My husband decided he wanted shower grab bars installed. Our neighbor gave him the names of two local companies that provided this service. One company (A) quoted 2 bars installed for $89. The other company (B) quoted 2 bars installed for $180. The man at Company B told us that Company A was not licensed or insured and “flew under the radar”. Nevertheless, my husband asked Company A to come to the house because his price was lower.
The shell game
When the salesman from Company A arrived, he briskly walked into our bathroom and laid out four shower grab bars on the floor. Then he went into his spiel. First, he showed us the first bar, a silver bar with holes in the flanges. He pointed out that we would need three bars – one outside of the shower and two inside. The disadvantage of the first bar was that the holes showed. Then he pointed to the second grab bar, which had a sleeve to conceal the holes. Bar 1 and 2 were both thicker than bar 3. The third kind of bar was thinner and had striations on the center which improved the grip but collected soap scum. The fourth bar was off white, matched the tile and had different and more desirable striations.
As the salesman showed us each bar, he explained the disadvantages and the price, until he got to the last kind, which was the most desirable and the most expensive. The total bill would have been over $400 if we chose that one. I felt like I had just watched a shell game. In this game, a pea is under one of three walnut shells. The person performing the game keeps switching the shells to confuse you so you can’t keep track of where that pea is.
“I won’t sell that one to you”
I marveled at the smooth way he discounted the value of each bar until he got to the most expensive one. He looked expectantly at us when he was finished, and I said, “Interesting upsell.” When I said that, he became surly.
He insisted it did not matter to him which bar we choose because he got paid to install them. My husband selected the second kind of bar, which hid the holes. “No, I won’t sell that one to you” he said, “It will be too big for your wife’s hands.” He also told us we would not be able to sell our house if we had silver bars. We weren’t budging and neither was he so he gathered his bars and stormed out of the house.
We were left shaking our heads, wondering what had just occurred. We rightly concluded, it turned out, that he had not come prepared to install either of the lesser expensive bars. He called the next day to say he learned a valuable lesson when he made the call because he did not have all of the equipment (bars) with him. When he asked for another chance, we told him we’d arranged for another company to come in.
When the man from Company B arrived a few days later, he quietly and efficiently did the job for the quoted price and installed two grab bars of the thinner kind. He added more details of Company A’s unsavory operations: using an address that is not valid, stealing customers, dodging attempts to get him to stop violating trademarks. We were so happy with the work he did that we tipped him.
What do shower grab bars and working with attorneys have in common?
Use gentle upsells with attorneys
An attorney calls you to ask you to locate an expert witness. A modest upsell would be, “I know you are interested in having me find a cardiologist. Are there any other experts you need for the same case?” An aggressive upsell would be, “Yes, I can find a cardiologist. I can also find a nurse for this case or another case, do a chronology, perform a literature search, do a pain and suffering report, organize your records…” And on and on. By the time you are finished showering the attorney with words, he may regret calling you.
Don’t get mad at the client
The attorney contacted you and requested your services. It is hard to think of a time when it is appropriate to get angry with a person who asked you to discuss your services. Maybe the grab bar salesman was used to dealing with unsophisticated, older couples. Maybe he did not like me calling him on his game.
Your potential client should be treated with respect and deference. People buy from those they like. When an attorney calls you, work on establishing rapport, common ground and a pleasant experience.
Admit when you can’t help the attorney
If the salesman had told us he did not have any of bar 1 or 2 with him, we would have rescheduled the installation. Instead, he directed a wall of adamant words at us. There are times you cannot help an attorney. The deadline is too tight, the terms are too unreasonable, the attorney wants to pay you less than you charge, you are already assisting his adversary on the same case, or the attorney is asking you for a service you can’t provide. Admit it. Pleasantly explain your regret that you cannot help. Leave the door open for future business.