Blueprint for Sucess: Chapter 2

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Doug Nelson has all the answers with the lead-tracking system his suburban Minneapolis company, New Spaces, uses.

March 01, 2001

 

Doug Nelson (right), reviews lead-tracking information with designer Paul Brugger (left) and Shawn Nelson (center). Photos: Dianna Watters Photography)

 

In a business like his, where prime customer service is crucial and mistakes can be costly, design/build remodeler Doug Nelson, CGR, CR, can’t afford guesswork. Which of his designer-salespersons is the best match for a new lead? Has a prospect’s phone call been answered? Are the company’s magazine ads working? Doug needs fail-safe answers to these questions and others like them. He has those answers literally at his fingertips in the lead-tracking system his suburban Minneapolis company, New Spaces, uses.

At New Spaces, lead tracking begins with the first phone call from a potential client and continues to and beyond the signed construction contract. Along the way, Doug’s staff records key information on an incoming-lead information sheet and a custom-designed spreadsheet that is used to monitor every sales phase, communicate among departments and analyze the company’s overall sales and marketing effort. Doug is chairman of the National Education Committee for the NAHB Remodelors Council, and his lead-tracking system glitters with gold nuggets from the Remodelors Council CGR coursework.

The First Phone Call

Since the office receptionist at New Spaces handles most of the initial calls from prospects, Doug puts someone with sales skill in the job. In the course of the phone conversation, receptionist Laure Eagen covers a dozen questions listed on the incoming-lead information sheet, gleaning lead-qualifying information and important indicators about the project. She collects the facts on the clients, their building location and its description; the callers’ remodeling objectives; their previous remodeling experiences, if any; and when they hope to have the work completed. The question about time frame can unearth crucial go/no-go information. If the callers’ have an inflexible schedule that doesn’t mesh with the time New Spaces has available, the company knows to decline the project.

 

Go far with CGR

NAHB Remodelors Council’s Certified Graduate Remodelor program teaches sales in its Sales & Marketing for Remodelers course, administered by the Home Builders Institute. See below for course locations.

Also listed are CGR’s Professional Remodelers Experience Profile (PREP) locations. To enroll in CGR, call the Council at (800) 368-5242, Ext. 323.

PREP

Go far with CGR

NAHB Remodelors Council’s Certified Graduate Remodelor program teaches sales in its Sales & Marketing for Remodelers course, administered by the Home Builders Institute. See below for course locations.

Also listed are CGR’s Professional Remodelers Experience Profile (PREP) locations. To enroll in CGR, call the Council at (800) 368-5242, Ext. 323.

PREP

Go far with CGR

NAHB Remodelors Council’s Certified Graduate Remodelor program teaches sales in its Sales & Marketing for Remodelers course, administered by the Home Builders Institute. See below for course locations.

Also listed are CGR’s Professional Remodelers Experience Profile (PREP) locations. To enroll in CGR, call the Council at (800) 368-5242, Ext. 323.

PREP

Go far with CGR

NAHB Remodelors Council’s Certified Graduate Remodelor program teaches sales in its Sales & Marketing for Remodelers course, administered by the Home Builders Institute. See below for course locations.

Also listed are CGR’s Professional Remodelers Experience Profile (PREP) locations. To enroll in CGR, call the Council at (800) 368-5242, Ext. 323.

PREP

Go far with CGR

NAHB Remodelors Council’s Certified Graduate Remodelor program teaches sales in its Sales & Marketing for Remodelers course, administered by the Home Builders Institute. See below for course locations.

Also listed are CGR’s Professional Remodelers Experience Profile (PREP) locations. To enroll in CGR, call the Council at (800) 368-5242, Ext. 323.

PREP

Go far with CGR

NAHB Remodelors Council’s Certified Graduate Remodelor program teaches sales in its Sales & Marketing for Remodelers course, administered by the Home Builders Institute. See below for course locations.

Also listed are CGR’s Professional Remodelers Experience Profile (PREP) locations. To enroll in CGR, call the Council at (800) 368-5242, Ext. 323.

PREP

Go far with CGR

NAHB Remodelors Council’s Certified Graduate Remodelor program teaches sales in its Sales & Marketing for Remodelers course, administered by the Home Builders Institute. See below for course locations.

Also listed are CGR’s Professional Remodelers Experience Profile (PREP) locations. To enroll in CGR, call the Council at (800) 368-5242, Ext. 323.

PREP

It often takes some back-and-forth to obtain a ballpark budget from the callers. Eagen broaches the subject by asking what they are planning to spend. If necessary, she may guide them by supplying the New Spaces cost range for the type of job in question. She may also need to explain that New Spaces designs to the budget clients specify rather than the other way around. If the callers’ have a wildly unrealistic budget, or clearly are just price shopping, Doug is likely to decline the project before investing his company’s time in a sales call.

Eagen also asks whether a designer is already involved with the project. To ensure that the design and budget jibe, New Spaces designs its own projects.

Eagen asks callers a potentially sticky question: Are they talking with other remodelers about the project? If the answer is "yes," Eagen solicits information they are willing to share about the other remodelers. New Spaces has no problem vying for jobs with other professional design/build companies, but shies away from bidding wars with lower-budget carpentry operations.

