to catch the person’s name right away, and pull up any customer history from your computer system database.)

Customer: This is Mrs. Fernwicky. I’m just checking for prices. How much do you charge for a 40–gallon water heater?

You: Hi, Mrs. Fernwicky. We have a serviceman nearby. Could I send him over to check out your water heater? (Use the customer’s name — it’s polite and friendly. Also, ask for the sale … try and book the call.)

Mrs. Fernwicky: Well, I really want to know how much it’s going to cost before you come out. So far I have heard prices from $250 to $479! I can’t imagine why there would be such a price range! How much do you charge?

You: Mrs. Fernwicky, you know how your doctor will always want to see you before he writes a prescription? Even if, based on your description, he is pretty sure what the problem may be, he will still need to see you. It’s his professional responsibility. That’s how we operate, too. We don’t give prices over the phone because we aren’t sure what the problem is until one of our professional service technicians checks it out. I could send a service tech over, if that’s all right with you. (This communicates your professionalism. And how do you know she needs a new water heater? Maybe there is a roof leak, a loose thermocouple or a faulty relief valve. You don’t know from this information. Prescription without diagnosis is malpractice!)

Mrs. Fernwicky: The other plumbers I called gave me prices over the phone.

You: I understand you are looking for the best value for your dollar. If you choose to use another plumbing company today, don’t be surprised if the price of the water heater changes once he arrives. You see, the piping may not be to national code standards. Or he may need to re-do the venting. Once our serviceman looks at the problem and quotes you a price, we stick to it. We don’t like to surprise our customers with changing prices so we don’t quote prices over the phone. Could I send a serviceman over to check things out? (This plants a seed of doubt. The odds are 100:1 that the fellow who quoted $250 will charge more than that once he arrives on the job.)

Mrs. Fernwicky: Well, how much do you charge per hour?

You: That’s the good news — we don’t charge by the hour. We charge by the job. When our serviceman gives you a price to repair or replace your water heater, we hold to it. We don’t think it’s fair to pay more for a slow worker. Our technician will let you know your options and give you a written price before he begins the repair. Would it be all right to send a serviceman over? (Note the repair or replace options … the water heater may not need replacing. More doubt seeds planted. Also, keep asking for the sale. Only the service tech can help this woman!)

Mrs. Fernwicky: No. I think I will just have Billy Bob come out and replace it. He was the cheapest one I found so far. (Hey … it happens.)

You: Mrs. Fernwicky, would you do me a favor?

Mrs. Fernwicky: Sure. (Bet you a $100 she agrees to do you a favor. When folks say “no” they usually are sensitive to you and feel a bit bad about it.)

You: If you are in any way dissatisfied with his service, promise me you’ll let us help you out. Give me a call and we’ll send our best technician over to the rescue.

You see, Billy Bob might not deliver on time, and I bet he charges more than he said he would. But you must leave the door open for Mrs. Fernwicky to call back, without you rubbing in she made a poor choice the first time. Even though she said “no” she may be impressed with your care and professionalism … and call you the next time she needs help.

In the Field: I suggest that technical competence, and its resulting confidence, is the best sales skill. Yes, sales training is wonderful and I recommend you learn all you can about sales. But you have to be able to fix the problem! I’m all for red carpets and shoe covers … as long as they are in the hands — and on the feet — of a person who can get the job done.

So, train constantly to improve your technical and sales skills. No one around to train you? Educate yourself. Go to the library. Tag along with experienced technicians. Take classes. As your skills improve, your chance of hearing “yes” improves.

One of my favorite sales trainers is Tom Hopkins, author of How to Master the Art of Selling. Tom has a laid back, non-threatening approach that doesn’t feel pushy or overbearing. And he has a nice way of looking at the word “no.”

Tom tells a great story about Ty Cobb. If you’re old enough, you remember him as a champion base stealer. In his best season, Ty successfully stole 94 out of 144 attempts — 65 percent of the time he made it. And he landed in the Hall of Fame. He’s a legend.

Remember Max Carey? He was a contemporary of Ty Cobb. In his best season he successfully landed 51 of 54 base-stealing attempts. He was over 90 percent successful! And he is forgotten.

Perhaps if he had tried more times! Maybe his ego was in the way, and he just couldn’t let himself try if there was a possibility of failure. You know the guy had the skill — 51 times he got a big “Yes!” He may have been 10 times more skilled than Ty Cobb. If only he had risked getting a few more “no’s.”

I don’t have a tried-and-true script for getting to “yes” in the field. I can only encourage you to try more often. Take the courses and practice your skills … on your customers. The natural thing to do when you hear “no” is to want to quit for the day. Try again tomorrow; call it a day.

Nonsense. Try again now. Dust yourself off. Review the experience and learn from it. Find some humor in it. And understand that you will always get “no” for an answer. At least some of the time.

Try again now.