It’s always a great feeling when the job’s sold. You’re ready to hand things off to production and move on to the next appointment. But there’s one little thing left to do: Ask them why they bought from your company rather than your competitors. What they tell you will help you stay on top of your game.
Years ago I was taught to do this as part of a 10-step selling system. Back then it was for a different reason. It was known, in sales lingo, as the "Button Up." Unless a lead is exclusive to your company, there will always be two or three other salespeople vying for that business.
Some of them don’t take no for answer. A competitive salesperson calls and the homeowner says they’ve decided to go with you. Next thing you know, that rep is at the door, trying to convince them to buy from him instead.
Using the Button Up helped stop customers from switching over to that competitive salesperson. The homeowners have signed, everybody’s feeling relief, and then you ask them why they decided to buy from you. What you want them to do here is vocalize just how convinced they are that you're the company they want. You want to know the deal is solid, that they’re not going to call up tomorrow and cancel.
How Am I Doing?
Today I ask that question for a different reason. I want to know what we’re doing right and what the competition might not be doing well. For instance, we sold a combo job—roofing, siding, and windows—that had been pitched by a competitor. I asked the customer why he bought from us. He'd heard about us because we were doing a window and siding job around the block, and his wife knew the homeowners.
But before he found us, he'd started the process with a different company. He told me he’d been mowing his lawn one day when our competitor's canvassers were working the neighborhood.
“I’d been thinking about [remodeling the exterior] for a while now,” he says, and he wanted to get the process started. Little did he know that this company was about to send in the Marines.
A two-man team came to the house and stayed for five hours. Their opening price on for the combo job was $250,000. By the time they were done going back and forth with discounts, special savings, etc., it was down to $150,000. He told me they wouldn’t answer any questions about pricing. “I literally couldn’t get rid of them,” he says.
Of course, you might ask this question, and people won’t feel comfortable answering. And sometimes, in the early stage of the process, when I go out to the house for pictures and measurements, they might say something like: “Hey, just to put all the cards on the table, we are getting some other quotes.”
In the old days, I’d want to know who they were talking to, and if they told me, I’d start badmouthing that company in an effort to nuke them into the Stone Age. That’s what we were trained to do.
Today, if they told me they were planning to talk to competitors, I’d say, “Well, of course you are. You need to shop around and see what’s out there.” I say this because I’m confident that, in a good number of cases, they’ll choose to do business with us once they see how other companies operate.
It’s also the case that today’s more sophisticated homeowners will see right through any bad-mouthing. What they want is honesty and information. For example, I got called to a house the other day where the homeowner came prepared for the meeting with a long list of questions, not about the product—he wanted fiber cement siding—but about our installation methods. He wanted to understand how this product was applied to his house, so selecting a contractor was all about the installation.
Sour Grapes And Scorched Earth
It’s not that hard to ask a homeowner why they bought from you; they’ll sing your praises. But they’re less likely to tell you where you’re off your game. To find that out, you have to ask the people who didn’t buy from you.
It’s not always easy to get them on the phone if they bought from someone else. They think that conversation is going to be all sour grapes and scorched earth. So be genuine.
When a homeowner tells me they decided to go with a competitor, my response is, “You’re going to get a good job.” I pause a second or two before then asking, “Could you share with me what I might have done differently? What were the reasons you chose them over us?”
Sometimes it’s price. That feedback about price is why we now provide line item pricing rather than bulk pricing. We want homeowners to know what they’re buying. If people want to know what one window costs, we tell them. If they ask, "What do you charge for wrapping the fascia vs. putting in new fascia boards?" I explain the price difference.
Home improvement isn’t espionage. We’re not trading in government secrets. Our customers are doctors, lawyers, CPAs. They see themselves as critical thinkers. I give them the information they ask for to decide what’s in their best interest.
Ask And You Shall Receive
Asking why they bought or didn’t buy from you provides you with great information and insight about how effectively you’re going to market, information that’s shaped our business every step of the way. I’ve had people tell me they bought from us because we returned their phone calls promptly. Someone else said they bought because we're “the only ones who didn’t negotiate on pricing. You said: the price is the price.”
You can make management decisions based on hunches and intuition. You can also do what competitors are doing if that seems to work for them. No company has a patent on best practices. But the only way you’re going to find out if what you’re doing really resonates with customers is if you ask.