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If We Touch It, We Own It

How proactive do you get when working with new clients?

One of my friends runs a fire protection company where he traffics in sprinklers, blaring klaxon horns, and dazzling strobe lights. They design, install, and service myriad systems, including some that date back more than a century. They’ll field calls for buildings they didn’t originally install, but even if it’s something small (like a sprinkler head replacement), he has a simple rule: “If we touch it, we own it.” That means that no matter how seemingly insignificant, new customers get their entire system documented with detailed drawings and schematics even if it’s to just perform a quick one-hour service call. “Wow,” I thought. “That’s a lot of work for a small repair.” I then began to think through the implications around what happens when something goes wrong after the visit and quickly understood my buddy’s fanaticism around documenting and assuming a proactive vs. reactive stance.

New Clients
Photo by AzmanL/Getty Images.

How many times are we called out to fix something small in a home or business where we didn’t originally install the system? The requests always seem to follow a similar pattern. “Could you just?” or “It’ll only take a minute” are the on-ramps leading toward the road to ruin. Nothing is ever small. Nothing takes “a minute” (or even an hour for that matter). Do we insist that new customers go through a complete intake and audit the same way a doctor might? Do we sometimes rush to jump in the van and scurry out to the home without a proper debrief?

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Our company, Livewire, insists that all new clients go through our sales department first. That means even if it’s something that “will just take a minute” we book them for a paid consultation and credit back the dollars spent if they decide to work with us. Are we turning our backs on tons of work? Maybe. Are we preventing headaches, drama, and non-billable hours? You bet. Because we lead with our sales team, it also sets us up to have difficult conversations up front. If we sent our service team out to fix a broken system, they might proceed with repairing something that should probably be upgraded. To that end, we’re rolling out an initiative where all our systems have a set end-of-life date. Beyond that, we lead with an upgrade vs. repair recommendation.

Even with all our fancy systems in place, I still don’t think we’re doing as good a job as we could documenting all our new clients in a way that truly allows us to assume that proactive stance. To that end, we’re overhauling our mandate for schematics and documentation on every job we touch whether it’s new or existing.

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One of my mentors, Neal Lappe, is fond of saying that, in the sales world, “no one defaults to prospecting.” I love that phrase. It’s so true. No one wants to pick up the phone and cold call. It’s awkward and dissonant. There are so many analogs to this sales admonition in the rest of the organization. Our system designers don’t default to making drawings for every job. Our project managers don’t default to proactively asking for signed change orders. Our installers don’t default to obsessing over what’s billable vs. non-billable. We all need nudging (me especially), and the “if we touch it, we own it” mindset is a great way to keep us all on our front feet.

What are you doing in your company to bear hug your projects and build confidence and trust with clients?