One of my more memorable childhood vacation memories was a trip to Colorado. I remember riding for hours as Dad drove like a machine across Texas and New Mexico. Finally, after what seemed to be an eternity, we saw the "Welcome to Colorful Colorado" sign. As far as I know, this was the first time in my life to actually have a state between me and my Texas home.
After crossing the state line, we continued on for probably another half hour, after which Dad turned our station wagon around and headed back south. "Well, we've been to Colorado," he announced and back we went. As it turns out, our destination was actually back in New Mexico but Dad wanted us to at least cross the state line so that's just what we did - without even getting out of the car!
Our trip to Colorado may have been more fun if we could have at least pulled over at a roadside park to gather some genuine Colorado pine cones or feed the genuine Colorado ground squirrels. At least we came away with bragging rights of having been to Colorado.
If you're a service contractor, you may be making these Colorado trips every day without even knowing it. Let's map out a sales process - yes, you have a sales process whether you know it or not - to see if we can find some of the missing souvenirs from your trip.
Phase 1 - Answer The NeedThere are many ways to dissect a sales call, but we're only going to focus on three phases. Phase 1 is usually answering a call for help. A "no heat" call means your customer needs help fast. There's only one way to make this customer happy and that is to get the heat back on.
Although you may view yourself as a knight in shining armor, rushing to the rescue, your customer views the whole process with the enthusiasm they have for a root canal. They're inconvenienced and certainly wouldn't have called if they weren't in "pain." When the heat is back on, they'll be as happy as they were when their tooth stopped aching, but the fact is, they didn't really want to call you. They had to. The best way to add value to this transaction is to get it done fast, but if that's all you do, you've made a trip to Colorado without even getting a pine cone.
Without thinking about it, however, you did accomplish a very important first step in your sales process. By showing up to relieve your customer's pain, you at least showed interest in his or her well-being. This is especially true if he or she left messages on five answering machines as the search began for someone to get the heat back on. While you're on the job, why not gather some "pine cones" by simply mentioning a couple of ways to prevent the pain of no heat.
Phase 2 - Offer ProtectionThis is an important second step and you, being an experienced, conscientious contractor, will likely offer this information because you really do care about doing things right. You may not think of this as a step in a sales process, but this is exactly what it is. First, you proved that you cared enough to show up. By offering an upgrade, preventive maintenance or other options, you are now more than just a dentist that's good with a drill. You are becoming an ally, an advocate for your customer.
A word of caution: Code-related or other mechanically necessary upgrades do not automatically fall into the "customer advocacy" category. Sure, they need to be done but they're too much like finding a cavity in the tooth next to the root canal. Your customer will write the check with all the gusto they usually reserve for the IRS. Your sharp eye for code problems may result in added sales but, if you're not helping your customer enjoy the trip, then no pine cones for you! If, on the other hand, you highlight the safety and convenience that comes with the required upgrades, you're further establishing your relationship with your customer.
Phase 3 - Improve The LifestyleIn Phase 1, you took care of the "must-have" items and put your customer's system back into operation. In Phase 2, you succeeded in protecting your customer from future problems by offering "ought-to-have" items. These steps have been establishing your relationship, proving that you really do care about taking care of your customer. You have set the stage for the third, and most satisfying, phase of your sales process.
Before going any further, let's consider an example. Let's say you hired two apprentices and assigned them to your best service techs. You tell both apprentices to re-stock the shelves in their respective service trucks while waiting for the techs to handle paperwork. Apprentice No. 1 quickly gets all the stock on the shelves, just as he was asked. Apprentice No. 2 takes a little longer to re-stock the shelves but, in the process, she takes the time to pick trash out of the bins, turn all labels to the front, sort some mis-shelved items and blows the dust off of everything. Which apprentice makes you happier?
Now, back to our sales process. So far, in Phases 1 and 2 of our process, we were apprentice No. 1. We did the job we had to do and not much more. What we really did was to establish a relationship. We proved to our customer that we care about her and are interested in preventing pain. We've earned the right to enter Phase 3.
Now, we have an opportunity to move beyond mere repairs. We have an opportunity to improve our customer's lifestyle. Perhaps it's time to upgrade the octopus in the basement. Maybe a quick look in the bathroom reveals an entry-level toilet with a plunger standing at the ready. Are these upgrades absolutely necessary? No. Might your customer refuse the upgrades you offer? Yes. But if your customer accepts the upgrade, you have done her a favor because now, instead of buying things she must have, she's buying things that she wants.
There are huge differences between the two, but the difference I want you to see is in the relationship. Your customer will be pleased to have her immediate problem solved and she'll appreciate the opportunity to prevent future problems, but she'll be your cheerleader if you give her something she really wants.
You can achieve one or all of these levels on any service call. From the moment you enter the home, be looking for ways to give your customer something she wants rather than just the things she needs. It's up to you whether you make it a dry run or come back with souvenirs. I hope you have a nice trip!