How Being Attentive Can Give You An Edge Over The Competition

In the Service Game, Offer Attentiveness

By : Timothy Lamers, Great American Cookies, Kaukauna, WI

In an era when technology works to erode basic human interactions, offering your undivided attention can go a long way in the service game.

To ensure our sales staff practices attentiveness, our training emphasizes several attentiveness techniques including greeting every customer within five seconds of arriving at the counter, sharing a free smile and a free sample, and most importantly, never turning your back to the customer. These techniques may seem trite, but they have proven to be powerful differentiators for us to beat our competitors.

While giving free samples when selling cookies is a great way to turn a prospect into a buying customer, it is a little tricker when selling paint, but the point itself is a good one. I took a call for an estimate yesterday from a woman who had already had two other painters out to look at her house and then never got back to her. Her exact words to me were “I can’t seem to give my money away.” Needless to say, I informed her before hanging up that we would email the estimate within 3 days of coming out to take a look. With Southern blood running through my veins, having manners and being polite has never been optional, but in an industry that unfortunately gets a bad wrap, it just might be the key differentiator that separates you from the competition. So don’t forget to smile.


Planning Ahead

While I truly hope you have something fun and fabulous planned for the summer (I myself, am counting down until our week at the beach in June with the entire Neill clan – 3 generations and 32 of us in all), if you haven’t already done so, please block out a few days in September as well (14-15) to be a part of the 13th annual Advanced Shop Talk Conference.

Registration is now open, but if you do nothing else at the moment, at least call and make your hotel reservation. Room rates are only $109 per night, and anyone who attended last year can attest that this is a steal for the Oak Brook Marriott in Chicago. The rooms are clean and updated, the lobby boasts several flat screen tvs and comfy sofas for hanging out and watching the game, and there’s even a Starbuck’s tucked next to the restaurant for those of you who need your morning grande fix.

The conference programming isn’t too shabby either. We listened to all of your suggestions and have allotted more time for roundtable discussions. We have also divided the conference into two specific segments to help stay focused. We will spend one day working “in” the business and the other day working “on” the business. Hopefully you won’t miss all of the extra “hats” as we go back to the drawing board and make the adjustments needed to take our businesses to the next level (or just eliminate some of the chaos).  Looking forward to seeing everyone in Chicago..

Serendipitous Coincidence?


Ok, check out these two pictures, one is from the Spring 2012 Professional Painting Contractor magazine published by Sherwin Williams, the cover picture is of a painted lady in an unusual color scheme of pumpkin, yellow/crème and turquoise accent. The other photo is of a house we finished 2 days before the magazine arrived in our office on April 6th.

I’m not hacking Mike Starling’s (PPC editor) computer because I promised to stop doing that as a condition of my release.  And I’m not an innovative colorist.  This is not a conspiracy either (nod to the tinfoil hat brigade), this is a coincidence.  But it is also a gentle reminder of a few things: 1) that historic colors tend to cycle back (and in so doing look new), 2) an astute client makes us look good (neighbors and drivers-by don’t know whether we had anything to do with the colors or not), 3) our trade/industry involvement makes them look smart (my client was aghast when I showed her the PPC cover and refused to return my copy), and 4) the internet is the oxygen of modern times (my client researched & sourced the color scheme online – who knows, maybe PPC sourced the scheme there too?).   Does that make her an innovative colorist?   Hmmm…yes, I guess.

All this got me to thinking; through the web portal we are living the modern illustration of the proverb – as iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens the wits of another.   I have a collection of books and manuals that I haven’t used in several years; small engine repair manuals, Chilton automobile books, gardening, specialty painting, quotes & toasts, philosophy, history, model building, etc; all together they pale in comparison to my substantial collection of cookbooks – volumes of material for which I paid are now gathering dust.  Pre-web; I’d search the chicken section of my cookbooks looking for something new and different, maybe I’d find coq au vin (chicken with wine) and give it a try. Now, if I want to make coq au vin  I go online and search for recipes, read a few and discover knowledge previously not available to me: that one man’s bacon bits (from my old cookbook collection) is another man’s lardons (salt pork cubes).  My knowledge is now on par with a trained chef – in pre-web times, that is.

What a friend, the internet, yes?  Yes, right up to the point where it’s not.  Let me illustrate that with a couple of painting related examples: number 1 –  you are selling an exterior and your prospect asks you if spray and backroll is the equivalent of 2 coats because your competitor (not qualitative,  only categorical)  said so.  You chuckle, and explain why this isn’t so, later your client researches this and finds substantial evidence that you are correct – the HERO!  The web is your friend and your client’s as well.  Situation 2 – as an experienced, plugged-in industry leader you’ve concluded over the years that it’s wiser to wash your exterior after you concluded the dusty prep and you’ve incorporated this tautological wisdom into your sales conversation, and you gain expertise in your client’s eyes, and they trust you.  But you’re not alone in that method, other like-minded businesses also wash post-prep and one of those guys had the temerity to blog about it, or post a video of it on you-tube or blurb it on facebook; and instantly, the knowledge is available to any knuckle-dragging low bidder who can operate a mouse and read.  You’ve lost an edge.  In this case, the internet is NOT your friend.

May you be blessed to live in interesting times.  Welcome to modernity where our cup runneth over.



The Art of Team Building

In her memoir, Tough Choices, former HP (Hewlett Packard) CEO, Carly Fiorina shares her amazing journey to the top of a Fortune 20 company. If I had to use only one word to describe how she did it, I would say she mastered the art of collaboration. In teaching others how to collaborate, she drew from her childhood experiences in Africa when her father taught constitutional law in Ghana. Democracy was a new idea. She was able to see first hand how difficult building a nation was when small but powerful tribal loyalties conflicted with the larger, more abstract idea of creating a nation. She coined the phrase, “a thousand tribes” to describe organizations with multiple vertical command and control structures.

As painting contractors, we may not realize it, but each painter can represent his own “tribe” and sometimes will stand loyal to his thought processes and techniques unless we teach the art of collaboration. It starts with being a company that people “want” to work for. It starts with: Are you a likable boss? Do you listen? This is the essence of becoming a leader. Managers control resources but people follow leaders and we should strive to be both.

Fiorina took HP from tens of vertical units and consolidated them by creating teams with representatives from every department to work together. Horizontal efforts provided vertical results in the profit margin. She taught her people how to think beyond the one product their department created and to engage with all product lines and all departments.

How do we get these results with our painters? Make time for meaningful meetings where employees are engaged to share ideas. Make time for one on one meetings. Be consistent and loyal to the timeframe you set to meet each month. This builds trust. Provide new skill learning opportunities to add complexity and stimulate the mind, as well as the soul.

If you have a thousand tribes – its time to introduce collaboration and create one tribe (your company) and one culture.

May the Forum be with you!

Julie Gehrke


Fiorina, Carly, 2007. Tough choices | A memoir. Penguin Group. New York, NY..