Mark Robert Halper

Recently, I ended up spending the night as a patient in the teaching hospital associated with George Washington University. I’m one of 2.2 million Americans with a type of heart arrhythmia called “atrial fibrillation.” In itself, a-fib isn’t life-threatening, but left untreated it can lead to blood clots and an increased likelihood of stroke. I am the opposite of a hypochondriac, probably because I’ve been pretty healthy all my life. My a-fib symptoms were pretty mild, so I was relaxed enough while in the emergency room to make unhurried observations about how they do things. I couldn’t help drawing parallels to that other emergency I’m involved with — the one in our remodeling industry.

Team Sell

For starters, with emergency medical personnel there is no sales pitch; it’s all listening all the time. As a teaching hospital, GW takes a team approach to every case. Three of the team of six that got stuck with me conducted interviews about 30 minutes apart, asking the same questions each time and listening hard for my answers. The result: they can compare notes and avoid missing something, and patients learn to get right to the point.

In the current selling environment, remodelers who talk too much are doomed. Maybe team selling is the answer. It forces you to listen for what the client really wants and gives you another chance to get it right. Plus, it encourages homeowners to focus on what is really important.


There’s a lot of paperwork in the ER. Every patient has a chart — a wireless, electronic version of the clipboard that used to hang by the bed — and every time someone checks blood pressure or pulse or administers a drug or just asks a question, they write it all down. This keeps medical professionals from confusing or misremembering symptoms or treatments, and it forces them to communicate concisely and with precision. It reminded me of the daily log I used to keep when I was still running jobsites. The notes (and later, photos) I entered — about which trades were on the site, what was delivered, what issues arose and how we resolved them — saved my bacon more than once.

End Game

I found it interesting that hospitals are as bad at the end game as remodelers are. A newly arrived patient in the ER is like a new client — they get everyone’s urgent attention. But a patient who is out of the woods, like a home­owner whose project is well under way, drops like a rock to the bottom of the priority list. Hospitals mostly get away with it because they are often the only game in town. But remodelers are a dime a dozen, especially these days. Homeowners who feel abandoned can easily find someone else.

The Quarter-Inch Difference

Of all the poking and prodding I endured during my 24-hour stay, the most annoying thing was the temporary IV port taped to my right forearm the whole time. It was a modern version that uses a flexible catheter, which is supposed to allow complete freedom of movement. But the student who installed mine chose a site too close to the crook of my elbow, so it pinched before my arm bent even to 90 degrees. Later, a more experienced nurse inserted the same kind of device one-quarter inch lower and it made all the difference. That small adjustment would have made my overnight stay immeasurably more pleasant.

I wonder how many “quarter-inch” adjustments you could make in your business to make clients a little more comfortable.

Maybe you should ask them.