Q: We are a hardscaping company in Northern Michigan. We build a great number of seawalls, patios, and retaining walls. Consequently, our projects run mostly from $30,000-$60,000. Nothing is more frustrating than going to a client that is either expecting to only spend $500 or really isn’t going to do anything at all.
We are thinking about putting together a pre-visit questionnaire that would head off some of this by finding out how much they are really hoping to do and how serious they are about doing it. I know this sounds vague, but perhaps you have some experience with companies that have been successful in trying this approach.
A: First of all, doing your due diligence in screening potential clients is not detrimental to your business. On the contrary, it is a vital part of making sure you are maximizing your time with clients that appreciate and can benefit from your services. My suggestion is to have a series of questions that would make sure the customer is the correct fit and enable you to see how much time you want to invest. That is correct, “invest.” Any time you take for a dud potential sale takes you away from a possibly more lucrative sale, and most of us only have a limited amount of time to make sales that will benefit the company.
Some of the potential questions are as follows (you probably can come up with some that better fit your company):
1. Where are you located? Are they in your area of service? You could potentially be wasting time trying to figure out if the job is in your service radius.
2. How did you hear about us? If they were referred by one of your friends or clients, then this is a good potential client to pursue as they have some sort of connection and trust factor.
3. What are you looking for us to help you with? This gives some insight to see if the work they want you to do is in the realm of the work you actually want to be doing. This is relevant if they have a thought-out plan or idea of what they want and probably what they are willing to spend.
4. Do you have a design or have you talked with other companies about this project? As a follow up to the above questions, it is helpful to get deeper. You may want to have a preliminary set of questions that the person answering the phone on a regular basis asks and then a deeper set of questions for the sales person or designer to ask.
5. Do you have a budget for this project? For some reason, this is one of the most important and always the most difficult question for people to ask. Usually, the client is fearful to give this information as they think you might charge them that much or they may be embarrassed to tell you. This is when an experienced sales person has an advantage.
The next statement should be something like, “Based on the information you have given me, in my experience that would cost from $20,000-$50,000,” or whatever your experience tells you. Give them a broad range so they can tell you what they were thinking. If they still do not want to give you the details, they should agree to the range you are comfortable with. Obviously, you need to take measurements and work out quantities, types of materials and many other details to get a true price. This will also tell you how knowledgeable they are, if they have another quote or if they are totally unrealistic.
This may be a question that you ask in person if all of the other qualifying questions check out to your satisfaction. This could change with each potential client. Try to have them agree with some sort of range so you can determine if it is realistic or not.
Now this is just a question. If they are not being realistic, they just may not know what things cost. This is an opportunity to educate the client about why you are the best choice. Give all the details of what you do so they understand why it costs what it costs.
If people get excited about the project or see what is involved, they will generally be honest with you about the feasibility to move forward or not. Or, you might suggest it be broken into smaller pieces to be done as a long-term project that can fit your budget. One other thing that works is to mention that you have a minimum for that type of job.
Usually, it is what a crew has to make for you to be profitable ($1,500–$2,500?) for at least a day … half day ... whatever works for your situation.
You can charge for the initial consultation and tell the potential client that you will apply the fee to the final cost of the project if they move forward. This is an area where you have to use your judgment based on your series of questions and the conversation. If I feel they are just shopping, I usy and I feel they are not serious.
Because I have been selling for a long time, I tend to wantmay stick to the fee, especially if we are super b to meet with them in person and see if I can help them and make the sale work for both of us. Maybe I don’t close it that day, but I leave them with a good feeling because I educated them and was honest with them. I have made great sales that have taken five years or more to close. I have even lost sales initially, and the client has called me back because they made a mistake with another company that did not deliver.
Make the consultation cost just enough for them to take you seriously so they realize it is an investment for them as well. If they aren’t willing to invest, then it probably is not worth it for you either. It is up to you and the confidence you have. You will never be 100 percent right, so make your best judgment and move on as there are more potential quality sales out there.
Sunrise Landscape & Design