How to Respond When a Client Boils You Down to a Number

Much like my previous experience of Landing the Great, White Whale, this has been an evolving tale. A trilogy if you will. (Don’t worry; I don’t plan on working up a prequel or going back and adding any CGI changes years later for the Blu-ray release.) And to get the most of it, you can read the back story by followin
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Much like my previous experience of Landing the Great, White Whale, this has been an evolving tale. A trilogy if you will. (Don’t worry; I don’t plan on working up a prequel or going back and adding any CGI changes years later for the Blu-ray release.) And to get the most of it, you can read the back story by following the links to the previous posts.

A while back I had a most depressing encounter with a prospective client. I met with him and his builder at the jobsite. And, oh yeah, another way lower-end alarm/central vac/“Hey, we do audio too!” contractor was there as well. So a long, fa-reezing meeting that ends with the client saying that he has seen lots of outstanding--repeat twice for emphasis--video projectors for “like $600 and that anyone that buys a $10,000 video projector is just crazy.”

I left that meeting pretty dejected, certain that I didn’t connect with them and that I wouldn’t get the job. But the very next morning the guys’s wife called me and said they wanted to schedule a second meeting at my showroom. And then I had a long meeting with them in the store--the Sciacca home turf, where deals are wined and then bedded with a Gordon Gekko level of ruthless efficiency--where I felt like I totally turned things around. Lighting control? Pow! Eight-zone touchpanel audio system? Ka-cha! The fact that a $600 projector looked *nothing* like our $15,000 Runco LED projector? Slamm-o!
So following that meeting, where I felt so Leo on-top-of-the-world, I prepared a 10-page system proposal encompassing everything we discussed, coming in right in the wheelhouse of his stated “somewhere between 50 and 60 thousand” projected budget. So I sent this off to his builder before Christmas and then…waited.


After a couple of weeks, and a couple of calls and voicemails on my part, the builder finally calls me. And he is actually kind of sheepish. “I’ve been putting off making this call, because, frankly, I’m a little embarrassed by it.”

OK. Already this is starting off way, WAY wrong. Because I know that this is A) not going to continue with some kind of bizarre, aberrant sexual revelation or proposition or B) a request to pick him up at the airport at two in the morning or C) asking me to buy a case of Girl Scout Thin Mints to support his daughter’s troop. So, I know that it isn’t going to be any of those things, and it is only going to be about this job. So he continues…

Turns out that the client has taken my proposal and gone to internet. And individually, a la carte, he has looked up the pricing for each item! Scouring the Interwebs to find the lowest pricing he could. On each item. Then he tells his builder that he can get the whole system for like $10,000 less, and he wants the builder to ask me if he can just have the gear shipped in and then have me install it.

As you can imagine, my initial reaction was stunned silence. Then a rage-fueled eye-twitch. Then an immediate blurted out, “Look, we sell complete working systems. I’m not interested in doing this job if that’s what he wants. If he wants to just get a bunch of boxes shipped to his house, let him get someone else to put them together.” Then, the initial magma pressure valve released, I took a much needed deep breath, stepped back, and continued talking to the builder. He totally understood my position and figured that would be my response.

But before boot-grinding this deal into total and complete bone marrow paste, I asked if he would send me the e-mail with the prices marked on it so I can see what I can see. And before hanging up the builder tries to cushion the blow--like putting a nice, flannel pillowcase around a baseball bat--by saying, “He said he really wants to work with you. He told me that he really wants you to do the job.”

Oh boy howdy and gee willikers! That’s just swell! Thing is, after this little stunt, I’m not so sure I want to work with HIM! This isn’t exactly the way I like to start a project and certainly isn’t filling me with an overwhelming sense of, “Oh, what a great and wonderful long-term relationship we’ll have! Customer and installer, arm-and-arm, skipping and tra-la-la’ing off into the sunset together.” Because when you take on a job of this scope, it’s a marriage. We are going to be together for a long, LONG time.

So, I get the e-mail and immediately see that he has just arbitrarily lowered pricing on some things like my pre-wiring estimate. Wiring for his projector, 7.1-channel surround system install in his dedicated media room? Hmmm, let's say, well, I don't know, how about $400. Wiring for the audio system throughout the house – all 17 rooms of audio – should cost, oh, well, let’s see, divided by 2, multiply by .3. $1200. Yeah, that sounds good. $1,200. For all of it. Wire all 17 rooms of audio--parts, labor, materials--for keypad and touchpanel control and speakers in 17 rooms for $1,200. A lot of his prices were correct--and the prices I had quoted--but others were just totally random and plucked from Unicorn Island. For instance, he priced a URC remote but not the SAME URC remote. Times three. And he priced ONE speaker for the media room and not the PAIR. And he priced the lowest, cheapest volume control possible and not the one with override that we need for the job. And the pre-amp version, not the amplified version of the audio distribution system. And so on. So, I worked up this letter:

Mr. XXX:

I’d like to thank you for considering our company for handling the technology needs of your new home. Your builder forwarded me your e-mail and I’ve gone through it and thought I would bring out a few points.

[Several paragraphs where I tell him how crazy some of his whimsical pricing was that I’ve omitted because, well, I fear I’ll lose the lesser hearted readers amongst us.]

Regardless, I can understand your desire to get the best value for you money on this project. I hope you can appreciate that what we offer is far more than just a bunch of boxes that you purchase on the Internet. There is a design and implementation that goes with the components to make them function cohesively as a system at the end of the day. Additionally, a system of this scale is going to require a good bit of support to handle any issues with the system following the installation. If something breaks, if something needs adjusting, if you need to add a new component, etc. We provide this on-going service and support after the sale; for YEARS after the sale.

I hope that you got a sense of what our company brings to the table and the kinds of systems that we install and support during your visit to our showroom. We have been around for 15 years and plan on continuing to be around to service our clients going forward. To do this, we simply can’t match the lowest prices found on a la carte items on the Internet.

I’m happy to discuss what our company offers further, or to provide you with the names of clients that we have worked with over the past 1, 5, 10, or 15 years.

Regards,
John Sciacca
Custom Theater & Audio



Ball back in his court. And the waiting game continues…

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