From my office window, I see sweating people. They are not engaged in manual labor, nor using a Thigh Master; they are in fact, just standing there. I’m no meteorologist, but in Alabama, this signals summer.

This means my boat will be brought out of hibernation, and called into service as a lake going vessel capable of both family fun and financial ruin. After many summers of this knife-edged relationship, I’ve figured out that boats only break during the following circumstances: when you overuse them and when they’ve not been used enough. My mechanic quite sincerely has said both of the following to me: “Man, your impeller gave out because it was used so much” and “Man, your impeller gave out because it sat too long.”

So, faults aside, I like the boat. And I like it to be really clean before it’s launched the first time, until moments later when a full Coke is knocked into some unreachable abyss. I used to detail it myself, but this year, I’ve become a lazy slob and started shopping for a boat detailer.

These are virtually the exact same steps your prospects follow searching for a suitable contractor, choosing you or your competitors accordingly. Make notes:

I asked my mechanic. This is the equivalent of a prospect asking their trusted Pest Control guy if he knew a good plumber or their lawn maintenance guys about a painting contractor. There’s a “like-kind” quality in referral seeking, often overlooked. We technically term this as “COI” or “Circle of Influence” and it is more powerful than you can imagine. (If you’ve got a PowerPack, you have “COI” letters and list sources.) Too often, contractors think of customers as the only referral source. Wrong. Plus, that’s “one to one” where reaching out to non-competitive contractors can turn one phone call into thousands of potential references.

So, what did my boat guy tell me?

“I get asked that a bunch. I don’t really know of one. But if I hear of a good one, I’ll let you know.” Wow. I wonder if an enterprising boat detailer might detail this man’s boat for free, just to show him his skill, and turn that into 20-40 jobs instantly.

I asked my boat psycho friends. Disturbing responses here. Two said I was crazy to use anybody that wasn’t me (bad experiences) and two said, “I don’t know. I only use them once a year; they’re usually independents who move around, so I never use the same one twice.” Clearly, a major retention problem. Hair stylists or realtors (two trades with high turnover) always write their customers to let them know of the move. Smart.

These detailer guys must insanely expect customers to dredge up their names and hire a detective to find them. Ha! I know you’d never expect your customers to “remember” you from an infrequent visit, would you? Your customers have flawless memories, never talk to others, and are blind to competing advertisements, so retention would be unnecessary, right? Just making sure.

Getting nowhere, my next step was to…

Gather “visual” evidence of other detailers.I Googled for Websites, recalled a couple shops I’d seen - one was 50 yards from where I keep my boat. Then I went to the Yellow Pages. I know, shoot me. I’m old and stupid, but Websites were weak, plus I could quickly get the number for my “recalled” shops. Your prospects do this, too. The Website or Yellow Pages gets “credit” for the call, but many times prospects have heard of you, know of you, have seen you, but go to the Yellow Pages just for the number. A presence on Web and in Yellow Pages aids validity, confirmation. Then things went badly...

Made An Assessment in the Call.The most convenient one, which is a significant asset when trailering, answered the phone almost unintelligibly. I think they said the company name, so I asked, “Is this the boat detail shop?” to which she remumbled the shop name. Going on a hunch she’d said “A-Plus Detailing” I proceeded to tell them my boat was nearby and … she interrupted, “We don’t pick up boats.” I told her I didn’t expect them to, and began again, to mention I was looking for someone who could detail an older ski boat that … she interrupted.

“James ain’t here; you want to call back in an hour?” This, being my pet peeve, was it. I told her thanks anyway, I might call back. Side note: If James is the only one who can actually speak to a prospect, what the heck is he doing having her run off prospects? He’d be way better off with a voice mail or phone forward to his cell if he’s gone a lot. The image of the company was spoiled, the convenience negated. If the customer service before the sale was like this, what happens later? You think I’m being picky?

Your prospects go through these steps. Dozens or hundreds per day in your town are making mental, visual, verbal notes to solve their contracting challenge. Each detailer had significant opportunity to boost appointments (the mechanic, retention marketing, referrals, professional CSRs, image building and display of competency.) You think they might’ve benefitted from paying the boat storage facility for their mailing list? Just a thought. You have these same options, staring at you.

The examples and knowledge gained from others, applies to you in the way you buy. Load the boat with these principles, and leave the competition in your wake.