Friday, February 11, 2022

Lesson #342: Don't Aspire to Be Champion (Windows)

Posted By: George Deeb - 2/11/2022

  Normally, in the world of boxing, you would aspire to be world champion, knocking out every opponent you see, pounding them into submissio...


Normally, in the world of boxing, you would aspire to be world champion, knocking out every opponent you see, pounding them into submission until they finally break.  But, the business world, is not the boxing world.  And, apparently, Champion Windows didn't get the memo, that  you are not supposed to beat up your own customer prospects.  I recently survived one of the most brutal sales experiences I have ever lived through, while shopping for new windows for my home.  This story was so unbelievable, that I needed to share it with you as a case study of what NOT to do, in your own selling efforts.


I didn't now anything about the windows industry when I started this process.  All I knew was my home needed new windows.  I had heard of the big brands like Andersen and Pella, and did a little online research on them.  I ultimately invited Pella to make us a proposal.  But, these brands appeared to be more expensive than many others, for very similar products, and I wanted other options.  

Online research proved too confusing--dozens of unknown brands sounding all the same, and not knowing who to trust.  And, there were no installers that represented multiple brands, where you could compare and contrast products, much like you would in any other shopping experience.  So, I ended up swinging by Home Depot, for their thoughts, as they represented multiple brands.  They recommended the Simonton brand for my needs, so I invited them to make a quote as the windows and services would ultimately be backed up by Home Depot, a known and trusted brand.  

But, I still wanted a third quote.  I had seen a few new windows already installed in my home, so for a consistent look, I called the old owner and asked what brand she used, and she mentioned Champion Windows.  I assumed they would be more price competitive than the bigger brands like Pella, so I invited them out to the home to make a quote, as well.

The Pella Quote

The salesperson who came out to my home was pleasant and appeared knowledgeable, answering the questions I had.  He measured my 24 windows and quoted me within an hour.  He quoted me around $29,000 for their vinyl windows.  At $1,200 a window, that was a lot more than the $600-$1,000 range that was being discussed online, in terms of a reasonable budget for replacement window costs.  I guess that was to be expected from a major brand, being a little more expensive.

The Simonton Quote

Again, a very knowledge and friendly salesperson from Home Depot came to the home, showed me his products, compared the various brands in the industry (which was one of my goals), did his measurements and quoted me the project within an hour.  The quote came in around $22,000 which felt good to me, especially with how comparably rated Simonton was to Pella in the Consumer Reports reviews online.

The Champion Sales Pitch

Let me start by saying Champion was in my home for over four hours!!  And, it wasn't a single salesperson, it was a two person team (a salesperson and his boss, training the new salesperson).  It started with an outdoor tour of the house, not only looking at the windows, by trying to find other products that may need replacing (e.g, doors, sills). I can't discredit them for trying to upsell an order, if they could.  But, they were here to focus on the windows.  So, it was frustrating me that they were wasting my time on anything other than windows.

When they finally came inside.  They made me sit through a long slide show presentation.  They discussed their company, their position within the industry, their warranty, etc.  But, no discussion of the products themselves.  After an hour of politely listening, I asked if we could jump ahead and see the products, he said no that they have to follow their set script.  And, worse yet, if I did not verbally agree they had the best warranty in the industry, they would refuse to continue their presentation and would leave my home.  I should have had them leave at that point, but I was invested at this point, and wanted to learn their quote.  So I continued on with their shenanigans.

When we finally got to speaking about their products, I have to give them credit.  They did a good job of positioning their products as the best.  They showed their white colors vs off white colors of others, they showed how durable its construction vs. flimsy others, and they showed a corner cut of them vs. the competition (with theirs insulated).  But, the wow moment was when they took out a heat lamp and compared BTU readings of their glass vs. others, with them looking great.  Of course, I didn't know any better, and in hindsight, learned that many window sellers do the same thing with an "off the shelf" window salesperson kit.  But, by this point, I was finally warming up to their products; it only took two hours to get to this point!!

The Champion Quote

Drumroll, please!!  The time I had been waiting for had finally arrived.  After asking me to confirm they were the best company, with the best warranty, with the products, and there was no reason other than price not to engage them, they finally gave me their quote.  Understanding, I had already told them the quotes of Pella and Simonton, with the hopes that they would try to beat it.  So, you can imagine my dismay when their initial quote was a whopping $54,000, after two hours of sitting there.  When I told them "are you crazy?", knowing what they were up against, they tried to position it, "well, you said we were the best, and that comes at a premium".  

