Great magicians, great swindlers, great politicians: What do they have in common? Soft skills. Well, and some pretty hard skills, too.
I know we’re not a bunch of con artists, but let me tell you about a time I felt like Harry Houdini. I was driving to give a young mother an estimate on installing a package heat pump and duct work on a small house she had just purchased. It was more like a cabin, really, and had very little room for ductwork under it. Today, I would recommend a mini-split, but back in the day (around 1998), I was a desperate, broke contractor who owed my banker over a quarter of a million dollars on a 5-year note to keep me out of bankruptcy. Suffice it to say, I was desperate, and being in that frame of mind, most of you know I was not having great success in bidding jobs.
But — and this is a big but — I had a habit from my youth that I could not seem to shake. Being born with a gift of gab, or just being a loudmouth as my sister thought, I looked very confident all the time. But inside, it wasn’t always a bed of roses. I was running an electrical company that made good money about half the time on industrial work in manufacturing plants. But to keep busy, I had to do commercial work in order to keep my employees, so the other half of the time, I did low-bid, hard-to-get-paid-on work. And my heating and air company was pure feast or famine. I’m sure many of you know exactly what I mean.
I was practically sweating in my boots, almost shaking in my shirt, because these words coming out of my mouth sounded crazy to me.
Back to my story. The habit I had from my early days was to be a consistent student of motivational material. We called it “books and tapes.” So, on this particular day, as I drove to this home, I happened to be listening to Zig Ziglar. The tape set was “Secrets of Closing the Sale.” He was describing a closing statement, and it went something like this. “Mr. Customer, as I said, you have a really fine automobile that you want to trade in for this very fine new Buick automobile. I suppose we could talk about what this one sells for and what your car is worth, but if I had to guess, I’d say that all you really want to know is ‘How much will the monthly payment be?’ Isn’t that right?”
That seemed so bold to me, but I decided that if I had the chance, I would give it a try. So, about an hour later after I had measured this young mother’s house and made a list of all the ductwork, electrical, pad, grills, registers, and a nice thermostat along with my estimate of the labor cost, I sat down on the couch in the living room to try to sell the job.
After the niceties and general discussions, it was time to make my pitch. Normally, I would talk a circle; you know, tell her how great my company was, then how great the equipment was, then how important I would be in managing the job, and of course the great warranty. But I remembered Zig’s statement, so this is what I said: “Ma’am, I suppose I could show you all of the parts and materials needed to do a great job for you, and I suppose I could show you pictures of air conditioners and air ducts, and I could tell you what the bottom line is going to be. But could I ask you a question?” She replied with a nice, “yes of course.” “Ma’am, if I had to guess, I’d say that all you really want to know is ‘How much will the monthly payment be?’ Isn’t, that right?”
Now I was practically sweating in my boots, almost shaking in my shirt, nervous as a stray cat in a room full of rocking chairs, because these words coming out of my mouth sounded crazy to me. And I was sure they sounded crazy to this nice young lady, also.
But to my amazement, she looked straight at me and said “Yes, that is right; please just tell me what the payment is going to be.”
Trying new things is scary sometimes, but being desperate can give you the strength to get out of that comfort zone and maybe discover something new.
I showed her what I had calculated the payment to be, and she said those words that sound so sweet to an air conditioning guy: “When can you start?”
Now, I have to admit that I would need to go back and listen to Zig’s tapes to get the exact wording of that statement; I think I remember it pretty close, but whatever it was, it was like magic. It was like butter running over hot pancakes it was so smooth. It was all I could do to not gasp I was so surprised. I wanted to scream “IT WORKED, IT WORKED,” but I carefully held myself back as we filled out the necessary paperwork.
Power of Desperation
Trying new things is scary sometimes, but being desperate can give you the strength to get out of that comfort zone and maybe discover something new. And of course, you wouldn’t use a statement like that all the time. But it’s nice to pull a rabbit out of a hat when you need one.
Here are three ideas to keep in mind:
1. Soft skills are simply taking our ability to communicate and learning new methods to give and receive information. And sometimes opening a door for someone goes a long way.
2. Soft skills really boil down to common, or maybe uncommon, courtesy.
3. Smile, say nice things, and put yourself in the other person’s shoes. “Walk a mile in my shoes,” as the song goes.
Technicians are not salespeople in my book; not at all. They are service people, the customer’s friend, the customer’s advocate. But consistent learning by tapes and books, and nowadays, by podcasts, CDs, USB drives, audible books, Kindle, etc., makes it easy. But easy or not, you may want to try listening to some ideas as you drive to your service calls, and don’t be afraid to try them out a time or two.
You see, we do not always know what people are going through or what they are like, but we can always keep working on ourselves.
I am going to leave you with one recommendation, one set of tapes (now available on Audible) that I paid $50 for back in the 90s: “Secrets of Closing the Sale” by Zig Ziglar. Get it, and let it play as you drive around. I’ll bet you find something that makes your day.
Rodney Koop, pricing enthusiast, is founder/CEO of The New Flat Rate, a home service menu-selling system designed to put profit directly into the hands of plumbing, electrical, and HVAC contractors. He can be reached at 706-581-0622. For more information visit www.thenewflatrate.com or email [email protected].