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The Data Gut Punch

Shawn Mims
February 14, 2019

January 14th marked the start of the AHR Expo in Atlanta at the 1.4-million sq. ft. Georgia World Congress Center. With 50-thousand attendees, that place was a madhouse. I, along with the rest of the ServiceTrade team, was engaged in back-to-back conversations with commercial mechanical service contractors about their growth goals. As we usually do, we made a lot of people very uncomfortable. How? By asking difficult questions and presenting hard data that shook long held beliefs about their businesses. It’s the moment you realize that you’re running your business blind based on gut instincts and then data comes along and knocks the wind right out of you. It hurts. Here’s an example from AHR:

Contractor: What does ServiceTrade do?

Me: ServiceTrade helps commercial service contractors be more valuable to their customers and grow their business.

Contractor: The only thing holding us back from growing are inefficiencies in the office and cost control hiccups. Can you help with that?

Me: We can definitely help there, but how much revenue do you drive per service technician per year?

[Long pause]

Contractor: I’ve never thought about that metric. Based on our total service revenue from last year and the number of techs we had on staff, we did great! We made about $200k per tech.

Me: Our mechanical customers drive $400k to $500k per service technician by focusing on customer service and repair opportunities, but we can talk about back office operations if you’d like.


Examples like this are common, even among our own customers. We perform account health calls with our customers to compare their performance against a benchmark in their industry. Most are caught completely off guard by what they discover. They never bothered to look at their quote approval rate, they just assumed it was over 95%. They never checked their average days to invoice, they just assumed it was under 5 days. It reminds me of something our CEO always says:

Do you know what happens when you assume? You make an ass out of you and me.

Almost every contractor claims to be data driven. However, the reality is that most contractors are rarely collecting the data they need to make good decisions about how to grow. Sure, they can all tell you their margin across different divisions down to the penny, but you’ll rarely meet a contractor who is paying attention to growth metrics like the:

I’ve met far too many contractors that “just know” these metrics. No data to back them up, just pure instinct. Do you know these metrics for your business? Do you have good data to back them up? Check out ServiceTrade’s business analytics features.

Reals, not feels. That’s what you have to remind yourself every time you attempt to make a data-driven decision. As tempting as it is to rely on your gut and your feels to make decisions, the data and the reals don’t lie. Data doesn’t care about your opinion so don’t be surprised when the data disrupts your worldview and punches you in the gut. As much as it hurts, that’s a better outcome than trying to grow a company by feeling your way through the dark.

Here are a few more blog posts about metrics for service contractors that you might find interesting:

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