Last week I got a lesson in sales from a most unlikely source. It all started with a “honey do” (which in my case immediately converts to a “honey sub contract” whenever possible) list item that had taken over that dreaded Defcon 5 Home Alert, nobody’s-happy-if-mamma-ain’t-happy position. Specifically, spring had arrived, my kids are 5 and 3, and we needed a play set in the backyard. So I priced the (much preferred) brand where the company delivers and constructs the thing for you, but unfortunately everyone in the family had seen an identical set at our favorite retail play land, Costco, for about $1000 less. All I had to do was find someone to put it together for me, in time for the Easter party we are having today, and I was good to go. (Note: At no point in time did I consider attempting to put this thing together myself. I ran a painting and light construction company in college, but just because I am physically able to complete a task does not even close to mean that I have any desire to spend every “spare” hour that I have stripping screws and running back and forth to Home Depot for missing parts. Besides, I had testimony from multiple Dads on my street that it took them like 50 weekend and evening hours to assemble theirs--enough said---this went out to bid.)
I called our go-to friend for all things Charlotte, our realtor, to suggest a handy man. Without any hesitation she recommended her cousin, and we arranged to have him come with his “crew” on Saturday and get it built. He had already taken the step to call the manufacturer and gave the estimate that it should take 4 hours. Done deal-see ya Saturday! Well, at the arranged time a truck shows up and three guys start unloading tools. The only problem: they all look like they are 12 years old to me.
A quick call to our realtor confirms that they are in fact high school kids, but that her cousin does all sorts of handy man projects and has built playsets before. I’m slightly apprehensive at first, but it’s 75 degrees out and sunny, the NCAA tournament is on, my wife is out for the day---whatever---go to it, boys.
Fast forward 6 hours. No less than 5 of my neighbors, including my realtor, have stopped by and commented on the lack of progress that is painfully obvious to me. The weather report for the next few days is calling for rain. My wife is about to come home and there will be some ‘splanin to do. Argh. I am not the picture of a happy customer.
Here the lesson starts.
The leader of the Baby Bob the Builder Team knocks on my back door at 6PM. He got right to the point. “I’m sorry Mr. Moulton, but this job is going to take us considerably longer than we thought. We have tried hurrying, but there are a ton of moving parts and we are afraid if we cut corners then the playset won’t be solid and safe for your kids. We’re already 8 hours in and there is no way it is fair to charge the original hourly rate, so do you mind if we talk about a set amount? We will work every hour possible to get the job done and I guarantee we will be done by Wednesday.” In one 30-second statement, he completely put me at ease and I crossed over to his side. Through rain delays, the kid’s daily timeouts for church, Boy Scouts, tutoring, my realtor’s offer to hire a professional contractor to finish, I protected him and come Wednesday night, we had the sturdiest, most level, problem free project I ever had the luck to not have had to do touch myself. What he did right:
- Owned the problem. Sales guys love to try to skirt the issue or blame somebody else and only end up sabotaging trust.
- Highlighted the overall goal. Yes, I wanted to save money and not have to build it myself-but ultimately I wanted the thing to last and be safe.
- Had a pricing solution at the ready. He didn’t necessarily back down to working for nothing, but he recognized that he couldn’t stick to the agreed upon hourly rate, either.
- ed a realistic fall back goal and put a personal stake on it. He didn’t panic and tell me he could definitely finish by the end of the weekend, but he didn’t pull a standard plumber move (they already got your pipes spread out all over the basement, they’ll finish when they’re done. Or they could just leave…), either.
I doubt that he even knew he was hitting all these customer success bases with me (if he did, he is even more of a sales prodigy than I thought!), but I took a lesson from him all the same. Mix in a little a Speed of Trust philosophy that I really believe in, and the whole experience was a positive. It turns out you can learn something from a teenager besides where to download pirated videos.
P.S. People know that I can be a big softy, particularly for certain people. That’s probably a reasonable analysis, too. Either way, if I had to build the damn thing this blog wouldn’t have been written this week because I would still be out back with a level and belt sander.