A lot has been written and said about customer service, but sometimes it is the little things that leave good impressions on prospective customers.

What do you do in order to close the sale with a new customer?

I decided to put the selling skills of a few local roofing companies to the test recently. The shingles on our roof had been looking a little rough around the edges. I figured it was time to do a tearoff and replace the shingles.

My first idea was to get some word-of-mouth recommendations from friends in the area who may have had some roof work done on their homes. Unfortunately (or fortunately), none of them had had any roof work done recently. However, I did get a recommendation from a friend in the A/C business who had work done on his building.

With one word-of-mouth recommendation, I looked through the many coupons and flyers that daily jam up my mailbox. I found a few that looked interesting, especially the ones that offered coupons for hundreds of dollars off. One company even offered a free 19-inch television and DVD player. Knowing that our son's television set is on its last leg, I was hooked by this ad.

So here I was with one word-of-mouth recommendation and five coupon offers.

One of my prerequisites was that the company come out, make the inspection, and take measurements when my wife and I weren't at home. I just wasn't sure if we had the time to schedule any in-person visits. Two of the companies were able to do that: the word-of-mouth company and the free TV/DVD company.

One of the other companies insisted on meeting with both of us, which I said was unlikely because of our schedules. Another said he would prefer to meet with one of us and gave me a time I could work with right away. I agreed. One company couldn't schedule an appointment for two weeks, and I told them I didn't want to wait. The last company never returned my phone call.

So that left me with three proposals out of six original calls.

And The Winner Is...

All three bidders listed the same type of work that needed to be done: tearoffs of two existing layers, installation of new vents, replacement of plywood if necessary, etc. All three had an impressive presentation folder with licenses listed, reference addresses, the type of shingles they install, etc. I think they all did an excellent job in their presentations.

The word-of-mouth company was first and their price turned out to be the highest. No big deal. I wasn't price shopping. The free TV/DVD company came in much lower, which sent up a red flag right away. Considering the cost of the free offer, his price was over $1,000 less than the other companies' bids.

The third company, whose president met me at home and discussed the work, initially came in with the highest price, but with the discount coupon, the net cost was a couple of hundred dollars below the word-of-mouth company. He also called me from his truck when he located a home a few blocks away that he wanted me to look at - a job his company had recently completed. I drove by the house and talked with the owner. He gave me a glowing recommendation.

As you can imagine, I gave the job to the third company because: (1) he arranged his schedule to meet with me at my convenience; (2) he didn't insist on both husband and wife to be present; (3) he gave me the name of a neighbor who gave me a good reference; (4) he was polite, called back, and didn't pressure me; and (5) he was professional and knowledgeable.

If all HVACR contractors don't have sales skills like this man, I have only one question: What are you waiting for?

John Hall is business management editor. He can be reached at 248-244-1294, 248-362-0317 (fax), or johnhall@achrnews.com.

Publication date: 04/26/2004