Mistakes on a commercial LED lighting project can quickly transform a profitable venture into a quagmire of lost time, lost money, and frustrated customers. This is made all the more complicated when you consider how many phases a project might have, along with the number of potential decision makers who need to be informed and consulted along the way.
Fortunately, many of the most common mistakes can be avoided with simple awareness. Here are the top 10 most common mistakes we see in the retrofit industry, with advice on how to avoid them.
10. Assuming the Customer Wants the Job Done Right Away
For retrofitters, there’s often a feeling of urgency when you start to work on an audit. You need to get the specs, order materials, and schedule the labor within an already very full calendar.
But when you assume the customer wants the job done ASAP, you might be setting yourself up for frustration. If you order materials for a project that the customer doesn’t want for another couple of quarters, you could be stuck warehousing them for a while (not to mention explaining to your boss why there isn’t a purchase order).
Even with the current state of the supply chain, before you start placing orders, make sure you and the customer are on the same page about your new project’s timeline.
9. Not Asking What Technology Your Customer Needs
When a customer wants new LEDs, we tend to assume they’re after cost savings. But making assumptions like that may mean you’re overlooking their true motivations.
If your customer is actually after a different level of lighting or energy efficiency — or they haven’t been clear about the application, the technology solution you offer may not meet their actual needs. During your discovery and auditing process, make sure you get as many details as you can about your customer’s motivation and the challenge they’re trying to solve.
8. Ignoring Your Competition
Do you believe in the products you sell? Of course you do — you offer them because you believe they’re the best LEDs on the market. And if you’re selling the best, why worry about what the competition is doing?
Yet in our constantly shifting marketplace, the products you offer may not actually meet your customer’s needs as well as those of your competitors do. In this industry, you’ve got to know who you’re competing against. Talk to your rep, talk to your distributor, and keep tabs on how things are changing. You may end up being inspired.
7. Taking Verbal Instructions (Without Getting the Specs in Writing)
“You didn’t tell me the light fixtures were going to look like that.”
There’s nothing worse than completing an install only to hear it’s not what the customer thought they were getting. When you’re operating from verbal instructions instead of written specifications, you and your customer may be on two very different pages.
If you’re competing in a bid, make sure it’s apples to apples. You need a written scope of work from the customer to ensure everyone knows what they’re getting.
6. Misjudging Who Makes the Decisions
Another way to jump the gun is by misjudging who makes the decisions on a project. The person you work with may have external consultants or engineers who will also weigh in. Or they may simply be a middleman, running information between you and the final approver.
But if you’re not aware of the other people in the decision loop, you may think you’re in the clear to move forward before the project is ready to go. That could lead to lost time, money, and materials. Make sure you’ve got clarity on whose approval you need to get started.
5. Not Asking Who’s Going to Pay for the Work
Who’s going to write the check for this project? Is your customer using rebate money from their local utility, or are they trying to squeeze the project in on the monthly maintenance budget?
These are important questions to answer before you begin the project, because they can have a serious impact on your timeline. If funding depends on a third party or on budget approval, you may want to wait until they’ve got the money in hand before you get too far down the line.
4. Overpromising the Customer
When we hear the word “overpromising,” we tend to think of shady salesmen who offer the world without any plan to deliver. In practice, what overpromising actually looks like is a basic miscommunication.
What happens is this: Your customer describes a run-of-the-mill problem that you’ve solved a hundred times before. You explain your solution, how it will work, and the price. Your customer is thrilled you can help.
Then you get to the site and realize there are things you haven’t been told. These complications and curveballs can mean your initial solution is impractical, too expensive, or otherwise not right for the job. The customer ends up feeling misled when you inevitably revise your plans.
The best way to avoid this? No matter how familiar the problem sounds, make sure you’ve got all the facts before you offer solutions.
3. Misunderstanding How the Customer Measures Success
This mistake is adjacent to No. 9, in that it comes down to misunderstanding your customer’s motivation for undertaking an LED project. If you prepare a business case for the project based on a payback period, and the customer wants to know the return on investment, you may end up talking past each other. The same is true in reverse.
What is it that your customer sees as the primary benefit of this project? What metrics will they use to calculate whether it succeeded? Establishing this up front will help to ensure you deliver on what the customer wants.
2. Improperly Completing an Audit
We’re really not pointing fingers here — there are many reasons auditors feel pressured to hastily finish an audit. Unfortunately, none of those reasons carry much water when it comes time to execute a project and you start to run into problems.
These can take many forms: Maybe the panel has the incorrect voltage, so when you put in the fixtures, they fail. Maybe you thought the fixture was a hook mount when it’s actually a pendant instead. Or maybe you took the customer’s word that the light poles in the parking lot were 30 feet high, when in fact they’re just 25.
Problems like these can throw a serious wrench in your plans, but they can be avoided. You just have to take a little more time with your audit, verify the facts for yourself, and make sure your work is as thorough as possible.
If there’s a common thread that knits together all these mistakes, it would be “miscommunication.” So often the biggest problems you’re apt to run into arise when you’ve misunderstood your customer’s needs.
How can you avoid this mistake? Slow down, ask questions, and use the above list to help guide you in your conversations with customers. While it might take a little more time up front, you’ll more than make up for it over the life of the project.