"My Blackberry reminded me to call you last Tuesday, but I didn't, so it reminded me again yesterday, but I was driving, and it reminded me again this morning, so now I'm giving you a call."

Tad Troilo Jim, a project manager for one of our commercial building accounts, left this message for me on my office phone around 9:30 p.m. I didn't bother checking my cell phone because I knew he hadn't called since then. In fact, he wouldn't even call today.

Two weeks ago, Jim dropped off plans at my office. He told me he absolutely had to have everything ordered last Tuesday. After he left the showroom, I stuck the plans behind my desk and waited for the e-mails.

Typically I would receive one change to the plans per day during the first week, then another two during the following week. This being a large project, it generated two missives a day until a few days ago. Every time one came in, I would print it out, date it, and put it with the original plans. I didn't bother reading them because, like the plans themselves, I knew they were subject to change.

When a full day passed without receiving an e-mail– five days after Jim told me he absolutely needed everything ordered–I knew that, within three days, he would call me to tell me he wanted to schedule a phone conference to review some details because he was too busy to meet at the office.

"I know I'm calling after hours," his message continued. "I'll call you on your cell in the morning, and we'll review the details. Did you catch the changes I've been e-mailing? I hope so. There is no way I can get away from the jobsite this week, but I absolutely have to get everything ordered tomorrow."


But we'd never connect on the phone. Instead, he would stop by two days after the "I can't stop by" phone call.

At this point, Jim really would be ready to place the order, so it was time to get some work done. I spread out the plans and e-mails on a table and buried myself in the job.

You would think you'd go crazy with a client like Jim: someone who always needs everything in a hurry, then changes nearly everything about the job, then doesn't call when he's supposed to, then just shows up unscheduled. But he didn't. It was truly a pleasure to work on the jobs.

Within a few hours, I had the whole project priced and a contract drawn. It went so smoothly because Jim always e-mailed his changes. He used the part numbers from our suppliers' catalogs. He was always careful to date his changes so we could tell which change superseded which. He knew we would have a hard time pricing cabinets without a color selection, and he always noted whether he needed special lengths for the trim. Jim also knew we would need a deposit check to execute the order, and he knew we liked to meet in person to review the details.

Jim knew as much about us as we knew about him.

When he walked into the office at 3:15 p.m. the next day, we chatted briefly and reviewed the contract. Jim signed it, left me a check, and shook my hand. We never acknowledged the fact that he told me he would order last Tuesday, or that I needed manufacturer part numbers on every change order to get things done correctly the first time, or any other of our idiosyncrasies.

Often, as sales people, we think building relationships is strictly about knowing how someone takes his coffee and what position his son plays on the football team. But I don't even know if Jim is married. I do, however, know exactly what kind of base molding he likes. This is a job, after all. Building a relationship is as much about knowing how someone works.

"I'll call you tomorrow to check on delivery dates," Jim told me as he headed out the door.

We both knew he wouldn't.

Tad Troilo is a manager for Cranmer's Kitchens by Design in Yardley, Pa. 215.493.8600 E-mail: tadtroilo@mac.com