November 2012 – Heroes’


Boy, did I unleash a firestorm of response to the article I recently wrote about customers wanting “More, more, more”. People have gone out of their way to tell me stories of how customers have put them through the wringer to quote a job six ways to Sunday, only to dismiss them with one line e-mails saying “we received your bid, we will be soliciting other bids and will get back to you.”


Remember the old days, when someone admired your work, made the effort to learn about your business, and sat down and negotiated a contract? Remember when a customer would wait until you were available? In light of today’s economy and today’s “it’s all about the bottom line” outlook, those memories seem quaint and quite distant.


Pendulums are made to swing and although this economy has certainly swung far to one extreme, the laws of nature ultimately bring it back. Here are some things to think about while we wait for the return swing to happen.


1. Don’t take things personally.

2. Consider your audience- how do you give them enough to qualify, but not so much that they take advantage of you, at your expense?

3. It’s OK for you to qualify your customer as they are qualifying you.

4. Let them know how much you’ll do for free and when it will start to cost. You can’t do everything for nothing. You can’t give away the store and not get some business back.

5. “Our present circumstances don’t determine where we can go, but merely determine where we start.” Nido Qubein


To bring point number 5 to life, I have to share a story that I find inspirational. A fellow I know in his late 60’s suffered a stroke. It left him paralyzed on the left side and he described it as if a line had been drawn vertically down his body and everything on the right worked and everything on the left didn’t. How could you not feel hopeless? This man is an excavator and he still has a Caterpillar 225 from the early 70’s that he has owned since new.  I remember when he first got it.


He told me that when he was half paralyzed, he used to drag himself out to sit in that excavator every day. He would tape his left hand, now paralyzed, to the joy stick and try to think the nerves into moving.  After weeks of trying, one day he felt a flicker of movement. He kept at it and started to make some hand movements with his left hand, not useful movements that could make the excavator function, but hand movements just the same. After a time, that old Caterpillar could finally start to move, then with more time and effort, it moved better and better. Somehow, very familiar motions, that he had practiced for 40 years running that machine, began to re-establish themselves and he re-learned skills that he hadn’t really lost, they were just buried somewhere that he couldn’t get to. His recovery took a lot of work and time in the operator’s seat. He told me his wife thought he was crazy dragging himself out there each day. I told him he should write a letter to Caterpillar.


Today, he looks fine and moves well. He met the challenge on his own terms and converted certain defeat into practical victory. He just had to take a different path to do so. Sometimes, to get through challenging times, we have to look at different approaches. Heroes are those who accomplish what the rest of us were convinced was not possible.


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