Knowing When to Cut Ties with an Unresponsive Custom Install Prospect

Jul 1

Written by: Todd Anthony Puma
7/1/2013 8:45 AM  RssIcon

We’ve all heard the scatological phrase about doing ones “business” or getting off “the pot.” We’ve all been there. Should you try to get a few more years out of your truck or buy a new one? And, when we started our own businesses, we needed to make that leap into the great unknown of business ownership, suddenly responsible for sales, marketing, customer service, accounting, payroll, human resources, etc. Now, as a veteran owner, I’m making big decisions regularly in terms of accepting clients and projects. I’m trying to decide if now is the time to move on from an unresponsive client or if I should “sit” a little longer.

A few weeks ago I wrote about “Knowing When to Say No,” or deciding whether or not to move forward from the estimating phase with a client. Are they actually serious and going to pay for the time spent, or are they going to waste your time and money? Beyond that, I’ve been in a few situations where the decision point has come a little bit later but still before work has started.

Several months ago I met with a client who was doing a full renovation of a four-bedroom 2500 sq. ft. apartment in New York City. I had informed him that the initial base estimate would be free, but after that there would be a charge for each subsequent “significant” change, like a different control system or changing the system configuration. He agreed to these terms.

There was a second round of estimates, because he wanted to reduce the spec to overall cost. We produced the estimate, and I met with him in person to walk through it, bringing the invoice for the change fee with me. We had a productive meeting, and he liked the new proposal, informing me that he would forward the check for the estimate fee. Then he dropped off the face of the Earth. We sent multiple invoices via email and postal mail. Still nothing. We assumed we’d never see the money or the approval to move forward with the project.

Three months later the client finally called back. It turns out that there was a significant medical issue in his family and his entire renovation was placed on the back burner. He apologized profusely for not paying the invoice and even proposed providing a $1,000 retainer that we could use to draw down from for future changes or apply to the deposit. I sympathized with his situation, and we agreed to meet at the job site later in the week for a walk through with the architect and the contractor, and he would provide a check at that time.

Three days later we did the walk through together and at the end of it, he moved directly into a meeting with the contractor and architect about some plumbing issues. I politely asked him about the matter we needed to discuss. He said he needed to spend some time with the other team members, and he would get it to me in a few days. I hung out at the site for another 30 minutes waiting for their meeting to end, taking measurements, looking at potential paths for wire runs, etc. No luck.

It’s been two weeks and no check. The client seems so hot and cold—very into the project when we are together but avoiding paying the fees that he owes and completely disappearing after our meetings. I have to make some kind of move… but what? Where do I take a stand while still maintaining my professionalism and level of customer service? What would you have done?
 
 

+Todd Anthony Puma is president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City. 

 
 

4 comment(s) so far...


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Re: Knowing When to Cut Ties with an Unresponsive Custom Install Prospect

Had just the opposite experience with an installer and sales dept.Seems as soon as they got their money they kept stonewalling me time after time.I was ignored repeatedly and given one excuse after another.

By JeffB on   7/1/2013 9:33 AM
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Re: Knowing When to Cut Ties with an Unresponsive Custom Install Prospect

Charge for the estimates before handing them over. If they pay, roll it into their project cost. If not, it's design/estimating fees. Too many people wanting to waste time and think they're entitled to as much free information and pricing as they can get their hands on. This industry has to learn that if they don't value their time on design and specification, neither will potential clients.

By Paul on   7/1/2013 11:00 AM
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Re: Knowing When to Cut Ties with an Unresponsive Custom Install Prospect

Hi Todd,

Your so close to opening the door and walking in. Stay with the deal. You have got to get something for all your time and effort to date. Take a different tack.

I think he is low on cash and wants to do your stuff but with limited monies, he has got to get the water and electricity in first. You are in third and maybe fourth money place.

Can you work with him on a smaller amount to get started? Make the money part a little easier. Whatever deal you strike, make sure monies are there to get paid. You sure as hell don't want to go through this again.

Always enjoy your writings. Well crafted and executed, all of them. Keep up the good work!

Regards,
Mike

By mike on   7/1/2013 2:49 PM
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Re: Knowing When to Cut Ties with an Unresponsive Custom Install Prospect

Move on. Surely, you have other projects that can use your attention. If this guy is going to do anything, let him call YOU. When he does, remind him you have to get the money he owes you PRIOR to you going back out there again. If he doesn't pay it right then and there, write him off.

By Steve on   7/2/2013 4:52 AM

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