Customer Leadership

How to give remodeling clients what they need, instead of what they want

July 05, 2019
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a good remodeler tells clients what they need to hear

A good remodeler gives the client what they need rather than what they want. This takes knowledge, skill, and leadership.  

Maybe I’m just getting older, but I see more young people in critical sales roles today. They’re responsible for shepherding a homeowner through the design process, closing new projects, and obtaining signed contracts. It’s rewarding to me to see these young professionals respond to mentoring.

But regardless of age, when it comes to newer salespeople, one of the biggest areas of growth that I see revolves around customer leadership. The traditional perception of customer service is to do what the customer asks, and then hand them a bill. That does not work in remodeling. Remodeling is a complex, expensive sale, and homeowners don’t have a lot of experience buying it. Following a traditional customer-service model can be disastrous for both the company and homeowner.

Customer leadership is a mindset required in complex industries like law, medicine, financial services, and certainly remodeling. Giving the customer what they want is not an effective way to conduct business in these industries and may even get the client into trouble. Employees must lead the customer through a challenging process to ensure success. The customer is not always right.

Here are a few things to consider when thinking about customer leadership. 

Lead Source

Be proactive in searching out your ideal customers through public speaking and referrals. Close ratio is primarily a function of lead source, and if you want to work on interesting projects that feature your best skill sets, waiting for the phone to ring is not an ideal way of obtaining those projects. Embrace the role of subject-matter expert by establishing yourself as a thought leader in the industry. You’ll have your pick of the best projects. Furthermore, these methods of lead generation are often the least expensive with the highest ROI.

Stop Giving Customers What They Want

Consultants like to say, “Give the customer what they need, instead of what they want.” But identifying need is much more than asking one or two questions. It requires an in-depth exploration of the client’s lifestyle and desires. I’ve found the biggest impediment to asking enough questions is the employee not understanding they are a leader-—not a follower—to the customer. I imagine other industries have people making the same realization. 

Doctors and lawyers spend years in school listening to what the professors want and delivering on it. Then suddenly, they are in front of a patient and must shift their mindset from subordinate student to expert leader.

There are a few things that you can start right away to exhibit customer leadership. Begin by controlling the overwhelming number of options that your customer faces. Lead the customer to the optimum choice by getting important information up-front and offering fewer options. Don’t let a customer hijack your proven process. 

Be a Leader in Time Management

Find ways to reduce the amount of time required to make the sale and produce the design. Practice professional time management and stick to Gantt charts for all aspects of customer service, not just construction activities. If a customer is ready to buy, don’t make them wait to sign agreements or take unnecessary time in the design process. This is a prevailing problem in design/build firms today. In some cases, there’s plenty of business to be had, yet the salespeople and designers are holding up production. Time kills deals.

Don’t Rely on the Customer to Stay on Budget 

Clients have no idea how their “wish list” and “nice-to-haves” are crushing their budget. Lead the customer to stay on budget unless you have explicit permission to spend more. Customer leadership means knowing exactly how much more you have authorization to spend. I’ve had designers tell me the customer felt betrayed, even though everyone was transparent that the project would come in over budget. It’s not enough to tell them—you must lead them to make decisions that stay within an agreed-upon range.

Self-image is a key component to customer leadership. Some people may never be comfortable leading. Making this mental shift is the crucial first step to ensuring a new employee is handling customer interactions properly. It takes skill and finesse, but simply changing the mindset of customer leadership will cause instant improvement in the employee’s interactions with homeowners

About the Author


About the Author


Chip Doyle teaches salespeople “how to sell without sounding like a salesperson.” He speaks at dozens of events per year and is the author of Selling to Homeowners – The Sandler Waychipd@sandler.com 

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