Wednesday, November 7, 2007

The trick to getting what you need, quickly and painlessly…without any begging

Ever since my first couple weeks at this job I have been thrown into things. It’s not so much that they don’t WANT to prepare me, as that:

1) They don’t know what I don’t know. (How would they know I’ve never used a fax machine?)

2) We are often short-handed, and my boss is a rightfully busy man.

3) There are many nuances to the business that couldn’t all be catalogued for me besides.

4) It’s the here’s-what-you-need-to-get-started, not I’ll-walk-you-through-it type of learning. Sad to find that out. Thanks, College, for not preparing me for this at all.

I don’t know how many times I’ve run across people my age who tell me that they will not talk on the phone to strangers. (One girl in college would not call the free escort service for a ride when she was on crutches.) You guys, you have to get over that. It’s just not practical.

I didn’t really think about that as something I would be doing a lot. Hell, I didn’t realize how much typical business stuff I’d be doing, period.
Because of all the items listed above, there have been many, many times when I called the wrong people, didn’t know how to ask for the right people, didn’t know how to tell them what I wanted, and didn’t know how to GET what I NEEDED from them.

Now, in addition to honing all the other things, today I proved to myself that I now can get what I need to from people quickly.

Well, down to the facts. When I need something a quote on a specialty or equipment a.s.a.p., instead of … begging, bulleying, whatever, here’s what I do:

1) Gather all the information I have about the product.

1a) Pull together electronic drawings or the schedules from them, use Adobe to cut up the pertinent parts of the written specifications. It cannot be said strongly enough that not having an electronic copy of what you need will cost you another two hours – MINIMUM – of wait time.

1b) You have to – at this point – figure out if you have named manufacturers you must use, etc, or if not, who you will use. Everything will move faster if you already have a part number, but often that’s not given.

2) Write up the “quote request” email. I often copy the same basic information from the first one into all the others. Write up the specifics for the material you’re working on. Attach the necessary files. *Check* that they are the right ones. (Oh, it sounds dumb, but it at least doubles your turnaround time if you grab the wrong string-of-numbers-and-letters.pdf file.)

3) Find a distributor for that manufacturer. Sometimes I can use the ASHRAE handbook, or else I try to find it on the manufacturer’s website, or as a last resort, I call the manufacturer and ask by state/zipcode.

4) I call the distributor. I introduce myself briefly (name, company) to the person who answers the phone, and tell them that I am looking for a quote on Manufactuer’s Equipment, and ask if they can help. This makes it easy for them to either help you themselves or pass you off to someone else (e.g. Inside Salesperson) who can, without too much issue. This also allows me to know – right off the bat – if I am waaaaay off base. This…also happens more than you would think. Say, for example, they carry Manufacturer’s Large Equipment but not Manufacturer’s Other Specialties.

**Note: It is absolutely key to remember if I hit a dead-end with one person/distributor/etc, to ask them where I SHOULD be looking. (Recently when cold-calling subcontractors out-of-state, it was the only way that I found out that someone out of that city (and … why would I call out of that city?!) was the ONLY one bidding it.)

5) If I get transferred, I introduce myself again. I explain the item I am looking for – sometimes giving the project name/information, if it is something that they may have already quoted for other people. This is a MOMUMENTAL TIME SAVER. On big equipment, they will basically recognize the equipment as being for that project, which saved my butt a bunch before I understood this.

6) Once I’ve explained what I want, and they’ve agreed to quote it, I explain that I’ve got all the details in an email for them. They give me their email address (It is a rare, rare business person without one. There is one steel warehouse where I end up faxing, but … that’s it.)

7) Before getting off the phone (but after they are totally on board for quoting), it is THE MOST IMPORTANT STEP to ask if they think they can get to it today, or when they can get to it, etc. Asking casually – and then asking nicely for it faster if they indicate a time that would be too late – works UNSPEAKABLY BETTER for me than starting out saying that I need a rush quote, or throwing the deadline around upfront. If it seems like the person can’t make it – but by this point, they WANT to, right, I could ask if someone else could help me out, etc.

8) As soon as I get off the phone, I add their name, whatever pertinent details, and send the email off. This assures that it gets to them right away. They’re still thinking about me, they’re still sitting at their desk. Hell, they might even do it first thing. (If I fax it, I’ve got to get my shit together with a fancy coversheet, gather my various papers, walk to the stupid fax machine on the other side of the building, wait til it’s free, then wait while our SLOWEST FAX IN THE WHOLE WORLD sends it like five hours later. On the other side, I can say almost without a doubt that it is not going straight to their hands. Not only does no one sit by the fax all day, but there will probably be another delay while someone picks it up and eventually passes it to them. Faxing also means that the quote back will come via fax – which is a delay for just the same reasons.)

And all that has been consistently getting me back the quotes I need when I need them.

I call with followup questions, and thank them for their help. A future time saver – put them into Outlook contacts and note what I got from them, who I talked to.

*win*

1 comment:

Suzanne said...

This brings me back. I worked for a replacement window hardware manufacturer and everything you say is so true!

Frequently, I'd have to establish contact with a company that hadn't made a part in 50 (!) years, to find out if they knew of anyone who did. Many times, we'd get permission to fabricate and reproduce the part.

It seems so boring, but at the same time, the process is fascinating to observe. I started the job with the General Manager telling me that it would take a year to 'own' the job.

I departed a year later for a job tailor made for me. My boss, an incredible trainer and motivator, told me that I had far exceeded his expectations. I had learned the job in about six months.

Fourteen years later, he still will be a reference for me!