April 2014

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The Importance of Lists

Part Two - Another list for another “process”.

Part One - What’s your List Tool?

Steven R Calabrese

Steven R. Calabrese
Control Engineering Corp.

Contributing Editor

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So last month I shared a list that I recently created, to use as a vehicle to demonstrate “the importance of lists”. Well, since then I’ve had to use my newly created list again, and with much joy for the fact that I created said list. The point is, in the past, I would muddle through a project, whatever it was, work, home, whatever, and half-way through I would say to myself “I should generate a list for this, so that the next time I embark upon a similar project, I’ll have something to reference”. And then in my next thought, I would say to myself “Maybe next time”. Well, after many “next times”, I finally compiled the list, and was happy that I did.

To reference last month’s column, but only for a moment, I shared a list that I created to assist me in generating an estimate and proposal for a large plan-spec building automation system project. I stated that I don’t get involved too much with these types of projects these days, but opted to create the list anyway. Turns out that, on the heels of that project came another similar project that my list could be used for. And so it did. Saved me some time and some thought I’m sure. So this month I share another list that I use, for another “process”, I’ll call it.

My company is in pursuit of what the industry may refer to as many different names for the same or similar set of services. Service agreements (SA) are what we’ve traditionally called them, although we now refer to them as preventative maintenance agreements, or simply, maintenance agreements (MA). We target new installations, as well as existing facilities that have our brand of controls in place. How we go about finding our potential service customers is less about “cold calling” and more about our marketing methods and our reputation in our market. Truth is, we get plenty of inquiries through our website and through our phone lines to keep us busy, visiting prospective customers and proposing MAs.

So back when I started getting involved in these types of sales, I created a list that would help me gather the information that I’d need to generate a proposal that would match the client’s needs. As I had done last month in the first part of this series, I share my list below, and have included brief descriptions of each item. Also, as I’d done last month, I’ve omitted some items that wouldn’t necessarily translate well to this writing.

Building information (year built, square feet, purpose…)

A good way to “break the ice”, so to speak. Asking the client these types of questions shows that you’re interested in their facility, and lends some credibility to your position. Even though the year that the facility was built may have little to no value, it’s still a good question to ask. As far as size and purpose of the building, the answers to these questions builds the foundation on which to base additional questions, and forges the path toward establishing a professional relationship with the client.

System information (Help Menu)

In a past life, I was a programmer, however not in many years and certainly not on anything considered as current technology. I won’t date myself, but I will say that I’ve learned enough to “look good” in front of the client. The first thing I check, when I get in front of the client’s operator workstation, is the Help menu. Not for help though…as with many Windows programs, clicking on this tab will give you an “About” option that will show the version of the software, as well as some other useful information. So this is my first step, and I must say, it does help in establishing my cred!

MA terms

The terms of the maintenance agreement, i.e., how many visits per year/quarter, the nature of the services provided, etc. Maybe the customer has an idea of this. Maybe they have a service contract with another contractor and are looking for a change. Or maybe it’s up to me to figure out what’s best for the customer. In any case, this has a direct correlation with the yearly cost, and most often this is what drives the terms. In other words, terms don’t define price, price defines terms. This is not always the case, and so it’s important to find out what’s driving the deal, so that the appropriate balance between recommended services and available funds can be achieved.

Additional concerns, services desired?

The client may have a “wish list” of items they’d like to have, or it may take some conversation to bring these out. Whatever the case may be, it’s imperative that the client feels that the lines of communication are open, and that their needs are truly being addressed.

Control drawings

Ahh, control drawings. This is a good one! For the most part, I find that the prospective client has retained a set of building automation system control drawings, either in hardcopy form or electronic form. I’ll ask for these, and if produced (in hardcopy), I’ll ask to borrow them such that I can take them back to my office and digitize them. The systems that I’m looking to cover with a service contract are those that typically have been put in over the past decade, so there really should be no reason that the control drawings don’t exist, at least in hardcopy form. It’s those older systems, the ones that are over ten years old and really should be upgraded, that I often have trouble procuring an accurate and complete set of control drawings for. Of course if I am quoting an upgrade, the absence of control drawings opens up a whole other can of worms!

Network controller

I’ll ask the client to show me the main controller (if nothing else on my first visit), and take a couple of pics with my Polaroid…For the line of controls that we rep, this in and of itself provides a good deal of information on the size, version, and complexity of the system. Tells me when the original system was installed, if any partial upgrades have been done, and gives me a general order of magnitude of the system.

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As I mentioned above, I’m not a programmer and I don’t pretend to be one. But I still need to know enough to a) get the information that I need, and b) convince the prospective maintenance agreement customer that I know my business. In our line of controls, there is a very handy utility that, when invoked, will list all of the controllers on the network, in the form of a chart. This chart can be printed, and can be used to determine the coverage needed for the system. The more controllers, the more coverage may be required, from a preventative maintenance standpoint. And from a repair/replace standpoint as well.

Other concerns (general)

I leave a space at the bottom of this list for general notes…anything that doesn’t fit neatly under any of the above headings. Thoughts that come up in conversation, ideas that may be relevant now or in the future, those kinds of things. Sometimes this part of my checklist turns out to be the most important part, in sealing the deal and establishing long-term goals and a lasting business relationship!

Tip of the Month: I think having good organizational skills begins with knowing how to construct lists, and more importantly, knowing how to use the lists and carry out all tasks on the list. How often do we generate a list for a project, only to get through half of it and move on to something else? Not to say that you can’t multitask, just sayin’ that it’s good to actually complete a list every once in a while…guilty as charged!


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