Building Relationships

Sometimes the sale is not worth the hell you know a particular customer is going to put you through (the trouble would probably wind up costing you money somehow, anyway).

August 31, 2004

 

Kim Sweet

We talk a lot about profit and revenue and finances in these pages, but not everything is about money. Sometimes the sale is not worth the hell you know a particular customer is going to put you through (the trouble would probably wind up costing you money somehow, anyway). Sometimes it's worth spending more on a product that's backed by a solid warranty (which could save you money in the end).

And sometimes, as Alan Hanbury points out in his column, a customer will pay more than you think they will because of the service you deliver and the relationship they have with you. To continue my story from last month, I went ahead and signed a contract for some much-needed handyman work in my condo. My hand shook a little, thinking of all the friends and family who had told me I could easily find someone to do it for half the price. They were right, I knew.

But I also knew the owners of this company and their business practices. I had seen the respect and care the employees had for their managers and for each other, and I trusted that they would treat me and my home the same way.

I was right. The morning conversations with the crew were the best part of the day, as they answered my questions, listened to my last-minute panic over paint colors and analyzed the Olympic events of the night before. I would have kept talking, but they had the good sense and work ethic to know when to get started and send me on my way.

While the zero-punch aspect of the job was great, what was even better was they took the time to make me feel good about my decision and my home, and understood that even though this project was small by many standards, it meant a lot to me. It made writing that final check a breeze.

Being kind, being helpful - these things build relationships. A new book from the Gallup Organization, How Full is your Bucket? Positive Strategies for Work and Life, by Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton, likens this to filling a bucket. Each positive thing we do or say puts a dipperful in another person's bucket and one in our own. Every negative action or word diminishes both buckets. At work, the authors found, employees who receive recognition and praise are more productive, more engaged with colleagues, have better safety records and fewer job-site accidents, are more likely to stay with the company longer and receive higher satisfaction scores from their customers.

Building relationships with suppliers matters, too. Not too many remodelers get to cut deals with manufacturers and/or buy directly from them. Rather, remodelers look for local stores with good advice, a personal touch and quick turnarounds.

Preferred contractor programs, the subject of this month's cover story, build relationships and profits when done right. Through their purchases and positive word-of-mouth, remodelers increase the manufacturer's business. In turn, manufacturers help remodelers grow their businesses through leads, marketing support, territory exclusives and business or installation training. But, this all depends on each side meeting the other's standard of quality.

For manufacturers, sharing their brand in this way implies endorsement and, in turn, exposes them to risk. For contractors, the risk lies in sharing the "preferred" title with too many peers and losing a competitive edge or being grouped with less skilled or professional contractors.

As a result, many of these programs have been revamped recently, with manufacturers raising the bar for participation, making the club more exclusive. When it comes down to it, people like to work with people whom they respect. Relationships are an essential part of ROI.

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