My first experience with an emergency response plan was when I was VP of sales at an independent restorer in Oregon.
I cold-called a religious private school and managed to get sent back to the facility manager. The gal in the office gave me directions to his office and I made my way back to go meet Tim. When I got to the right building and found his office, I knocked on the door and he motioned me in.
Tim was sitting in his small office, a wall of keys to the right of his desk, a bookshelf to his left, and stacks of notebooks and files neatly arranged on a large steel desk. An XYZ Restoration desktop calendar was peeking through the papers.
I introduced myself and asked him how long he’d been at the school-he’d been there almost 15 years. I then asked him about his experience with disaster restoration, and he launched into a story about their last damage event.
A couple years prior, while he was on vacation, the school sustained a massive water damage event. On a weeknight, a main waterline burst in the ground-floor ceiling of their main building. Water was gushing through the drop ceiling panels in the main lobby. And of the handful of people on campus when it happened, no one knew how to shut the water off.
The water continued flooding the building for more than 40 minutes before someone finally called the fire department for help. The water continued to run for another 15 minutes until the fire crew arrived and located the shutoff and used their own key to turn the valve.
An extraordinary amount of damage was done.
We talked a bit about the clean-up and repairs process, but then I pivoted and asked if they’d done any emergency pre-planning after that experience.
“Ya, we actually had a guy come by from XYZ Restoration and put together an emergency plan for us,” he gestured toward the bookshelf to his left. I could see the large 3-ring binder with the restoration company’s signature colors on the spine.
I asked if we could take a look, so he pulled it down. To my surprise, only a few pages had actually been populated with information. When I asked him about it, he just shrugged his shoulders. “The guy sat here and asked me a whole bunch of questions, and then delivered the binder the following week. I didn’t have time to sit down with him to review it, and I haven’t heard from him since.”
This story serves as a great example, but maybe not for the reasons you think.
Clearly, if the school had a complete emergency response plan prepared prior to that damage event, they might have been able to shut the water off sooner, thereby minimizing the severity of the damage.
But a plan alone, as everyone in the industry knows, is only as good as the review and discussion it receives by the staff onsite. If the facility manager is the only one in possession of the plan and/or he or she never calls a meeting to discuss it, that plan is largely useless.
Clearly, there’s benefit to a well-executed emergency response plan, but what’s the higher purpose of an ERP?
It’s to build relationship.
Which is why so many ERPs across the country – like the partially-completed binder I discovered at that school – do very little to actually mitigate damage or reduce chaos.
If you’re doing ERPs for any other reason besides building an intentional, peer-partner relationship with your prospects and clients, you’re likely missing a huge opportunity and not offering the service level you aspire to.
How do ERPs build relationships?
As those of you who follow mine and Brandon’s work, every ERP starts with a discovery conversation with the decision-maker(s). Remember, without pain or unmet needs, you don’t really have the grounds for doing anything important with that prospect. You might get them to say yes to you doing an ERP for them, but they won’t give you full access to their business, and they won’t let you lead them to full implementation.
Discussing your prospect’s pain and articulating specific and concrete solutions to that pain is a powerful way to begin the relationship. But there’s loads more relationship building opportunity in the subsequent ERP process.
Once we understand the prospect’s past experience, and get buy-in to prepare an ERP, the next step is leading the decision-maker through the ERP process.
Here’s a bit of that word track: “I’m going to send you a sample email that you can forward to all of your local maintenance staff and property managers. Feel free to modify it however you’d like, I just like to give people a heads up that we’ll be stopping by, and let them know what they’re helping us with.
Then, I’ll reach out to each of them individually and schedule a convenient time to walk each property and collect the necessary information. Once my team and I finish compiling all the info, I’ll bring my emergency services manager with me and the three of us can review the plan and make final edits before you share it with your team.”
And so it goes – I now have “permission” to reach out to all the local players in that property management, senior living, or hotel portfolio. And when I get onsite, I’m going to maximize the opportunity.
While onsite, I’m essentially repeating the discovery process I did with the key decision-maker. Whoever I’m going to walk the property with, whether it be a maintenance manager, onsite property manager, executive director, or chief engineer, these are some of the questions I’m asking them during the site walk:
- How long have you been working here?
- What’d you do before that?
- What’s your experience with disaster restoration? When was the last damage event where you had to call someone out?
- When you have a damage event active onsite, how does it affect your day to day work?
- How does it affect the rest of the team?
- Given how the last repair job went, is there anything you’d want to do different next time?
And of course, I get tactical. In addition to identifying and sketching out the location of exits and entrances, utility shut-offs and riser rooms, and service vehicle parking, I’m asking about their local chain of command and process.
- If something happens overnight, who typically deals with that?
- Based on your experience, do you have any preferences for how you like vendors to handle themselves when onsite after-hours?
- If a decision has to be made in the middle of the night, regarding work to be done or something that would affect the business, tenants, etc, who would get involved?
But that’s just the actual site-walk. I’m not leaving immediately after walking the property.
I want to connect with every single person I can onsite. A leasing or marketing manager? Heck yes I want to meet them. Any maintenance technicians or laborers present, I want to meet them too. I want to be a familiar face next time I stop by.
That is the true purpose of the ERP- you have this window of permission to get to know the property, the team that cares for it, and gain a clear picture of what disaster restoration is like for them, and how you and your team can optimize your service delivery to minimize or eliminate pain they’ve experienced by past contractors.
Lastly, once you’ve completed your visits for all the associated properties, then you get to tie all that experience into your wrap-up conversation with your decision-maker.
The final wrap-up meeting is not just an opportunity to flip through the ERP binder with them, but instead it’s your opportunity to share all the due diligence you did with their team, how much you learned about their properties, the team’s experience, and any negative service themes with past vendors that the local folks shared with you. I promise you, if your experience is anything like mine, your decision-maker will be blown away by the effort you seemingly put in and massive trust will be established.
In the end, the actual ERP document was just a physical product of a new, and better vendor-partner relationship. And with the extra due diligence you did to understand the local folks’ past experience with damage events, your decision-maker will actually understand the value of rolling this plan out to all of his people in a collaborative way with you and your operations team.
If you found this article helpful, check out a LinkedIn Livestream I did on the topic: It’s called “The Real Reason to Do ERP’s for Commercial Accounts” https://www.linkedin.com/video/live/urn:li:ugcPost:6953026873752768513/ (it’s about 15 minutes)