Editor's note: This story was the September cover story. For the digital edition of the magazine, click here.
Every landscaper has a different style when it comes to selling work. Some are high-end with glossy garden photo displays. Others sketch up ideas on the back of a napkin. Some live for the chase and love to pitch ideas on the fly. Others are great closers. Whether you're the main salesperson at your company or you have a great staff, you need to keep that pipeline full of work to keep growing.
We spoke with five landscapers across the country and asked them to share their secrets to selling success. Read on and please, steal one of these ideas – or all of them – for your own company. – Chuck Bowen
Market conditions: There's a different vibe this year in Lancaster County, Pa., and Jarod Hynson, president of Earth, Turf & Wood, says his business is "definitely busier." In fact, when we talked to him in June, he had sold out for the rest of the summer. "The market seems to be fairly sustainable," he says. "We live in a semi-conservative area, so we see that (potential clients') funds are still there."
Sales strategy: Hynson is not interested in being everything to everyone. In fact, when industry colleagues suggested years back that he expand his services and diversify, he decided not to take their advice. "It's impossible with the size of our business to be good at every single service, so we are strictly design/build for high-end residential clients," he says.
Client education is an important part of the sales process, and Hynson presents prospects with a workbook that takes them through the design/build process.
Idea to steal: Focus on what you do best and teach clients how you work. By doing this, Earth, Turf & Wood's sales are up 54 percent from last year and 2011 is the third biggest growth year in the company's 12-year history. "We have a good enough reputation that clients return to us," Hynson says. "While there is a recession, when push comes to shove, I believe our clients want the job done correctly and they realize the value for the dollar in a well-built, constructed back yard."
Market conditions: Lee Buffington, president, sees an uptick in residential construction and a desire by homeowners to maintain the property they've got. "More homeowners are not selling or building new homes, they're keeping what they have and enhancing it," he says. But, the sales cycle is growing "further and wider" than ever before and more educated buyers who surf the Web are now tougher negotiators.
Sales strategy: People buy from people they like and trust. That's why Buffington reminds designers and salespeople to give presentations with passion. "We want to generate excitement and that desire for the client to experience what we put on paper," he says. "At the end of the day, if you can't get the client in the game, they will continue to sit on the sidelines and look at your proposal or go to someone else."
The best way to keep the momentum: Present designs immediately after they are complete. "You'll never be more excited than the minute you finish a design or proposal," Buffington says.
Idea to steal: Never take a lead for granted, and be the first to follow up. "Speed kills," Buffington says, noting that as time elapses between the initial inquiry and follow-up, the chances of securing that business fade. "Every lead that comes in, we approach with a sense of urgency to close the deal," he says.
Market conditions: Jeffrey Johns says coastal regions are the last to feel the recession and the last to recuperate. In 2007 and 2008, "business was still booming for us," he says. Today, foreclosures populate the beach community and the housing market is not picking up. The good news: Johns notices that clients are spending more money on landscape enhancements this year.
Sales strategy: After a revenue slide of 18 percent in 2009, Johns decided the company needed a fresh start, laser focus and new branding strategy. The solution: diving into maintenance, putting design/build and lawn care on the back burner and hiring a graphic design firm to help with a new logo, marketing strategy and Web presence.
Finally, after 17 months, the investment and energy in this project is beginning to pay off. That was after Johns increased his marketing budget to 2 percent of the company's gross sales. Direct mailers, newsletters and post-cards consume the bulk of the budget. "It's consistently putting Coastal Greenery in prospects' hands," Johns says.
Idea to steal: Johns hired an outside salesperson who focuses only on prospecting and securing business.
"He's out there in the community 100 percent of the time, building relationships, looking for prospects and gaining maintenance contracts," Johns says. "That was a huge move."
Visibility is the key to capturing market share. "We like to be seen on that property every week from an account manager standpoint," Johns says.
Market conditions: Demand for services is up, but there are fewer companies out there playing the field. "Things have thinned out over the years," says Chris DiSabatino, president, speaking of the Pick-Up Joes that flooded the market in 2008 and 2009. "There are only so many good players in the market that have the capacity to do the work."
DiSabatino maintained its workforce so it can handle the volume coming in the doors these days. "Last year was better than 2009, and this year is better than 2010," he says.
Sales strategy: DiSabatino stays in constant contact with existing clients and harvests referrals from this base. Plus, the company has diversified and has four key divisions: landscaping, hardscaping, masonry and tree care. "We cross-market those services," he says. This year, DiSabatino brought on a sales trainer to teach landscape designers a sales game plan. "Our landscape designers are very creative-minded people, and they may not have the desire to sell – it's just part of their position," DiSabatino says. "A professional sales trainer is really helping them with their sales skills."
Idea to steal: Focus on the client and take that first impression seriously. "We put the spotlight on clients instead of us and our company," DiSabatino says. "We really listen to find out what the client is looking for so when we do present an idea or a design, it's dead on."
Plus, DiSabatino's employees are always dressed sharply in uniforms, they drive clean vehicles and they show up to appointments on time. "You only get one shot at making a first impression," he says.
Market conditions: The Midwest economy has been "beat up pretty good," according to Jason Brooks, president of Jay-Crew Landscape. With the deterioration of the automotive industry and lagging manufacturing, many homeowners are jobless and focused on more dire expenses than landscape maintenance – like paying their mortgages. However, there are pockets of hope. One of those is greater Indianapolis, where Jay-Crew has expanded to capture more business. "For us, a 45-minute drive down the road gets us to Hamilton County, one of the fastest growing areas," Brooks says.
Sales strategy: By setting sales goals and tracking progress, Jay-Crew's sales force is held accountable. Before, Brooks' philosophy was that as long as everyone was working hard, the company was on target. "Our eyes have been opened and it makes a difference when individuals and the company sets goals." Weekly sales meetings keep everyone on track. It's all about creating a plan and executing it.
Idea to steal: The city where Jay-Crew is headquartered has a population of about 60,000 people. For years, Jay-Crew was churning out $1.5 million in revenue. But when Brooks was ready to grow, he looked beyond city limits and expanded his sales force's territory so they had a larger pool for prospecting. "This year, we are on track to $2 million," Brooks says.
The author is a freelance writer based in Bay Village, Ohio.