How Not to Sell a Window
We need to replace our picture window, so I’m told.
My wife, Thelma, is an Architectural Designer. Whatever she says goes when it comes to house repairs and needs. My opinion, while sometimes solicited so I don’t feel left out, isn’t really relevant, and that’s fine with me. So, when my wife started getting quotes, I didn’t even answer the phone.
On one call, I couldn’t help overhearing one side of the conversation, and wish I’d heard what the window guy said exactly. It went something like this:
Window Guy: I understand you’re looking for new windows from the form you filled out at the Home Show last week.
Thelma: Actually only one, in our dining area.
Window Guy: Well we’d like to come out and quote it for you.
Thelma: Ok – when? We want to do it soon.
Window Guy: We’d need to find a time when your husband will be there too.
Thelma (not missing how that sounded): I actually make the decisions on this. I do architectural design, and do this a lot. We don’t need him there.
Window Guy: It’s our policy to have both homeowners present. We can’t do it without him too.
Thelma (with a raised brow and just a hint of sarcasm) : Ok – thank you. I guess we won’t use your windows then.
Who would have thought Window Guy or his script would provide a teaching moment? What Trust Principles were ignored, and what was the result?
From the book Trust-Based Selling, the four principles that drive Trust-based Selling are:
1. A focus on the customer for the customer’s sake, not just the
Let’s see. Window Guy has the person on the phone who requested the quote, who’s experienced in the field, and who has clearly identified herself as both the technical and the economic buyer. His script–if that’s what it was–focused on whose needs?
2. A style of selling that is consistently collaborative.
Thelma was pretty clear that she was ready to collaborate. So the customer collaborates, but Window Guy can’t get out of his own way and off his own agenda.
3. A perspective centered on the medium to long term.
She’s an Architectural Designer, and probably helps clients decide about windows. I bet if she were a happy customer if she’d be a great referral source–for Window Guy! But on the other hand, if she’s unhappy, would she ever refer Window Guy? Or would she perhaps even suggest others if the name came up?
4. A habit of being transparent in all your dealings with the customer.
Thelma was transparent. She said exactly why I didn’t need to be there. Window Guy? He never shared why it was relevant for me to be present. Maybe they have experience with customers that evidenced a need to answer both homeowners questions at the same time. But he didn’t share that, or any other reason, and even if there was a reason, it should have been one that complied with Trust Principle #1 above. But he never got there, because he wasn’t listening, or there was no place in his script to allow for a dialog.
The result? First, Window Guy didn’t get to bid because I won’t be there. Second, we don’t have to deal with that company.
Maybe in Window Guy’s world that’s a win-win. Not in mine.
Someone from this company actually called me again and did the same routine again. I asked to speak with his supervisor, who in turn gave me the same line. They lost, I won! I’m having the windows done by someone I trust.
All systems grow organically, evolving over time in response to their environment. They may start from a conscious design, but will rapidly move away from the original starting point. This is especially true of human-based systems, i.e. ones that are process based. The maxim they follow is more "form follows failure". It’s worth thinking about why a company might choose to have such a draconian rule for insisting that both spouses are party to the buying process. I can envisage a scenario where in the past the company has sold to one spouse only for the other at a later date to kick up a major storm when they find out. They’ve probably been burnt by this such that the managing director has decreed both spouses must always be involved in the process. I don’t see this as a failure of trust, more one of pragmatism, even if it’s a bit short sighted and possibly counter productive at times.
I find Eddie’s speculations highly plausible, so I have some follow-up questions for you, Stewart.
1. Front Line Employee
A company has a policy that upsets a particular customer. How would you prefer to see a front line employee handle that situation, especially if he or she has little discretion or flexibility?
If Eddie’s hypothetical situation is correct, and failing to consult with both homeowners in the past has caused serious problems for the company, how would you advice management to handle it? What kind of policies would you advise they set and how should they be implemented?
If the company representative that Thelma spoke to had given an answer along the lines of "left-out spouses get upset, we’ve had billing problems, it’s now company policy," would her response have been:
A) to celebrate the transparency and proceed with the transaction;
B) to feel like her autonomy or integrity was being impugned and get (more) offended;
C) some other reaction?
Thelma, if you’re still reading, I’d love to know your answer to #3, and also to know whether, given the existence of the company policy, there is any way the representative could have handled the call differently that would have left you more satisfied.