Make it easier for customers to choose you as their plumbing contractor.

From my office window I see sweating people. They are not engaged in manual labor or using a Bowflex. They are, in fact, just standing there. I’m no meteorologist, but in Alabama, this signals summer. This means many things:

• My children are out of school, gleeful at the onset of “freedom” followed immediately by claims of terminal boredom. (Personal note: To me, boredom should be listed as a sin. My children know this too well.)

• I’m taking off one day a week until school resumes. (I just heard cheering from staff members and boos from the aforementioned little darlings.) I choose Mondays to preclude any complaints about that maligned day.

• My boat will be brought out of hibernation and called into service as a lake-going vessel capable of both family fun and financial ruin. After many summers of this knife-edged relationship, I’ve figured out that boats only break during the following circumstances - when you overuse them and when they’ve not been used enough.

My mechanic quite sincerely has said both of the following to me: “Man, your impeller gave out because it was used so much,” and “Man, your impeller gave out because it sat too long.”

My boat is needy, argumentative and costly, but since I’ve got two teenagers, it fits in beautifully. It is a midengined boat so it handles great. I can do a 180-degree turn at full throttle and the boat will rotate nearly flat. This is ill-advised without warning your passengers, unless of course you’d like them to be impaled on an island sapling up to 300 yards away. Knowing this, I now offer free boat rides to members of Congress.

The Search Process

So, faults aside, I like the boat. And I like it to be really clean before it’s launched for the first time until moments later when a full Coke is knocked into some unreachable abyss. I used to detail it myself, but this year, I’ve become a lazy slob and started shopping for a boat detailer.

These are virtually the exact same steps your prospects follow searching for a suitable plumber, choosing you or your competitors accordingly. Make notes.

• I asked my mechanic.This happens constantly with your customers. They may ask their trusted pest control guy if he knows a good plumber. There’s a “like-kind” quality in referral-seeking that is often overlooked. We technically term this as “COI” or “Circle of Influence” and it is more powerful than you can imagine. Too often, plumbing contractors think of customers as the only referral source. Wrong. Plus, that’s “one-to-one” where reaching out to noncompetitive contractors can turn one phone call into thousands of potential references.

So, what did my mechanic tell me?

“I get asked that a bunch. I don’t really know of one. But if I hear of a good one I’ll let you know.” Wow. I wonder if an enterprising boat detailer might detail this man’s boat for free, just to show him his skill and instantly turn that into 20-40 jobs. And my question for you is are you regularly contacting “influencers” who could recommend you and make that suggestion accordingly?

• I also asked my psycho boat friends.Disturbing responses here. Two said I was crazy to use anybody that wasn’t me (bad experiences) and two said, “I don’t know. I only use them once a year. They’re usually independents who move around, so I never use the same one twice.” 

Clearly, a major retention problem. And this is the problem that can tank your plumbing business, too. Listen up:

These detailer guys must insanely expect customers to dredge up their names and hire a detective to find them. Ha! I know you would never just expect your customers to remember you from an infrequent visit, would you? Your customers have flawless memories, never talk to others and are blind to competing advertisements, so retention would be unnecessary, right? Just making sure.

Getting nowhere, my next step was to…

• Gather visual evidence of other detailers.I Googled for Web sites and recalled a couple shops I’d seen - one was 50 yards from where I keep my boat. Then I went to the Yellow Pages. Your prospects do this, too. The Web site or Yellow Pages get “credit” for the call, but many times prospects have heard of you, know of you, have seen you, but go to the Yellow Pages just for the number. A presence on the Web and in the Yellow Pages aids validity and confirmation. After this step, things went badly…

• Made an assessment in the call.The most convenient one, which is a significant asset when trailering, answered the phone almost unintelligibly. I think they said the company name, so I asked, “Is this the boat detail shop?” to which she re-mumbled the shop name.

Going on a sheer hunch she’d said the name of the company, I proceeded to tell them my boat was nearby and … she interrupted, “We don’t pick up boats.” I told her I didn’t expect them to and began again to mention I was looking for someone who could detail an older ski boat that … she interrupted again.

“James ain’t here. You want to call back in an hour?” This, being my pet peeve, was it. I told her thanks anyway, I might call back. The “image” of the company was spoiled, the “convenience” negated. If the customer service before the sale was like this, what happens later? You think I’m being picky?

Your prospects do this constantly. They’re hoping for confirmation that you’re the plumbing contractor to fix them up. I wanted this company to be the right one for me so I could stop shopping. Didn’t happen.

Finally, I get a guy, “Dr. Detail,” who has a prominent shop I’ve noticed for years. The doctor himself answered the phone, answered the same questions with more detail - as his name suggested - than expected.

He went a step further to describe steam cleaning, acid rain removal, bimini top protection, all for an added fee. He was upselling me, but I never felt like I was being “sold.” The best kind, boys and girls.

You can guess who I chose. Dr. Detail sold me on the best he had before we ever met.

He’s now got my boat and I expect to be thoroughly pleased. When we parted he said, “Hey, if you like our work, be sure and tell others.” Planting the referral seed. My kind of guy.

Your prospects go through these steps. Dozens or hundreds per day in your town are making mental, visual and verbal notes to “solve” their plumbing challenge. Each detailer had significant opportunity to boost appointments (the mechanic, retention marketing, referrals, professional CSRs, image-building and display of competency). You think they might’ve benefitted from paying the boat storage facility for their mailing list? Just a thought. You have these same options staring at you.

The examples and knowledge gained from others applies to you in the way you buy. Load the boat with these principles and leave the competition in your wake.