July 15, 2011
By Mark Bradley

Mark BradleyThis series of articles, published in Horticulture Review for the past two years, follows Dan, a struggling landscape contractor, and his long-time friend and mentor Bill, who has recently introduced Dan and his company to systems.

Going into summer, Dan was revisiting his sales budget, and getting a little concerned. While he and Bill were leaving an association board meeting, they got to chatting.

Dan said, “I find myself pricing more jobs than ever, but losing more jobs than ever to people going with cheaper estimates. Everyone seems so much more focused on price these days.” Bill agreed with Dan.

“So given the change,” asked Bill, “what have you done to react to it? Are you selling differently, or selling like you’ve always sold?”

Dan thought for a minute; he hadn’t changed much, and his closing rate was much worse than a few years ago. At least half his leads went with what they felt was a lower price.

Bill had another angle on the lowest price issue. “Believe it or not, price is not the biggest reason customers go elsewhere. Price is the number one excuse, but in my experience, the biggest mistake I made was the way I tried to sell each customer. I had one sales approach. Selling isn’t so much about the salesperson, as it is about the customer.  

“When I figured out how to sell each customer, I really turned my sales around. Different customer types need different sales approaches. I’m no psychiatrist, but you can teach yourself to be competent at this in one evening. As we go through these, write down each type as a heading across the top of the page. Tonight, think of every friend and relative and write their name under the type that suits them best. By the time you’re done, you’ll be well on your way to mastering this. Consider these four basic customer types:”


Amiable customers have a basic need to feel safe, and to get approval from others. They need to trust their relationship with you, and they need more talking and lots of listening. They’ll often ask you questions like, ‘Well, what would you do?’ They need to check with others to feel confident in their decision. They value how much they can trust you, as much or more than the bottom line price.

How to sell amiables – Meet them on site and book extra time for your meetings. Become a trusted advisor. Offer suggestions and explain your guarantees, warranty, superior service and other customer testimonials.  Show off your portfolio. Give amiables your cell number, and don’t worry, they won’t want to disturb you.  

How to kill the sale – Push for the sale too quickly. Show up when they’re not home to do site visits. Email or mail your quotes. Don’t follow up. Give them too many options and expect they know what they want.  


Analyticals need to make the right decision. They want information, specifications, guarantees, warrantees and testimonials, and  are interested in how you work and want details on the plants or materials. They get multiple estimates to help them make the right decision. They most likely focus on price, but are ultimately looking for the most value for their money.

How to sell analyticals – Detailed estimates and drawings, plant information packages, company history and testimonials. Build detailed descriptions and information into your estimates, including quantities, specifications, and guarantees. Demonstrate your value over lower price competitors; the more numbers and words, the better. Show them the risks in their project, and how your company will control them.

How to kill the sale – One page estimates and quick prices with no details; talk up your company and its services, but don’t put anything in writing; use sketches instead of designs; show up at sales meetings without leaving them with information they can read after you’re gone, and don’t give them time to process information before making a decision.


Drivers are typical entrepreneurs: fast-moving, risk-takers with a basic need to be in control. They ask direct questions that test your competency and put you on-the-spot. Drivers talk more than listen. When they are listening, they’re not in control. Drivers want to work with someone who is competent, gets right to the bottom line and is organized.

Drivers will value competency and confidence over price.

How to sell drivers – Talk less, listen more. Spend more time preparing for meetings and less time in meetings. Show up very organized, and get right to the point. Give them options which let drivers retain control. Be willing to meet their schedule. One page summary estimates and quick emails and conversations work well.

How to kill the sale – Spend more time talking than listening; give long-winded descriptions of your company and technical details, long estimates, descriptions or letters; take your time calling them back, or worse, forget to call them back; be unprepared and unorganized in meetings and miss deadlines.


This group is all about communication. They often start your first meeting with a story about their personal lives, or about the history of their property. Expressives change subjects a lot and drift from topic to topic. They are big thinkers and like to be trend-setters, and want to impress others. Many contractors quickly grow frustrated with expressives, because they don’t seem serious, or they tie them up in small talk. But, when you establish a relationship with an expressive, they act fast and make
quick decisions.

How to sell expressives – Book extra time for meetings. Listen, and spend time in conversation about the job, or life, or anything. Build a relationship by telling stories and show off your portfolio and your awards, and tell the stories behind the job. Use descriptions in your estimate to accurately re-word their vision back to them and articulate how your company will best fulfill it.

Highlight why their job is unique or interesting.

How to kill the sale – Rush the sale and ignore, or hurry small talk. Give estimates with technical data, instead of written descriptions.  Give them standard project proposals.

Bill summed up the importance of selling to your customer’s type. “I used to sell every customer analytically. I’d give them all the information that I would look for when I was buying.

That worked only half the time. I’d give a driver this long explanation of the way we work and details of pricing, but they saw my approach as wasting their time and stealing their control. That same bottom line to-the-point approach that worked with a driver, ruined the sale with an amiable, who was looking for a trusting relationship created by spending more time getting to know me and my work.

“Price will always be an issue, but it’s not always the issue you think it is.  Try adjusting the way you sell your jobs, based on your customer’s personality.  See if your closing rates don’t take a big leap forward.” 
Mark Bradley is the president of The Beach Gardener and the Landscape Management Network.