Get a clue

Get a clue

Features - Cover Story: The Sales Issue

If you understand sales, then you are in the minority. Find out why so many people get it wrong.

January 28, 2013
Monroe Porter
Industry News

How do you feel about your sales technique? Are you nervous trying to get that family of four to commit to a big ticket job for their backyard? Or maybe you’re confident you’ve hired the best sales team around who can sell anything, to anyone, anytime and anywhere?

What about those of you confident owners who deep down, know you have this game all figured out? When you walk into a room, it’s not a matter of what they’ll buy, it’s how much you work you feel like taking on after you sell them the world.

No matter how you feel about your sales strategies, you probably aren’t as bad as you think, but you still have a lot to learn. That’s why we’ve dedicated this month to focusing on strategies you can implement now to grow your bottom line.

Having taught more than 25,000 salespeople, it never ceases to amaze me how most people don’t have a clue about sales. Maybe it is because we encounter so few good salespeople.

Let’s start with a definition of selling that I have found particularly useful when speaking to contractors. Selling is communicating your trade and profession to customers.

It is not your customer’s responsibility to determine the difference between yours and competing bids. It is your responsibility to sell value and communicate the point of difference. Notice I never used the words coerce, cheat, force, push or swindle.

The following buying reasons have been taught for years but too many people don’t understand what they really mean.

1. People buy from those they like. Yes, but the real answer is they buy from whom they like if all else is equal, which usually means if things are about the same price or they respect your ability. We have all bought something from our brother-in-law or buddy who let us down.

2. People hate to be sold. People love to buy things but hate to be sold. They like to spend money but they don’t like to be pushed. That is why professional salespeople make it easy for the customer to buy and never really “sell” them anything.

3. People buy on their logic, not your logic. Ever notice the more you argue politics or religion with folks the harder they argue. You cannot talk people into things. You must present information to them in a way that causes them to question their own logic.

4. People buy because they believe you will solve their problem, not because they technically understand what you do. People buy based on trust. When you go to the doctor, he or she will frequently prescribe a drug to help cure you. We have no idea what that drug does chemically but we take it because we trust the doctor. Selling is about trust. People buy because they trust you to solve their problem.

The following tips are just tips, suggestions, ideas, phrases and things you can use when talking with customers.

Tell me more about that. Selling is about gathering information. Try using broad questions that force the customer to talk to you and tell you what they had in mind. If they say something like they want to “have a low-maintenance landscape,” reply, “help me understand what a low-maintenance landscape would look like to you.”

Answer a question with a question.
Most of us were good boys and girls and learned to obey our teachers, big brothers, parents and other people of authority. This was a good strategy when you were eight years old. Being obedient kept you out of trouble and meant you were a polite child. This logic does not necessarily work well for contractors when talking with customers. The customer probably needs some education.

Blindly answering the customer’s questions may not be in your best interest because the customer may be asking the wrong question. For example, a customer might ask, “would you recommend azaleas?” Why did the customer ask that question? Does he hate azaleas? Is he or she allergic to them? Have they had bad luck with them in the past? Reply, “Azaleas are a popular plant, tell me about your particular interest in them?”

Tag lines for objections.
When in the heat of battle, it seems like customers give you a zillion objections, but in reality, less than six objections cover 90 percent of the objections contractors face. Price, third-party authority, schedule, or another contractor are just a few.

It just makes sense to come up with some common lines you can offer to counter these basic objections. I call these tag lines, something you pull out of your pocket and say to the customer. Let’s practice a tag line with that age-old objection, price.

Customer says, “Your price is too high.”

Contractor says, “I know it is a lot of money. Here at Acme Landscaping we decided a long time ago that we were better off to charge a little more than to deal with the problems that cutting corners causes. We have done more than 1,200 jobs in town and I want to make sure that if I see you in the grocery story, I am proud of the work we did for you.”

Now let’s offer one for higher authority. Customers are famous for passing the buck by saying something like, “I have to talk to my husband,” or, “I have to call the home office for approval.” Most contractors will tuck tail and run at this point. The more aggressive salesperson might reply, “Let me talk to him for you.” Neither are appropriate responses.

Third-party objections are the number one false objection you encounter. The best response at this point is to test the objection for validity. A simple reply indicated you appreciate the need to communicate to a third party but you want to make sure they are happy and is it okay with them. Something like, “I can appreciate you wanting to talk to your husband. I talk over major decisions with my wife. At this point, I have not met your husband and we are the ones who will be working together. Based on what you have heard, are you comfortable with us doing the job?”

Ask for the order. Too many contractors think asking for the order is pressure. That is absurd. When you go into a restaurant and the waiter or waitress approaches and asks if you would like to order, you don’t see that as pressure.

When you walk into a hotel and the front asks would you like a room, you don’t see that as pressure. You are a landscape contractor. They are trying to buy landscaping. Asking if they want you to do the work is a natural conclusion to your presentation.

Selling is nothing more than good communication. Improving your sales skills is one of the few things you can do that requires no more time, but will bring in more profit.

The author is president of PROOF Management Consultants and PROSULT Networking Groups. He can be reached at