A good friend of mine, Casey Voorhees of the Western Building Material Association, begins some of his training sessions with the following advice: To beat 80 percent of your competition, simply show up. To beat 85 percent, show up on time. To beat 90 percent, show up with a plan. To beat 95 percent, show up with a plan committed to excellence. To beat 100 percent, show up with a plan committed to excellence—then execute.

I agree with this belief 100 percent, and I recently had an opportunity to see the proof that this approach works. I accompanied one of our managers on customer visits, spending a full day calling on jobsites and talking with both current customers and prospective customers. One conversation stood out above all the others.

The dialogue was with a young and aggressive builder, I'll call him “Jim,” who currently is putting up about 100 houses a year. He's not the largest builder in this metro market, but is still a significant customer for the yard. We had recently “won” his business because the manager of this location was assertive, professional, and always lived up to his claims.

During our conversation, Jim revealed that his father, who started the business, had always been a devoted customer of another pro sales operation in the market. This competitor also offers products installed, and Jim's father was one of the first builders in the market to get on board with installed sales. However, over the past year problems had begun to surface and the business relationship between Jim and this supplier had begun to deteriorate. The materials for his installed sales program were fine, but our competitor's salesperson was not delivering on his service promise. Product showed up late, back orders were common, there were billing errors, and installers were late, if they came at all. All of this resulted in missed deadlines, excessive production delays, and countless rescheduling of subs.

Although not every job was a problem, a lack of full-time dedicated service became enough of an inconvenience that Jim was considering taking his business elsewhere. As a result, after our manager continued to stop by Jim's office, pick up prints, and present complete bids, Jim finally gave him the nod. That was our manager's cue to step up to the plate, get his entire yard involved, and make sure that when his installers started a job, all of the pieces were in place to ensure that it was finished on time, on budget, and to the customer's satisfaction.

Following Voorhees' words of wisdom, our installed sales manager began targeting his competitors right off the bat by showing Jim our company's 100 percent commitment to excellence and executing on that promise.

The result? Jim has now begun to spread his company's business around. He's buying material from our manager's store and has given the yard all of his installed business.

It goes to show that securing and keeping new customers really can be easy if you do what you say you are going to do and deliver what you promise. Our manager showed up—on time and with a plan—was personally and professionally committed to excellence, and executed the plan as promised. The simple solutions always work best.

Mike Butts is director of installation services for United Building Centers. 507.457.8453. E-mail: mike.butts@unitedbuildingcenters.com.