One thing I can say for sure about our Contractor Leadership LIVE conference and show in Cleveland in early September, is that the education that we offered to contractors was the best available.
Contractor Leadership LIVE, which took place September 12-14, 2017, at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, gathered industry leaders and top trainers to shape the future of the HVAC industry. Contractors heard from industry experts about the economic outlook and challenges for HVAC, explored solutions with the best thought leadership and top contractors in the industry, and learned best practices from trainers who have helped thousands of contracting business owners. Attendees also saw top industry companies at the Expo Hall.
If you’ve never seen a presentation by Brigham Dickinson, seek it out ion the future. For those of you who have seen him, you know what I’m talking about.
Brigham opened up his session at CLL with a question: How would you feel if you were losing 40 percent of your customers? Most of the attendees at his Wednesday afternoon session responded with variants of: Sick to my stomach; despondent; defeated. But one person said, “Excited!” And why? “Because it means there’s 40 percent more business out there for me to get.” That was exactly Dickinson’s point.
“According to industry experts,” Dickinson said, “we’re only booking 60 percent of our calls.” On top of that, 30 percent of the industry isn’t even recording their calls, so they don’t really know what’s going on.
“If your average service call revenue is $500, and your CSRs take 20 calls a day, if they book one more call a day over 250 days, that’s another $125,000,” Dickinson said.
Ellen Rohr, a human dynamo and champion of business excellence, is president of Zoom Drain & Sewer, and she also helped build Benjamin Franklin Plumbing's network. She spoke to a very large crowd about a variety of essential business basics, starting with pricing.
Rohr said: First and foremost: Charge more than it costs. "And before you can do that, you need to know how much it costs. Not what the guy down the street thinks it costs, not what your customers think it costs, but what is going to be a fair price for you, the tradesperson doing the work."
Rohr's also a believer in talking things out, as an essential key to business success and the owner's sanity. Those are the talks we need to have about anything from tardiness to incorrect invoice procedures, to laziness.
Once the rules are all mapped out employees need to be held accountable for their behaviors. “Don’t speak to the attitude,” Rohr said, “talk about behavior – you can’t read their minds anyway!”
Discipline should be progressive, moving from verbal warning to written warning to a suspension (30 to 60 days), to finally The Door -- parting ways with the company. And Rohr even believes in a step beyond that: clemency. Finding some sort of reconciliation that allows a one-time worker to return to the company.
Each step involves one of those tough conversations. The tough conversation is:
- Is done as soon as possible following the infraction
- Realizes that sometimes the infraction is a new one not covered by the manual
- Sticks to the facts
- Tells them how close they are to The Door
“Do they want to go out the door? Is there an action plan to keep them from going out the door?”
And if you’re not charging enough, you’re going to have to change.
“Sometimes change is scary,” Rohr said. “Sometimes, people only change when the pain of standing still becomes greater than the fear of change.”
The incomparable storyteller Mark Matteson told contractors that the key to customer service comes down to active listening. Everybody has a story to tell, Matteson noted, and they’d love to tell it to you. He takes personal pride in being to ask a stranger a few questions and have them talk about themselves non-stop for 20 minutes without realizing it.
“Forget closing the sale,” he said. “Open the relationship.”
Matteson is a fan of acronyms because it makes desired behaviors easier to remember. He recommended goal-setting that revolves around what he called the Four Ps: they’re personal, in the present tense, powerful and positive. Dominate the listening in every conversation could be one.
James Leichter, who started his career as an HVAC service technician and who now owns software firm Aptora Corp., told the contractors why they should institute performance pay.
Contractors should not offer the standard X-dollars per hour with a review after 90 days. If you find yourself a home runner hitter, performance pay gives him the opportunity to make a lot more money right away. A good program will reward the winners but not antagonize the mediocre employees who are inevitable in any organization.
Straight time actually penalizes fast workers and provides no incentives for slow workers to improve. Performance pay is based on the billable labor hours for service so a skilled worker who hustles can work eight hours and get paid for 10.
At the closing keynote address, two-time Super Bowl MVP Ray Lewis electrified the crowd. The legendary Baltimore Ravens linebacker is now living the life of an entrepreneur, businessman and public speaker, and spent much of his speech discussing how the lessons learned on the gridiron translated into his new life.
He opened with what he calls the Five Ps. “When I started to play,” Lewis said, “I realized something about football and about life: Proper Preparation Prevents Poor Performance.”
Lewis dealt with a difficult childhood. Yet from that childhood came a determination to make a better life for himself and his family, and a fierce work ethic that would be the backbone of his football career.
“Never giving up,” he said, “is the real key to life.”
And we can't forget the great opening presentation by Weldon Long. Long traded a life in prison for a life as a successful HVAC contractor, motivational speaker and author. During his rousing presentation, Long talked about his life journey, about dreaming big dreams, and about harnessing the power of your unconscious mind to achieve your goals.