When I told them that price was a non-starter, then they said, "well, we have a 15% off sale, and if you buy today I can increase that to 25%".  That lowered the price to $41,000.  But, I still said that it felt too high vs. the others.  He said, "well, what do you want to pay".  I said I was prepared to pay up to $1,000 per window, so I would agree to move forward at $24,000.  He countered with, "I'll have to talk to my boss, but the best I could do is $29,000, again if you buy today." And, that was swapping out five double hung windows, with two cheaper slider windows which saved $2,000 (so apples-for-apples he was at $31,000 vs. the others).  

He saw I was getting close to accepting, so then he throws in doing any window sill repairs that he saw outside for free, which he said was a $3,000 value.  So, $26,000 was his final offer, reiterating it had to be now or never.  If he left the home, the price would immediately jump back up to $41,000, as their company requires a "same day sales policy", and that if I wanted a lower price, I would have to wait a year for them to come back out and quote again.  It sounded like sleazy sales tactics to me, as I couldn't imagine they would walk away from a huge sale.

What Happened Next

I told them I needed to clear a purchase of this size with my wife, and that she wouldn't be home for a couple hours.  I asked if I could call him later and purchase tonight.  He repeated, "if I leave your home, the price goes up".  Now I was getting upset, saying how unreasonably stupid that sounded, where he reiterated "company policy".  After another 15-20 minutes of hemming and hawing, he finally agrees that if I sign a contract now, he will put an out-clause in it, that if my wife does not agree to move forward, we won't, but I need to write a 25% check as a deposit before he leaves.  I told him I psychologically would not write a check until I am ready to purchase, and after a little more back and forth, he finally agreed that if I sign the contract with the out-clause, I could call him later with a credit card (breaking yet another company policy for me).  I begrudgingly did it, trying to lock in the low $26,000 price for what I perceived as a good price for what appeared to be a good product.

My Wife's Reaction

When my wife came home, I shared this story, and how I was browbeaten for over four hours.  Her reaction was, "I don't care how good their windows are, they are not getting our business.  They sound like complete slime balls, and I will not give them my business out of principle."  At which point I terminated the contract with Champion with my out-clause.

The Ace Up My Sleeve

What Champion didn't know was, I was communicating with Home Depot while Champion was still at my home.  I shared the above story and my thoughts of the Champion pitch and product, at which point the Home Depot salesperson said "don't fall for their dog and pony show, it is all smoke in mirrors".  As an 18 year veteran in the window industry that was brand agnostic, I trusted him when he said Champion is offering you nothing that merits paying a higher price than the Simonton quote.  He was convinced Simonton was a better product.  And, even came back to the house the next day and repeated the same heat lamp experiment for me that was done by Champion, to prove they were the same.

The Part That Upset Me Most

At one point in the conversion with Champion, I asked them point blank: "why would you start at $54,000 when you know you are competing with a $22,000 to $29,000 quote?"  His response: "you would never imagine how many people pay the first price without even negotiating it."  All I could think: you are willing to fleece unsuspecting people that don't know any better to the tune of almost 2X the price, pocketing that extra $28,000 as pure profit.  Glad I negotiated, but it was a pretty awful experience of getting to that price I was willing to pay.

Selling Lessons for You

My suggestions for all of you coming out of this case study: (i) build great products, as ultimately that is what people want most; (ii) price them competitively out of the gate with your first offer; (iii) limit your sales pitches to an hour or less, where you can (everyone is busy); (iv) follow the lead of your customer if they want to discuss something that is "off script"; (v) don't take advantage of customers, be honorable corporate citizens; and (vii) be nice people, as customers ultimately want to work with nice people.  I sure hope Champion reads this blog post and changes their ways.  And, if you ever need a good window guy, I now have a good one at the Home Depot (who ultimately won this project at $20,000 when they swapped the double-hung windows with sliders, as Champion proposed)!

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Lesson #341: Don't Be the Smartest Guy in the Room

Posted By: George Deeb - 2/03/2022

I have been exposed to lots of interesting business leaders over the years.  The difference between the average ones, and the great ones, wa...

I have been exposed to lots of interesting business leaders over the years.  The difference between the average ones, and the great ones, was how they viewed themselves, and the role they thought they needed to play within their company.  My conclusion:  the persons that saw themselves as the smartest guy (or gal) in the room, who needed to control all the decision making in the company, are the ones who achieved the least success, and ended up alienating their peers the most.  Allow me to explain further, so you don’t repeat these same mistakes.

