Screening on the Phone

Contractors often ask about ways to screen prospects on the phone. Understandably, they don’t want to spend hours chasing unqualified leads. But screening on the phone can be equally bad.

Screening on the phone essential puts the prospect in the position of saying some pre-determined magic words. If he doesn’t say the right thing, he is immediately regarded as unqualified.

If you went into a restaurant, you probably wouldn’t appreciate being screened before you were shown to your seat. You wouldn’t like a pop quiz to determine if you could spend your money. So why do it to your customers?

I am not saying that we should chase every lead. If a customer wants a service we don’t provide or is out of our service area, their desires don’t fit our business model. But short of that, trying to screen prospects on the phone is a crap shoot at best.

You Could be Losing Gold in Your Screening Process

I frequently hear contractors talk about qualifying or screening customers. They imply a few simple questions will tell them all they need to know about a customer. Unless you are psychic—and if you are, why are you painting houses—you can’t do it.

About fifteen years ago, we painted two small bedrooms for a customer. Each year they would hire us to do a little touch up, maybe paint a few doors, and do some other minor maintenance work. They always seemed to be rather picky, the jobs were small, and we often thought of dropping them as a customer. But they were accommodating regarding our schedule, so we often used them as a filler on rain days. So we tolerated the hassles.

About six years ago they moved to a much larger house. They hired us to paint a portion of the house, and have hired us each year since to do a sizable painting project. Long ago they quit getting bids from other contractors. And they aren’t nearly as picky as they once seemed to be.

If I had “qualified” these customers, I might have never painted those two small bedrooms. Even after working with them for several years, I often wondered if they were worth the hassle. Today, I look back and realize that I would have tossed away $50K or more in work, simply because they didn’t fit my notion of what a “good” customer should be like.

I’ve had many similar experiences over the years. My initial impression of a customer is often correct, and just as often, it is completely off base. The problem is, it takes a lot more information to know when I am right and when I am wrong. And in the meantime, I could be dismissing a lot of potentially good customers.

Having said the above, I do “screen” customers. But my criteria is very simple: the customer must live in my service area, he must want a service I provide, and he must be willing to meet with me. Other than that, I don’t care how big the job is, whether it is in the hood or the richest part of town, or anything else. He wants to pay somebody to do painting, and I want to be paid for painting.

My goal is to sell paint jobs. I can’t do that over the phone. I need to see the job, meet the customer, and try to create a win-win situation. I can’t do that if I demand that a stranger know the secret answers to my questions.