One of the first things we did when our dog, Abbie, arrived seven years ago was install an “invisible fence” – an electronic device that keeps your dog safely on the property.
It has two parts to it:
- A thin wire that rings the property and connects back to a transmitter in the garage.
- A radio collar that your dog wears and that emits a warning signal if she gets too close to the wire.
It works like a charm.
Except when it doesn’t.
The problem is that every couple of years, and typically due to an animal or child chewing through it, the wire develops a break and the collar stops functioning.
The good news is that when the wire breaks, the transmitter in the garage lets you know about it by immediately and continually emitting a loud, high-pitched beep.
The bad news is that the transmitter doesn’t offer even a hint of where the break is.
As a practical matter, this is like having someone run into your fire station with news of a big blaze in town. And then, when you ask them where it is, they just shrug and tell you they have no idea.
And so every once in a while, and using a variety of tricks and tools that I’ve acquired over the years, I’m compelled to set off on a race against time to find the break and repair it, before Abbie realizes that the prison walls are not only invisible … they’re nonexistent.
This year, however, it was harder than usual. Not only could I not locate the break, the transmitter itself was behaving in ways that seemed to defy invisible fence logic (don’t ask).
Eventually (I confess I spent most of an entire weekend fiddling with it on my own first), I gave in and called the company that sold me the device, hoping they would help me troubleshoot the problem over the phone.
No dice. There were lots of opportunities to call and speak with live SALESPEOPLE, but not with live support.
For that they had a handy (I’m being sarcastic) web form for submitting questions.
Given their estimated “one business day” turnaround for this kind of thing, I did a rough calculation and concluded that using this method of communication, we could get to the bottom of the problem by approximately the end of time (give or take a millennium).
So I started Googling. That’s when I found these guys: DogFenceDIY. There was a friendly-looking guy pictured in the top right corner of the web page, along with a phone number and an invitation to call, 8-7 EST, 7 days a week.
So I called. And I talked to a guy (he was as friendly as his photo suggested) for 15 minutes as I stood in my garage trying the things he suggested to fix the transmitter.
He never asked me if I was a customer (I’m not).
In fact, the closest he came to trying to sell me anything was to let me know that if I couldn’t get the original manufacturer to fix it for free (his first suggestion), and I couldn’t find a used replacement transmitter on eBay (his second suggestion), that he carried other products that would work just fine.
Here’s the point. The two invisible fence companies I dealt with last weekend are both in the “dog containment” business. But that’s where the similarity ends.
The first is set up to maximize the efficiency with which it closes sales.
The second is set up to maximize the efficiency with which it builds a reputation as a likeable expert.
So which is a better business model?
Well, the former will earn you more money today, no doubt about it. (Why waste time with non-customers who need help with someone else’s product?)
But, as you’ve probably guessed, I’m in favor of the latter.
Because when it comes to building a profitable, long-term business whose sales increase and marketing costs decrease year over year, my money is always on the people whose business is organized around the principle of building relationships first and sales later.
And no, you won’t see results today. But I’m guessing you plan to be around for longer than that anyway. Woof Woof!!