Can you sense the pressure building? Home-owners have been paying good money to keep their old, cranky, inefficient equipment limping along during these challenging economic times. There are probably more heating and cooling systems in need of replacement than ever. However, evidence shows that consumers, when given the right encouragement, will spend their money when it makes sense. The proof? Examine the 2009 to 2010 New Jersey State Energy Star Weatherization Program, the 2010 to 2011 federal tax credits, Canada's national and provincial rebates and credits, utility rebates and more recently oil-to-gas conversions. At some point, your contractors will face more replacement equipment demand than they've seen in a long time. Are they ready for it?
Sure, your contractors can run a lead, make a sale, order materials, stage a job and send out a crew to install it. They do this now and are probably pretty good at it. The problem is that our economic slowdown has trained all of us to do things in slow motion. It's been a one-day-at-a-time business world for us for so long that most of us have forgotten what it's like to have the phones ringing off the hook and scrambling to manage chaos. Now would be a great time to prepare for chaos. I hope it happens soon.
On your next call, ask your contractor principal what he would do if he had 10 sales leads that day. Who would run them? How long would it take to get to them all? How long would he be able to take on each call? How many would he sell? How many would he lose because he couldn't get there before a competitor? How many would he lose because he didn't have the time to follow up on the “I wanna think about it” customers?
That's just one situation to consider. Here are some more:
Does he have the installation capacity with qualified installers and trucks?
Does he have a supplier who could provide the products he would need on instant notice?
Does he have the capital set aside or a credit line to handle the cash flow challenge this would create?
The most effective distributors and their territory managers see themselves as business consultants in a business partnership with their contractors. Taking the initiative to engage your contractor owners and managers in discussions about these challenges is something they would appreciate. They might not take action at the moment but you'll get them thinking.
Encourage them to look at their existing processes and make sure that what they do is repeatable and “scalable.” This should include a defined and documented process for all tasks, coworkers who are trained and managed, and that doing this task once, or a hundred times, will produce the same quality result.
Some specific subjects you may bring up with your contractors:
Sales Leads: Is the appointment setter prepared to gather the needed information and immediately schedule the appointment? Does he record and track all leads? Can the sales manager get the reports he needs to evaluate this and other important sales KPIs?
The Sales Call: Does the sales consultant prepare for the call by first printing off the publicly available tax assessment information? Has he prepared a call packet with his survey form, installation checklist, dimensions graphics, financing information, cookbook pricing book or software, estimated energy savings form, load calculation tool, pre-printed choices proposal form or software? Does he have a photo-testimonial book or tablet with before-and-after photos of jobs he sold and 10 pages of handwritten testimonials? And does he have the all-important company presentation book or tablet presentation?
Installation: Have the installers created an installation checklist for the salesperson to complete and instructions on the exact measurements they need and photos they want to have? Are the trucks set up for maximum efficiency? Is there an established job-staging process so that the installers pick up all the materials they need and don't waste time pulling parts from shelves? Have you trained your installers to engage the customer when they arrive and how to show them their work when completing the job? Do they leave a feedback form for the customer to send in?
Capital or Credit for Growth: There's a rule of thumb that a profitable contractor can fund up to 20 percent growth without needing additional capital or tapping into a credit line. It takes money to pay suppliers, hire new people and buy new trucks. These past years have not padded most contractors' bank accounts with ready cash for this. If the contractor doesn't have a business credit line now, when he doesn't need it, it might be very difficult to get one when he does need it. Banks like to lend money to companies that can pay it back, so getting this set up while being financially stable is a smart move.
I encourage you to have discussions with your customers around these topics. Pick an area that is clearly not functioning well and offer to help him. Once you help him, you'll have elevated your relationship from “supplier” to “business partner” and will find yourself getting more business as your reward.
Tom Piscitelli is the founder of T.R.U.S.T.® Training and Consulting, www.sellingtrust.com.