Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Serviceman's Abject Failure at Sales

(image credit)

The serviceman who came to my house yesterday looked like this character, both literally as he had his toolkit on the one hand and figuratively as he had a hammer on the other hand and saw my problem off-the-bat as a nail.  

You see, we have an ejector pit that collects water from the water heater and furnace humidifier, and it has a pump for draining the well and pushing the water into the sewer.  Our pump drains the water, but it doesn't shut off automatically.  So, in the meantime, my wife and I have to manually plug it and unplug it.

We had heavy rains last Friday night, then a lot of melting snow on the ground.  As a result, unfortunately, we woke up to a flooded basement on Saturday morning.  The pump drained much of the water, but over the ensuing days I had to go down and plug-unplug several times a day, because water kept spilling out of the well.  

So I contacted a plumbing company.

I sent a message via their website, and literally in two or three minutes, a woman called me.  I was surprised at how quickly they responded.  I was additionally surprised when she said she could get a serviceman to my house in one to three hours.  She called me back a few minutes later, and in fact the serviceman could come, and did come, within an hour of her call.  

I didn't have a good feeling about this, but I needed to have this flooding looked into and solved effectively.

Sure enough, almost from the get-go, the serviceman put me off and made me suspicious.  He looked at the ejector pit, and then a second well that collects rain water.  It was full, as the sump pump that should've turned on wasn't on.  

Without doing much to investigate the problem, he said both pumps needed to be replaced.  I was, like, whoa, I needed him to explain what was wrong with that second well.  I tried to quickly understand, because he was moving quickly, why water spilled only from the ejector pit, not the second well.

After I got a sufficient enough explanation for why, and I had to clarify three or four times, I asked how much will two pumps cost: $630 a piece.  After I said that was out of our budget, he said he could offer both for $500 each.

All of this happened within the first couple of minutes, but first of all he hadn't sufficiently assessed the problem.  Then, when even he determined that it was a switch problem for both pumps, that is, the mechanism that turns it on and off automatically wasn't working, he doubled his efforts to sell me two new pumps.  But we just saw directly that both pumps were actually working, that is, draining water effectively, and that instead it was the switch mechanisms that didn't work.  

He heightened his efforts further by repeatedly dissuading me from simply replacing the switches.  His company cannot warranty them. They have no cost schedule for switches alone.  He has to check with his manager.  

When I asked what it took to replace the switches, he talked about cutting one pipe and then another from the ejector pit.  Again, I'm like, what?  

Some salespeople practice the art of not listening.  He was one of them.  I worked for a manager who was like that not only with clients but also with his staff.  Even as I repeatedly let him know that replacing the pumps was not possible with our budget, he kept at it.

He relented, and went back to his van to check, on replacing the switches.  This gave me time to gather myself and do my own strategizing with this guy and our situation.

"Bad news," he came back in and said.  $250 a piece for the switches.  Yeah, right.  He made one final last-ditch attempt to sell me two pumps, now at $400 a piece.  I just shook my head at that point, and asked him what the charge was for the service call: $75.

Of course that didn't stop him from trying to sell us a drain cleaner for our bathroom and kitchen sinks.  He asked me how our drains were, and even when I said they were fine, he, practicing the art of not listening, went ahead anyway and described their product.  In fact, he tried a few times to sell this to me.  So at the end I asked how much it cost: $54.  No, thank you.  

This guy was bad news, and his company was bad news.  

So a few things for other salespeople to consider:
  • Inquire about the problem first, assess it sufficiently, and listen actively to your customer.
  • Take the time to answer questions, and give user-friendly explanations.  Don't make your customer have to repeat his or her questions.  
  • Offer workable solutions, not predetermined products.  Regardless of what deal you can provide, you ultimately have to work within your customer's budget.     
  • Last but not least, earn trust and respect and create a comfortable situation between you and your customer.
Later in the evening, I shared this with my wife, and she said that a while ago a neighbor came into to our house and tapped the inside of the ejector pit.  He said that some build-up impedes the switching mechanism, so when he cleared it, the pump worked again.  

All the more reason to think that I made the right moves with that guy.  I don't begrudge him for pushing his business.  He seemed like a nice guy, and he seemed knowledgeable enough.  But he failed miserably at his making a sale.  In fact, worse than failing, he discrediting his company.

Virtually from the get-go, I just wanted to get this guy out of my house.

Ironically, though, he helped me to clarify our flooding: that is, two pumps were not switching on.  Now I have to plug-unplug two pumps manually, but almost immediately I got the flooding problem under control.  There, you see, he actually helped me to solve the problem, too, even if only temporarily.

I'm working on a solution, which is much less expensive than replacing the switches and it may be a long-term one, if I can make it work.  The pumps will have to be replaced at some point, but now is definitely not the time, because they're working.  
Thank you for reading, and let me know what you think!

Ron Villejo, PhD

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