For lead-tracking purposes, one of the most important questions on the phone prompt sheet is, "How did you hear about New Spaces?" Doug deliberately makes this question open-ended so callers can identify any and all the places where the New Spaces name caught their attention. When Eagen moves the information into the lead-tracking spreadsheet, though, a drop-down list appears giving her 22 specific lead sources from which to choose.

Assigning the Project

Incoming Lead Information sheet in hand, Nelson sits down with his son, marketing manager Shawn Nelson, to decide what action to take. If the job looks like a bad fit for the company, "we find as soft a way as possible to say no," says Doug. Otherwise, the Nelsons concentrate on selecting one of the company’s design consultants to sell the project, design it, and shepherd it through construction.

Project location, for example, goes into the selection. Some design consultants are better bets for projects within the city, for instance, because they have experience dealing with the codes, problems and conditions they are likely to encounter when remodeling old, urban homes. Type of job is another determining factor. One design consultant may have a knack for kitchens; another may shine at whole-house remodels.

 

Six Reasons to Track Leads
1. To pinpoint your best lead sources

2. To fine tune your lead-qualifying system

3. To analyze the effectiveness of your marketing program

4. To protect future sales

5. To adjust your marketing plan to achieve company sales goals

6. To evaluate the performance of your sales force

Referral source is important, too. If a past customer recommended New Spaces to a friend, the company tries to assign that past customer’s design consultant to the new client. (The company also makes sure to send a thank you letter to the past customer right away.) Then there is the design consultant’s workload. The New Spaces lead-tracking spreadsheet identifies the status and schedule of every job on a designer’s plate, making it easy for the Nelsons to see whether an incoming job will mesh with a designer’s schedule.

Sales and Design

As soon as the Nelsons make the pick, they fire off lead information to the design consultant. Since most of the New Spaces designers work from home, the information goes via e-mail or fax. New Spaces designers must contact the prospects right away, even if the designers can’t meet with them immediately. "I want to know we called within 24 hours," says Doug. In that get-acquainted phone call, the designer discusses the project in more depth to determine if it is a good match for the company. "Basically," says Shawn, "this is a second screening to ensure we are spending our time working with the most likely remodeling candidates."

Assuming everything looks good, says Shawn, the designer schedules a sales call, adds the new lead to the company’s lead-tracking spreadsheet, and alerts Eagen to create a new lead file. This file contains everything needed for the initial sales presentation: the lead sheet (with space for the designer to record sales progress), a map showing how to get to the prospects’ house, and a 30-page, leave-behind booklet about New Spaces, which includes a business profile, company policies, and references and names of past customers. The last page, which lists prices of typical New Spaces projects, comes in handy if budget is still "a stumbling block," says Doug.

 

New Spaces

Location: Burnsville, Minn.

Type of company: Design/build

Staff model: Nine office, 12 field

Sales history: $.5 million in 1996, $3 million in 2001

Annual jobs: 50

Work week: 50 hours

Software: Microsoft Office, Chief Architect, CabinetVision

Bio: Doug Nelson launched his design/build company 20 years ago, after earning a college degree in business administration and handling the estimating and purchasing at a manufactured-housing company.

Key to success: A business-management emphasis and ability to attract and retain really good people—employees who are conscientious and loyal.

Contact: (952) 882-8170

There’s a place on the lead-tracking spreadsheet for the designer to record the status of the sale. Not only that, but the designer enters a ballpark estimate, and the likelihood of making the sale—whether it’s just 10 percent or a comfortable 90 percent. The designer also records dates and dollar amounts at each sales juncture—design, proposal, formal scheduling, construction.

Keeping Tabs

Since the spreadsheet can be sorted by designer name, it’s easy to keep together all information on a designer’s projects, and transmit updates between computers in the New Spaces office and the designer’s home office.

Every Wednesday, New Spaces holds a sales meeting. The day before, design consultants update their lead-tracking records so Doug Nelson can review them. "[That way,] I’ll know what the problems are and we can discuss them" without a lengthy preamble at the Wednesday meeting, Doug says. Discussions focus on solving the problems at hand, and preventing similar problems in the future. Doug gives this example: Once a design consultant showed up for an appointment, but the homeowners were not there. "Now we always call or e-mail to confirm appointments," he says.

Four times a year, the Nelsons review their marketing plan, tweaking it to ensure the biggest bang for the buck. The best barometer of what marketing is working? The lead-tracking system, which can be sorted by lead source to identify the sources that generate leads, and how many of those leads become sales.

The Nelsons also use the lead-tracking system to chart upcoming work volume, anticipate ups and downs, and respond proactively through marketing and sales. They use it to highlight which design consultants are most successful in sales, and which jobs they’re best at selling. Shawn is considering adding a profit column which he will use to uncover—and subsequently avoid—profit-eating problems in design and production. "A lead-tracking system is a work in progress," he says. "Each company needs to set it up to meet its own needs."

Also See

Figure 1: Lead-Tracking Sheet

Figure 2: Lead-Tracking Spreadsheet

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