Sealing the deal

Five ways to turn hesitant prospects into long-term clients.

What do airplanes and new clients have in common?

They’re both incredibly difficult to land without the right set of skills.

If your company offers a design/build service that specializes in outdoor living spaces, then you’re no stranger to a hesitant client who is unsure and unwilling to move forward with your design.

It’s not uncommon to feel frustrated in this situation because after all, your design is unique, creative and competitively priced. You probably even threw in some “extras” just to sweeten the deal. How could anybody say no to that? Are they in fact saying no at all? Be careful here because this is a fragile moment in the sales cycle where a potentially great project may be won or lost, based on how you address this hesitation.

Let’s make several assumptions right away to make this extra energy worth our time. First, we’ll assume that you’ve qualified your prospect and are not offering a water garden to someone who simply wants their hedges pruned … it happens. A contractor friend of mine (contractor friend is an industry term meaning  “me,” “myself” or “I”) once spent 30 minutes with a couple explaining all the lifetime warranties that each product carried along with a solid five-year labor guarantee. The pitch was perfect and the solid guarantee was a strength that had won him many jobs over the years. Yet, a moment later, the husband leaned slightly forward and said, “Son, I’m 83 years old, why don’t you keep the warranty and just take some money off.” Ouch! The point is, your reasons for buying may be very different from those of your prospect. Herein lies the opportunity to close more jobs and overcome objections.

Qualified prospects hesitate for only one single reason: They need more information. A hesitant prospect is a fragile prospect. Your job as a salesperson is to discover and deliver the information they need to remove the hesitation that is keeping them from saying “yes.”

In the table (below) there are some common phrases that a homeowner may say to express their hesitation. Let’s set the stage and assume you’ve delivered a great design, a competitively priced proposal and, despite your professional follow up, your client is still expressing hesitation. Use the table to see if any of these phrases apply to your situation.

We each have a style, a subtlety or even a secret about what we say and do during a sales call that elevates our position over that of our competition. Successful companies have eliminated the most common mistakes that work against us, often from the very moment we take the first phone call. Here are the top five ways a business can reduce or eliminate hesitation from the prospect.

5. LIGHTNING FAST RESPONSE TIME. Have you ever delivered a proposal and had a client e-mail you with a laundry list of itemized questions? How does that make you feel? Personally, I love it. It demonstrates a high level of commitment and tells me exactly what is standing in their way from saying “yes.” Responses should be well thought out and articulate. Make sure you answer every single question and your response time should be measured in hours.

4. SYSTEMATIC FOLLOW UP.  Follow up professionally and according to a calendar driven reminder schedule. Use your prospect’s preferred method of communication and resist the urge to call them on every number you have listed. You should never leave a meeting or phone conversation without a clear understanding of when you will speak again and what the next step is. Make the process of closing the job an easy, pleasant experience. It sets the tone for the entire project and puts them at ease, which in turn makes them more eager to move forward.

3. DELIVER A PROPOSAL WITHIN 24-48 HOURS. You’ve done it. You’ve met the prospect, offered a verbal solution and took the time to collect all of your site measurements and field data. The sales call was perfect, and your credibility is solid. Then you toss your notebook on the dashboard and you do … well, you do nothing. You sit, wait, run back and forth between job sites, appointments, meetings and more. Then, a week or so later, your phone is ringing and it is Mrs. Smith asking if we’re still interested in the project and if she can expect a proposal. At this point, the hard work you put into that great sales call has gone out the window. You’ve invested money into marketing and attracting a client but failed to deliver on the most basic of expectations.

2. SHOW PROPRIETY. Look and act the way the customer expects you to look and act. Answer your phone with a live person or a very professional customized greeting. Deliver proposals on company letterhead and have a professional signature line in your e-mail. Use links to your Better Business Bureau report, client testimonials, project portfolios and more, as a way to help prospects learn more about your company and your reputation. But most of all, listen.

Look for opportunities to offer solutions and services that can speak to their wish list. Establish yourself as their partner for future projects. Help them phase the project into manageable increments. And remember this is not the time to “go for the gold.”

1. JUST SHOW UP. I’m amazed, but no longer surprised, at the number of contractors who break some of the most fundamental rules of customer service beginning with showing up. Don’t call and say you’re running late, just show up. Don’t make excuses, just show up. Set a time to be somewhere and just show up. Oh yeah, and don’t forget to show up prepared.

We work incredibly hard for each and every piece of new business and, in recent years, many of us have worked harder than ever before, especially when it comes to selling large landscape renovations and outdoor living spaces. With increased competition and homeowners scrutinizing every dollar, you may find yourself struggling to sway an unsure client, despite your great reputation.

The fundamentals outlined above will increase your ability to reduce or eliminate hesitation. Remember that hesitation rarely has anything to do with price. Never offer a discount or freebie without first understanding exactly where the prospect is stuck.

Dropping prices is not an effective way to sway a hesitant homeowner. There is a time and place for a price incentive, but it is a very calculated tool to be used conservatively in select situations and almost immediately results in a signed contract.


The author is president of Sarros Landscaping in Cumming, Ga. Email him at


April 2011
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