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
seller’s sake.

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.

7 replies
  1. Thelma Newberger-Hirsch
    Thelma Newberger-Hirsch says:

    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.

  2. Eddie
    Eddie says:

    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.

  3. Shaula
    Shaula says:

    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?

    2. Management
    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?

    3. Transparency
    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.



  4. Stewart HIrsch
    Stewart HIrsch says:

    Shaula and Eddie –


    Good thoughts.  Lack of transparency and feeling unheard were our issues. 


    The question is whether the efficiencies of little or no discretion override the benefits of transparency, collaboration and listening.  Each business has to make its own decision on this.  For us, their approach didn’t work.  There could have been a dozen good reasons that this company had for its requirement.  They chose not to volunteer those reasons, so we’ll never know. 


    Another thought on this – although I think it was the seller’s responsibility to be transparent with us, we could have asked for the reasons behind the policy.  Truth is, in the second call, which I participated in too, I felt like we were bumping into a solid wall, and I didn’t even think to ask.   I suppose when we feel we’re not being listened to, we shut down a little.  Still, I wish I had asked.  I’m curious.


    Thanks for crystalizing this a bit more with your thoughtful posts.


  5. jbm
    jbm says:

    This is a sad and all too common story.

    My 1st cynical answer is that the seller justs wants a foot in the door to tell the buyer(s) they need more than one window and that both owners are required for the loan applicaiton to pay for the overpriced service.   They may actually make more money on the loan.

    My 2nd answer is that this is the continuous dumbing down of the american people and their jobs.   The sellers who respond on the phone are following a very simple script that allows no decisions on their part.  This is done as the shotgun approach to sales.  Throw a lot of stuff out by very low paid customer (dis)service reps and when you get a live one (foot in the door) the "gifted" sales person takes over. 

    I do my business (home improvements) byword of mouth referrals.  I wish I were busy, but I will never resort to this selling technique. 

  6. Stewart HIrsch
    Stewart HIrsch says:

    JBM – I suspect your right on both counts.  Good for you for choosing values over technique.  


  7. tj
    tj says:

    This is a common policy among “one call close” businesses in effort to eliminate the “I have to talk to my wife/husband/spouse” objection to the sale. This also prevents cancelations.


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