Never let them see you sweat!

April 21, 2012

I had one of the more difficult installs of my career this last week. I went out of state to finish up a large install at one of my customer’s remote offices. The initial install at the main office went well. To say it didn’t go as planned at the remote office is an understatement. In the end I got it working. I really earned my pay this week, but it also reinforced a couple of life lessons that I learned.

Lesson 1: Never let them see you sweat!

When I was a young man I use to manage “World’s Best Car Stereo” shop in Alameda, Ca. I worked there about 4 – 5 years. We installed, but did not sell car stereos (We also sold and installed car alarms). We used to take a 4 or 5 inch hole saw and cut a hole for speakers on some pretty high end cars. One day I did 5 BMWs by myself. Best practices would be to open the door panel, roll the window up and down and check for clearance for the speaker BEFORE you cut a four or five inch hole in the car door. I once did a truck door that I couldn’t do that on because it was sealed. So I did my best guest-a-mit and cut a hole right into the center of a metal support bar. I was very casual about it, and went and got a small hand sledge hammer, and a pair of  speaker spacer. I beat the metal support back just enough to allow the magnet of the speaker set in with the help of the speaker spacers which limits how deep the speaker has to sit in the door. I then proceeded to the the exact same thing to the other door exuding the confidence that came with making the first car door speaker fit. The second one was a lot more fun because I knew what the outcome would be.

I learned early on that my customers reactions to a less than ideal situation or outcome had a lot less to do with what they saw, and a lot more to do with how I reacted to the situation. If I didn’t panic, they didn’t panic. So never let them see you sweat!

Lesson 2: Show your personal commitment to make it work!

When things don’t go well your customer needs to hear that you are personally committed to making it work! You need to communicate with your key contacts, the stake holders of the project. Because they too have a lot at stake if they have approved or back your project, their reputation is also on the line. Be demonstrative in your commitment, say things like “We will make this work”, “we will work through this”, or “I will stay here until it’s right”.

Lesson 3: Marshal your resources

With each of our products & solutions we have a lot of resources to back them up, Knowledge Base(s), Google Searches (use Boolean logic to find the best results), Help Desk, Escalation to Engineering, Remote Session Support (Web Ex) and On Site Field Support from the MFD distributor and the Manufacturer of the product. Don’t forget the customer’s IT people! They are the experts on their network environment. MAKE SURE YOU DON’T ISOLATE THEM BY MAKING RASH ACCUSATIONS!!! You need their good will more they they need you. Even if it turns out that they did something to cause the issue, NEVER PUBLICLY BLAME THEM, not if you want to work with them again. The bottom line is Fix the problem, and not the blame”! Too many technical experts want to find an easy out early on. They might say well it worked fine at the main office, so it MUST BE your environment. RESIST THIS URGE WITH ALL THAT IS WITHIN YOU! Bite your tongue until it bleeds if you need to. There are so many variables from one network environment to another, it is hard to make an honest definitive statement as to what is wrong until you have actually fixed the problem.

One trick you NEED to know, is the MFD Manufacturer who distributes the product has more pull with the Company that makes the product then you do. They can get faster and deeper access to the best tech support available than you can. So make sure that you can get them to get you to the absolute best tech support help available on the planet, even if that means the developers of the product in another country need to remote in and help you and your customer get the problem resolved. I think that this is one of the greatest “Achilles Heel”.  For many technical professionals their pride tells them they can figure it out on their own, the problem is if you take too long to marshal your forces you may wear out your welcome and run out of time to save the deal. Timing is everything, so don’t wait to long to get the help you need. Use your Knowledge Base(s), use the distributors and \ or product manufacturers help desk(s), and on site or remote session experts.

Lesson 4: Over communicate with the stake holders

When you figure part of the problem out, tell them, when you overcome a part of the problem, tell them. When you have help remoting in, or coming on site tell them. It is best if you proactively tell them what is happening rather than wait for them to ask, which means they are frustrated or they are being pressed for answers.

Lesson 5: It REALLY helps if you have some good will “banked”

Hopefully, if you find yourself in the installation from hell, you have already developed a good relationship with the customer. This is where a good past history will help them give you the time to work through a difficult problem. Because once you have lost their confidence or wear out your welcome you are done! And it doesn’t matter how close you are to getting the problem fixed. This is why it is so important to take care of your customers after the sale. It is the last stage of the sales cycle = Continue to build the relationship (once you have the deal signed and the equipment placed). This is how you bank good will!

There is no substitute for “going through the fire” with a new product. You can take a class, you can read the manual, you can set it up in your demo room, but until you install it in the real world, multiple times in different environments, and have to work you way through some difficult challenges, you really haven’t learned the product. Jumping into the wolf pit and fighting your way out is how YOU become an expert on the product!

That’s my $0.02
Vince McHugh

PS: My thanks to the people who helped me make this weeks install successful! You know who you are.



  1. You have articulated a wealth of knowledge with this post! I agree on every point, especially over communicating with the stakeholders. Just had this wonderful experience for myself last week.

  2. I needed a positive article this morning; thanks for the lift!



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