The Smartest Guy in the Room—Meet Bob

Meet Bob, the CEO of hypothetical ABC Corporation.  There is no one in the company’s opinion that he values more than his own.  He doesn’t trust his staff to make the tough decisions.  He loves to hear himself talk.  No new ideas are good unless he came up with them.  He loves to micro-manage every decision.  He pretty much “knows it all”, regardless of the topic, and would never hire a person smarter then himself, to not look stupid.  The company’s revenues are simply not growing and Bob has no idea why.

The Reaction of Bob’s Employees

Nobody likes working for Bob, they frankly feel he is an ass.  They have given up on contributing new ideas, because they are tired of being turned down, over and over again.  Frankly, they don’t care about the company, and are simply going through the motions of the job, most likely keeping their ears open for new job openings since this company has very high employee turnover, low morale and a poor culture, which has trickled down from the top.

The Smartest Manager in the Room—Meet Betty

On the other hand, meet Betty, the CEO of hypothetical XYZ Company.  Betty knows the value of knowing when to keep her mouth shut, and listen to the ideas of her staff.  She empowers her company’s leaders to make all key decisions on their own.  And, she frankly listens, a lot more than she speaks.  Which carries more weight when she actually does speak.  She is not focused on managing the details of every decision in the company, and relies on her team to make those decisions—a team she recruited as smarter than herself and experts in their field, much more so than herself.  The company’s revenues are flourishing.

The Reaction of Betty’s Employees

Everybody loves working for Betty, as they value having their ideas listened to and acted upon.  And, they love working for the company, alongside a staff of equally happy employees who have built a great comradery, culture and team.  They wouldn’t dream of leaving the business, as they are enjoying their “rocket ship” growth and love their job.

Be Betty, Not Bob

The moral of the story here: be more like Betty, not Bob.  If at any time you read the above description of Bob, and said, “yeah, that pretty much sounds like me and my management style”, you have a huge problem in your business . . .  YOU!!  The problem is, most “Bobs” in the world, don’t even know they are behaving that way.  So what you really need to do, is have an outsider survey your employees and have them tell you exactly what they think about you, your management style and the company.  That is the only way good learnings can be had, for you to improve yourself, and the business in the process.  And, if you read the above description of Betty and said “yes, that pretty much sounds like me”, keep up the great work.

Hire Smarter Than Yourself

When you hire talent, leave your ego at the door.  If the candidate is smarter than you, that is a good thing.  You want to have the smartest people possible leading the company.  Don’t be intimidated by them, or worry what your staff will think of you in comparison.  A smart employee will realize that you were the one that found such a great talent, and will give you credit for the hire.  Not, think any less of you.  You need to hire the BEST talent you can find and afford, every single time.  How they compare to you, is absolutely irrelevant.

Empower Your People

If you are micromanaging every single decision inside the company, you are not focused where you should be.  A good CEO will hire a strong senior team that they trust the run the day-to-day decisions of the company, after pointing them in the right direction.  And that will free your time up to better focus on more strategic areas of the company, which can propel the business to new heights.  And, in the process, your staff will love you, empowering them and trusting them to do their jobs, with limited oversight.  But, that only works if you are hiring the smartest talent you can find.  So, don’t be a penny wise, and a pound foolish.  Invest in your talent to give the business the highest odds of success.

Listen More, Speak Less

We have all been in the room with the “blow hard” CEO that just loves to hear themselves talk, and speaks for 90% of the available minutes for a meeting.  It is just exhausting as a listener, and everyone simply tunes them out, which defeats the purpose of the meeting in the first place.  Instead, flip that—speak for 10% of the time.  But, don’t make all the decisions in the room, ask the probing questions that will get everyone’s creative juices flowing, so the best decisions can be made collectively.  That is so much more refreshing for both the staff and the business.

Closing Thoughts

As you can see, I feel pretty strongly on this topic.  Partly because I have seen this scenario play out, over and over again, in many companies.  And, partly, because I have watched myself mature as an executive, the older I got, replacing a lot of my previous “bad habits” with “good habits” over time.  So, overhaul your management style and recruitment approach and good things should happen for you too!!

For future posts, please follow me on Twitter at: @georgedeeb.



Red Rocket is a featured contributor on entrepreneurship for many trusted business sites:

Copyright 2011- Red Rocket Partners, LLC