How many times has a potential customer reached out to your salespeople for a price but was kept waiting so long that your competition swooped in and stole the business from you? I vowed never to let that happen again after a recent experience.
A high school friend of mine who is now an assistant manager at a large plant in Ohio sought the service of one of our companies. He asked us to come look at the job. I scheduled a time for me and one of my sales experts to meet with him at his plant to examine the work so we could get him a price.
It didn’t go well. Here’s a recap: My sales guy showed up to the meeting 15 minutes late. When he finally got there, he told the plant manager he didn’t have much time for the meeting, so he wanted the manager to discuss topics out of order and cover the part of the discussion that dealt with the sales guy first.
After we walked the plant floor, we sat in a conference room where my sales guy asked the customer to take a 15-minute video of each of the three areas where they were having issues that needed to be fixed. Finally, my sales guy left without providing a clear path to the next steps needed to address the customer’s needs.
I could not have been more frustrated with the salesman’s approach to the potential work. That was the first and last trip I will be making with him! At this point, I should tell you he is no longer my sales guy.
Had we left him running point on the sale, I am certain we would have lost the work. He made four major mistakes:
- Showing up late for a sales meeting: This is a sure way to make a poor first impression with a potential customer. He should have planned to arrive 15 to 30 minutes early for the meeting. Yes, we all encounter unforeseen delays. That’s why you build in extra time to arrive early. Then if you get stuck behind a slow truck or caught in a construction zone (excuses I often hear for being late), you can still be on time. Arriving late to a meeting shows the customer that the salesman’s time is more important than his time is.
- Making a customer re-arrange his meeting plan: He is the customer. My salesman shouldn’t have asked him to shuffle his plan for the meeting. Having the customer change his schedule displayed again that our time was more important than his. That’s a real detriment to the sale at stake.
- Asking a customer to do the work instead of doing it himself: He asked the customer to take a 15-minute video of each area in question and send it to him so he could analyze the situation. Really, I thought. You are asking the customer to set up a video shoot of three different locations for 15 minutes each instead of you standing there watching the situation yourself. The whole point of us meeting at the plant was so we could observe. The customer expected us to do the work instead of doing the work for us. (I was fuming at this point, but held my emotions in.)
- Telling the customer he would get back with him, instead of giving a price on the spot or laying out a clear plan as to what the next steps would be. The salesman left the site without giving the customer a price. He could have stayed longer to give the customer a clear plan of how we would be able to promptly address his need. Ideally, he should have closed the deal before he left the site, even if it met staying onsite for a couple of days. It is hard to get into these plants to look at work. Once he was in, he should have stayed onsite until the job was completed. Instead, he departed without explaining the next steps in the process of us doing the work.
By not taking care of the things while we were there, the salesman would have to schedule another meeting, which would include flying back from out of state. That also inconveniences the customer by having to schedule another meeting. I was wondering what my salesman thought he would see when visiting the second time that he could not have seen while he was already at the plant. He would be wasting my time, his time, and – most importantly – the customer’s time with a second meeting.
It made me think about what I would have done if the roles were reversed and my company needed to hire a contractor. It’s highly unlikely that we would have waited for a second meeting to get a plan or a price. Instead, we would hire someone else who gave us answers right away.
A friend of mine runs a local business that my company does work for. So, I encourage my managers to use their services in return. To my surprise, my friend called the other day asking why my company passed over him and gave the last job to one of his competitors.
So, I asked my managers why they didn’t use the company I recommended. It turned out to be the same problem I described above. Our project manager said he reached out to my friend’s company and a competitor for a price. The competitor’s sales rep provided a price in 14 minutes. My friend’s sales guy took more than 24 hours to provide a price. By that time, our manager had already made a decision and hired the company that responded promptly.
Our manager also pointed out that this kind of lack of response doesn’t just cost us on the front end when we are starting a job, but throughout the job. If vendors are not prompt at providing a price, then that’s a red flag that they may not be responsive throughout the project.
Don’t let your competition win the job that could have been yours if your sales staff had responded quickly. We all need to establish Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for quoting. After these latest experiences, I directed our managers and sales personnel at each of our companies to write their own SOPs and submit them to me. Here are some examples of what I am hoping to see:
- Parts or Equipment Sales: In most cases, provide a quote right on the spot, but always within one hour of the customer request.
- Contract Specialty Work (repairs or small projects): In most cases, price the project before you leave the site, or within 24 hours.
- Bid work: Contact or meet with the customer within 24 hours of the request. Keep in touch daily and submit a bid before the competition does. Then, get a seat at the table to discuss options for moving forward with the project.
- Hard Bid Projects: We do hold some bids until the last minute of the due date so certain contractors won’t have time to shop our number with our competition. However, always submit the bid before the due date.
One of the hardest things for us to measure at our companies is the performance of our salespeople. These new SOPs should help us in accomplishing our goals of accountability in the sales part of our businesses.
I recommend you do the same at your company. Otherwise, when work is out there for the taking, your competitor will be the one with a seat at the table.
Damian Lang is CEO at Lang Masonry Contractors, Wolf Creek Construction, Malta Dynamics, and EZG Manufacturing. To view the products and equipment his companies created to make jobsites more efficient, visit his websites at ezgmfg.com or maltadynamics.com. To receive his free e-newsletters or to speak with Damian on his management systems or products, email:firstname.lastname@example.org or call 740-749-3512.