Last month we started exploring our fields and the seed we're planting. I gave you a couple of homework assignments, so let's check your work before moving on.
Assignment No. 1 - Examine your best “harvests” and try to figure out what sort of seed was planted to yield the bounty.
What were your best “crops”? Did you complete some highly profitable jobs? Did you hire your “dream technician”? Did you send out a “magic bullet” marketing piece or get some high-profile free publicity?
After identifying your best crops, what can you identify as the “seed” for those crops? Let's consider a highly profitable job, for example. Your customer said “yes” to every upgrade option offered by your tech. Once the job was finished, she was thrilled with the results and, of course, you were thrilled with the profits. What sort of seed and cultivation were needed to make this happen? Was this a referral customer or did they respond to an advertisement? If they were referred, who referred them? What sort of customer was the referring customer? Did they also prefer your best levels of service?
If this wonderful crop was the result of an advertisement, what were the factors involved in making it work? Was your mailing list focused on a certain neighborhood, a particular demographic or other special qualification?
What about your tech? Is he a good communicator or did he land this sale in spite of his inability to fashion a cogent sentence? If he's a good communicator, what devices did he use in his presentation? How did he use your price book? How did he spell out the options? If this particular tech isn't known for his loquacity, then look even more closely at the seed sown. If you have a system in place that enables a technically proficient yet inarticulate tech to make a sale, then you may have seed for a bumper crop of happy customers and higher profits.
What if your crop is a recently hired employee who excels in every area? What was it that attracted this person? Was it your winning personality or is there something about your company that makes superior people want to join your team?
What about marketing? Did you place an ad that made the phone ring off the hook with qualified customers? What made the ad work? Was it timing? The offer? The placement? The list?
Performance - your crop comes in many forms. Sales results, efficiency, marketing efforts and hiring all can be measured if you can determine what the standards should be. Once you learn to quantify and measure performance, you can begin to ask questions about how that performance can be achieved. When you figure out what the “seed” is, plant more!
Are You Suffering From Ragweed?Now, let's think about weeds (your second assignment) for a moment. In the agricultural world, some farmers are excited about a new, genetically engineered strain of alfalfa that is Round Up-tolerant. This means farmers can spray their entire field with Round Up, a powerful herbicide, to kill every plant except this super alfalfa.
What a time-saver for farmers! Don't, however, expect a one-step solution for your PHC business. (After all, there's a limit to how far we can push an analogy and I'm in the danger zone already!) Instead, learn to identify the weeds and pull them out before they choke out your crops.
For example, how much longer are you going to allow your dispatcher to poison your techs and customers with her negative outlook on life? Oh, your dispatcher happens to be your sister-in-law? (Please note: I'm not picking on any particular sister-in-law or even sister-in-laws in general. I'm simply offering a fictitious example, so if your sister-in-law happens to read this column, it's not my fault. Besides, if you hadn't left it on her desk after highlighting the paragraph, you wouldn't be in the pickle you're in now.)
If your field is to provide a comfortable climate in your customers' homes and your dispatcher is working against that goal, what should you do? Nepotism is no excuse for letting weeds grow in your field, so the weed either needs to be genetically altered to be more productive or it needs to be removed.
Are you having frequent complaints about pricing or inadequate service? You may be over-promising and under-delivering. If you're getting price complaints, check to see if the proper levels of service are being performed. Find out if your field personnel are communicating your value to your customer. Above all, this is like Johnson Grass in a wheat field; determine whether or not your field personnel think your prices are too high. If they're not convinced your company offers a great value, then there's no way they can communicate great value to their customers.
Magic BeansDo you remember the story about “Jack and the Beanstalk”? He traded in the family cow for magic beans, which sprouted into a beanstalk that reached the sky where he found a goose that laid golden eggs so he and his mother could live happily ever after. I suffered in nightly terror for weeks after reading the part about “fee fi fo fum.”
This story is a fairy tale. The reason I know it is a fairy tale is that there is absolutely no mention of income taxes. In other words, don't expect to find magic beans for your field. (If I had a magic bean that would instantly produce a high-profit crop, I'd sell them for $100,000 each.) Before trading in the family cow for a super management system, sales tool or membership, do the research to see how this “magic bean” would help your business.
In the examples above, you may have noticed that I left you to answer many of the questions. Asking questions about your business, and doing something about the answers you get, is just about as close to a magic bean as you're going to get.
My dad “chopped cotton” in his youth. If he didn't do the chopping to get rid of the weeds, he wouldn't have a decent crop of cotton. Decades ago, Frank Blau was “chopping cotton” when he asked himself how to make his plumbing business profitable. His answer was that he needed to know his costs so he could sell for a profit. Upon that answer, he built an empire that blessed his family, as well as thousands of contractors and their employees through the years.
Plant your crops, pull your weeds and make hay while the sun is still shining! (You really didn't think I was going to make it through this whole column without using this one, did you?)
'Hot Topic' Online Discussion
Join our next “Hot Topic” online discussion: “Warranties - How Long, How Broad, How Much?” To participate or simply listen in, send a blank e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. You'll see firsthand how e-mail discussions work and, at the same time, have an opportunity to influence your industry. Note: The discussion will begin on July 20 and will take place over the following two weeks, so sign up as soon as possible.