There are people who are so adept at selling that they can sell landscaping services to a homeowner without a lawn. This type of persuasive power might be enticing to many companies, but if the salesperson has never designed a landscape, Jonas Pattie isn’t interested.
Pattie, director of sales and marketing at The Pattie Group, a Cleveland-based design/build and maintenance company, looks at sales experience as a secondary qualification. The company’s approach to hiring salespeople has always focused on finding people with degrees in the landscaping field. By specializing in areas other than sales, the company has successfully closed on more than its share of projects.
The Pattie Group’s approach at selling requires the company veer away from the term altogether. Members of the sales staff are referred to as project directors, not salespeople. They all have degrees in the field, ranging from landscape design to landscape architecture to horticulture.
This extra knowledge gives the sales force the edge in ensuring a customer is satisfied because they’re able to provide insight that others couldn’t, Pattie says.
“Anyone can throw a deck on a house,” he says. “It’s another thing to have a good architect to make sure the deck is the right size and you’re not blocking their view of the yard … things like that are really important. We don’t want to send some kid who’s fresh off the street with no landscape training.”
The sales force might be trained to be designers, but they don’t physically draw up the plans. The company has separate staff members that do the drafting, drawing and planning for projects.
“The project directors could do the designing if we asked them to, but it’s not our forte,” Pattie says. “The personality of a designer – similar to that of an artist – is different than that of a project director. We’ve found that the best landscape designers are more artsy and have less of a ‘sales’ kind of personality.”
But demanding a sales force made up exclusively of professionals who are well-versed in landscape architecture and design isn’t without its challenges, Pattie says. “It’s hard to find people who are qualified,” he says. “There are a lot of criteria. They have to have knowledge, but sales experience isn’t necessarily required. We have taught people, and some have come from other places that have flourished and done well with some experience in them after we coached them to do it our way.
“We have tried people with no landscape experience and it pretty much failed every time,” he says.
About $2 million to $3 million of The Pattie Group’s estimated $7 million revenue this year will come from the maintenance side of the business. It continues to grow, adding 112 clients in 2010, Pattie says, thanks to the company’s hands-on sales approach.
“If a client is not willing to give you 20 minutes to walk the yard, they’re probably not your client,” he says. “Maintenance is more than lawn cutters and weeders. We’re trying to help the lawn be the best it can be and show them areas that could use improvement or enhancement. We want to know what the hot buttons are. What do they like about what their current provider does for them? What areas of their yard do they like most?”
Pattie has found that salespeople are most successful at upselling services when they don’t give clients all the options all at once. People tend to experience sticker shock when they see the total price for all the possible services the company can offer. Instead, the salespeople only suggest one or two additional services initially, and then attempt to add others later.
TWICE AS NICE.
When Pattie Group has a prospective client with a large design/build project in mind, two project directors are sent out for a tag-team-like presentation. “There are two different types of personalities in salesmen,” Pattie says. “One sells more on knowledge and professionalism and people buy in because of his vast knowledge of the plant material/site construction aspect. Others sell based on excitement and passion and have the ability to get the client excited about the project.”
The company only began using this approach in early 2010, but Pattie estimates the close rate will increase by 16 percent for the year because of it. “Put two of them on big projects,” he says, “and you get the best of both worlds.”
The author is a freelance writer based in Lakewood, Ohio.
IT’S ALL IN THE DETAILS
How the Pattie Group structures its sales process from bid to build.
The Pattie Group has a specific process in place to ensure everything is done correctly and to the client’s satisfaction. It’s the project director’s job to see that process through.
Right off the bat, the project directors ask potential clients to complete an extensive questionnaire that covers wants and needs as well as details about the property.
“When we meet with them on the outset, our job is to tell them what works best with their yard and find out what amenities they want,” says Jonas Pattie, director of sales and marketing at The Pattie Group. “With the questionnaire we try to find out everything they want – from fire pits to a tennis court to putting greens to whatever. We’re getting them excited about things from day one.”
The information is then given to one of the landscape designers, who draws up designs based on what the client requested. After the preliminary design is created, the project director works with the estimate department to create ballpark numbers and ranges for the cost.
“We could do the same patio – the exact same size and shape – but with different materials, it could cost differently,” Pattie says, adding they also try to show clients the different possibilities for the space.
The client then decides which amenities work best with his or her price range. Once the design is set, the project director works on ironing out all the details, including obtaining any required permits, depending on where the project will be built.
When it’s time to begin the work, a crew of certified installers heads to the property, working under a project manager that stays on site to make sure everything runs smoothly.