You lost that sale — 14 windows, average cost $750 each — to a competitor you've learned to loathe. Here's what the prospect told your rep: “We would like to have bought from you guys, but their price was better.” So you call to find out by how much. “A lot,” the prospect says. End of conversation.

And in fact, the price was better. The competitor told your prospect that his company had a special deal with its supplier, which enabled him to offer the lowest possible prices. What you know, that the client doesn't, is that the competition's payment practices have seared the fingers of several suppliers, that he uses fly-by-night installers, and that he has so many service complaints he's thinking about changing his name for the third time.

But instead of talking about your installation procedures, your service department, and your lifetime labor warranty, you dropped the price 10% and held your breath.

Here's the problem: to many American homeowners, vinyl windows are vinyl windows. The same holds true for vinyl siding. Buying on price makes sense to that consumer. So for the longest time, the battle to get the contract was fought out in the living room or across the kitchen table. Price drops either clinched it, or didn't.

Branding is a way around this scenario. You're probably thinking: I don't have several million dollars to spend on the kind of advertising it would take to make my company a brand. But home improvement companies aren't selling a product, they're selling the promise of an experience. In this business, branding is what your company stands for. You're already a brand, whether you know it or not.

Most homeowners expect to emerge battered and bruised from any encounter with a contractor. Given those expectations, it's not hard to deliver a level of service that will surprise and please. Siding and window companies with a ton of referral work and marketing costs under 10% got that way by taking disappointment out of the equation. They created systems to ensure satisfaction at every level of the customer relationship, then took it a step further and made that the gist of their marketing.

OK, you may be doing everything right, but how do you know unless you ask customers by calling them up or sending them a satisfaction survey? And if they say they loved your company, what better time to ask for a testimonial or a referral?

Jim Cory