February 26, 2015
Create a successful sales processBY MARK BRADLEY
If you are looking to improve growth, profit and work-life balance next year, you would be wise to start with your sales process. When you’re looking at root-causes of problems, waste, inefficiency and lost opportunities, many of the reasons can be traced back to a poor, or no, sales process.
If you find yourself losing too many jobs on price, spending too many evenings on client meetings that don’t turn into work or are having trouble differentiating your company from the sea of competition, you need a better sales process. Your process needs to be a systematic step-by-step approach that attracts the right leads and differentiates your company from your competitors, gathers all the right information, and frames a solution that fits your clients’ needs and budget.
Attracting the right leads
The type of leads you attract will have enormous impact on your success. I have heard many contractors complain about the types of jobs, and customers, in their market and how they can’t seem to get the good jobs.
If you’re not attracting the right kinds of leads, you’re spending too much time in meetings and conversations about work you don’t even want. You’re trying to sell to customers who aren’t really a good fit for your business. While you’re spending time on all that, you have less time and energy to spend on the good leads that are coming in … and many of those leads are lost to competitors.
Website is your business gateway
Your website will be just about everyone’s first impression of your company. Customers and leads, new hires, vendors, bankers, or anyone doing homework on your company is going to get his first impression from your website. It’s not good enough anymore to just have a website. Your website needs to immediately distinguish your company from the competition, filter the right leads into your sales pipeline, and give customers an easy way to contact you, such as phone, contact form, etc.
Even referrals, typically a company’s best source of business, are checking you out online to validate the referral. If you want to win better jobs, your website needs to change your customer’s mentality from, “I want a backyard patio,” to “I want this company to build my backyard patio.”
I would also include pictures of previous projects — your best four or five. Clients don’t need or want to scroll through 20 projects; just show your best work. Include descriptions of the projects (what the client asked for, how long it took to construct) and even budget ranges (e.g. project budget: $25K - $35K). You don’t have to give away the price, but you want to give a range to help educate customers on what work costs. This will filter out customers who don’t meet your target, and set realistic expectations for new customers who have never experienced this type of work before.
Many sales are lost long before you ever present the bid. You spend hours designing, estimating, and more, only to find out (too late) that there was never much hope for a mutually acceptable proposal to begin with. The reason for this waste of your valuable time (much of it during evenings and weekends) is a lack of information. You need a sales process that gathers as much information about the job as possible, before you put too much work into it.
I like to break it down in three phases.
Phase 1: Before the first visit. Before you invest any time in going to meet the client, your first phone call should gather some basic information about the lead. Where does the client live? What’s the general scope of the project? What type of work is it? Does the client have a completion deadline? If you have ever found yourself visiting a property, only to find out they wanted a few tiny tasks done, or they wanted work completed by a deadline that you can’t schedule, you didn’t ask enough questions on the first call.
Solution: Give your office staff, or whoever answers the phone, a clear script to handle new leads. Questions like address, available times to meet, scope of the project, and timeline can help you filter out hundreds of leads before you invest (or waste) any time chasing them down. Your staff needs a good idea of the scope or type of work to ensure it fits your target market.
Phase 2: During the first visit. When you do arrive to meet a prospective client who fits your target market, your goal should be to listen first, and talk later. The more questions you ask, the more key information you will unearth about the job and the client. This will help you tailor a proposal to your customer, containing key elements and features other contractors may have overlooked, or not uncovered.
Solution: Ask to get inside the house before you walk the site. Make mental notes of the flooring, art, furniture, kitchen design… any information that will help you establish what kind of taste the client has (modern, traditional, natural, eclectic, etc.). Create a standardized site assessment form for anyone who visits a customer to make sure every designer or estimator is asking the same key questions about the customers’ needs, lifestyle, or current issues such as drainage or privacy.
Phase 3: Finishing your first visit. At the end of the first visit, your goal is to leave with a client budget. This is often an uncomfortable exercise for both parties. The contractor is afraid to ask, and worries he won’t get an honest answer. Customers are afraid to give an honest answer, because they don’t know what landscape work costs, and are afraid the contractor will take advantage of them. But if you want to increase your closing rate, and make it a more comfortable sales process for everyone, this is a conversation you need to have. Imagine how embarrassing it is for a customer who thinks $40K worth of work costs about $10K! He would likely be so embarrassed about asking for so much, that it’s easier to ignore your follow-up calls or emails, than tell you he has only a quarter of that amount to spend.
Solution: Before you leave the meeting, write out a quick budget for the customer. On a simple piece of graph paper, give realistic ranges of what work costs:
|600 sq. ft. patio:
|$8,000 - $15,000
$2,500 - $5,000
$2,000 - $4,000
Here, you’re not committing to a fixed price, you’re simply giving the client a realistic price range of what work costs. “Based on what you’re looking for, you’re looking at a project that would be in or around $15K to $25K, depending on project selection, details, and other variables. Is this a number you’re comfortable spending?”
You’re the expert. It’s up to you to educate the customer. By giving him a budget range, you can either confidently design a project that meets his budget (along with a few recommended upgrades), or realize that there is no way you will be able to provide this customer’s desires within his budget.
Either scenario will help you save tens, even hundreds, of hours designing or trying to sell work to clients who simply didn’t understand what they should expect to spend for a landscape project.
Using a sales process, such as the one above, will improve the way you sell this year. It will help bring in better work, reduce the amount of time selling and chasing jobs that never materialize, and it will help you sell your company on more than just price.
Mark Bradley is president of TBG Landscape and the Landscape Management Network, based in Ontario.