Death of The Tin Man

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Originally the term referred primarily to siding salesmen and to tactics that were deceptive as well as pushy. Several local Better Business Bureau Web sites feature tin men as the 1950s' contribution to the top scams of the past century.

January 01, 2003

 

Kim Sweet

At dinner downtown with a group of friends, the conversation turned to one couple's day of car shopping. They didn't have nearly as much to say about the cars as they did about the salespeople. Tom mocked the one who jumped to speak with them before they entered the showroom. Carolyn couldn't stand the one who refused to accept that a $200 "discount" would not make a $25,000 decision go any faster.

Whether pushy sales tactics ever were appealing is something I can't answer. But they were widespread, in contracting as well as in cars. And in contracting, at least, those who employed this approach were, and are, called tin men.

Originally the term referred primarily to siding salesmen and to tactics that were deceptive as well as pushy. Several local Better Business Bureau Web sites feature tin men as the 1950s' contribution to the top scams of the past century. Aluminum siding salesmen would promise homeowners a commission or referral fee for any neighbors who purchased the siding. They also might tell the homeowners the product would be free and they'd have to pay only for labor. Either way, consumers ended up paying quite a bit of money for work they'd been led to believe would cost much less. Watch the 1987 film Tin Men, starring Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito, to get the Hollywood version.

These days, tin men is a term remodelers use to deride contractors who use high-pressure sales tactics, make promises they can't fulfill (whether they realize it or not) and are better at marketing than they are at delivering what customers need.

It is my great pleasure to report I've yet to meet one. Despite the fact that remodelers in many parts of the country are struggling mightily to hit revenue targets, no one recommends a return to hard-sell strategies. Instead, companies that are holding strong or even growing suggest shutting up.

This might seem counterintuitive and strangely passive, but it works. Once a salesperson gets in front of a prospect, the best thing to do is listen. Find out what prospects' needs, wants, desires and problems are. Take the time to understand them. Explore all possible solutions and then offer the best one. And if your company cannot offer a solution, don't try for the sale anyway. The revenue from that job will not outweigh the bad word-of-mouth from an unhappy customer.

One bit of advice suggested by Dave Mattson of the Sandler Sales Institute - owner of a system popular with many remodelers - is to remember that the entire staff, not just the sales team, is responsible for sales. One example he cites is how a lead carpenter, speaking with great passion, conviction and knowledge about his work, can do more to build repeat and referral business than any phone call or visit on the part of the salesperson.

I saw this happen in January at the International Builders' Show in Las Vegas. For the second year in a row, the Reed Residential Group partnered with readers, sponsors and charitable organizations to build homes and shelters for deserving people. While working on the remodelers' Habitat for Humanity house this year, I had a chance to observe the interactions among volunteers who'd never met before. Again and again, work colleagues pulled me aside to remark on the ingenuity, patience, intelligence, skill and kindness of one remodeler or another.

While seeing my friends get along always gives me the warm fuzzies, my business self thought: sold. If anyone at Reed Residential needs a remodeler, I know who will be called.

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