Contractor Leadership LIVE Rocks Cleveland

Contractors heard from top HVAC industry experts about the economic outlook and challenges for HVAC, and how to operate a business to meet those challenges.

by Bob Mader, Terry McIver and Steve Spaulding

Contractor Leadership LIVE, September 12-14 at the Huntington Convention Center of Cleveland, gathered industry leaders and top level trainers to help shape the future of the HVAC industry. During this new,
premier event — which teamed the information teams from Contracting Business and CONTRACTOR magazines with the Electric and Gas Industries Association (EGIA) — 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 products from top industry companies at the Expo Hall.

CLL provided a comprehensive selection of workshops, seminars and networking opportunities.

If you’ve never seen a presentation by Brigham Dickinson, seek it out in 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, he shared that 30 percent of contracting firms aren’t even recording their calls, which leaves them at a disadvantage.
“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.

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.

Ellen Rohr is a human dynamo and champion of business excellence. She’s the 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.

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, a popular consultant, author and blogger, also took attendees through the “tough conversations” they sometimes must have with business associates who are holding their companies back from full potential.
Yes, Rohr admitted, these conversations are uncomfortable. However, they’re an important step toward getting all employees on the same page, and working toward common
company goals. Rohr said it’s unethical to keep someone on your payroll who’s not winning in their current position. The message to that person must be, “get good or get gone.”

Advantages of Performance Pay
James Leichter started his career as an HVAC service technician. He now owns the software firm Aptora Corp. During his presentation, he told 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 billable labor hours for service, so a skilled worker who hustles can work 8 hours and get paid for 10.

Super Talk by Ray Lewis
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.

Lewis began 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.”

Lewis ­— just like Weldon Long described himself in his opening keynote speech — is a big believer in writing things down. He has a series of notebooks that he’s kept since 1999 in which he writes down everything: what he ate, who he meets, what he said, what he’s committed himself to. The physical act of putting pen to paper brings clarity and focus to his life. “Write the vision,” he said, “and make it plain.”
With all the success he’s achieved in his life, Lewis still has goals as a businessman and entrepreneur. But they’re not what he lives for.

“I live for one thing in my life,” Lewis said, “to make sure my kids see me as an example to them. Because when I’m gone, all that will be left is my example.”

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