Here’s a safety tip for you: Do not try to remove a 10-lb. fire extinguisher from its bracket with your head. You really should just use your hands.

I was minding my own business, really. I’d leaned down in my garage to see if I — a mere mortal with a flawed sense of mechanical aptitude — could remove the front bumper cover off my needy car to get to the horns.

See, it had wimpy horns. And in the intelligence of the Dodge Viper assembly team, who likely considers honking inferior to just lighting up the tires to escape harm’s way, they’d stuck the horns in a thoroughly unreachable area. I knelt all the way down to see the dinky little horns beside the radiator. Then I stood up abruptly.

Major ouch. At my height, I don’t bump my head very often, so I made up for several lost opportunities.

Two very loud “clonks” rang through the building — the first being my head removing said fire extinguisher from the bracket and the second being the extinguisher hitting the cement floor, scattering tools all about.

I got to my feet and poured a bottle of water on my bleeding head, clearly needing stitches. I contemplated going to the emergency room, but images of waiting behind gunshot victims and those with various communicable diseases coughing in my general direction made me reconsider. (Avoidance of additional pain, a sales lesson worth noting.)

The next day I went to the doctor who did his embroidery and sent me on my way. Which got me to thinking …

Stuff happens. Quickly and without notice. There are accidents, so named because there’s no one to blame for their occurrence. I guess I could’ve gone “victim” and sued the contractor who installed the fire extinguisher and the fire extinguisher company for not softening the edges of said unit. Plaintiffs and the folks posing as their attorneys have gotten paid for more preposterous things, I assure you.

Today, we’re hearing more about victims. For the guy or lady who lost their jobs due to plummeting sales (which govern the economic machine, lest you forget) out of their control, the word victim could be apropos. Yet for many hoping to use the victim card, might I suggest a different word …

Such as “volunteer.” You make the call.


Case study

A contractor who had been doing well was seeing his agreement renewal rate slip, his closing ratios tilt downward and his margins erode to get the jobs.

We suggested circling the wagons and protecting his customer base first, locking down renewals, beginning a low-cost referral campaign, then getting aggressive with direct-response acquisition strategies for better-heeled, less-price-sensitive new customers.

In essence, he responded, “Nonsense,” and promptly spent $60,000 on a radio campaign that was more about his ego and price-cutting than about existing customers. Failure ensued.

During the past 12 months, he actually reduced his customer retention campaign to fund the “new” marketing. In time, his “old” customers heard the new offer and saw it as superior, which generated two responses: cut me the same deal or I’m gone; or if that’s how you treat loyalty, I’m gone. Thus, his respondents became a mix of current customers seeking a concession and those who were cheapskates.

Immediate margin erosion and accelerated customer exodus sent our contractor into a tailspin. Most profitable leads dried up. Ninety days and half a staff later, he still has 15 grand a month due in radio, his Yellow Pages budget was never trimmed (which we suggested for three years; “Couldn’t give up the priority placement,” said his ego) and many current customers and their agreements defected due to inequity and inattention. Some defectors commented on a blog site and it reflected  in Google’s rankings. Not good.

He admitted that he’s very likely a couple pay cycles from the B word if things don’t improve. He called his company a victim of everyday trends. Your assessment?

There are victors, victims and volunteers. Joining the victors is mostly a choice to do so, and it looks something like this:

Look at your ads. Is your message about “family comfort” or “cheap service?” If your reason to advertise the “lowest prices in town” is just to get calls, don’t complain to me if you get a bunch of price shoppers. You basically begged ‘em to call.

Look at your landing pages. Does your website attempt to pound visitors with hard logic? Or befriend them with helpful advice? Does it use technical jargon or display benefits that mean something?

Look at your newsletter. Are you talking about the greatness of your company and its glorious history? Save it for the company picnic. Tell buyers why that matters to them. No one likes a braggart, but everyone likes a problem-solver.

Look at the images in your marketing. Do you display a lot of trucks and tools? Great. Show that to the guys in the warehouse, they’ll love it. But unless they’re your buyers, get it gone.

Let this season be the season you shift your message to fit your true buyer.

1. Attract with emotions.

2. Convert with helpful authority.

3. Retain with friendly efficiency.

Do this, and you’ll have enough new business to make this your best year ever. Maybe spring for a new wardrobe. Nah. Buy her something instead. You’ll come out even farther ahead.



PM readers can get a free Customer Retention Kit by emailing their request to or faxing to 334/262-1115. See other marketing reports at or call 800/489-9099.

This article was originally titled “Victors, victims and volunteers” in the May 2016 print edition of Plumbing & Mechanical.