Is one half of a whole a whole lot of nothing? If you’re a home improvement salesperson, you can certainly choose to see it that way, if the half we’re talking about is 50 percent of a couple that owns a home and is interested in improving it.
What it means, to many salespeople, is either that:
1) the homeowner who’s home either is not in a position to make a decision, or
2) has a ready-made objection to transacting business (“I need my wife to see this before we can sign anything”) to which there is no rational response, or
3) that any contract, signed under those circumstances, will likely soon be rescinded when the other half gets home and decides that he or she doesn’t like the color/product/price, etc.
So-called “one leg” appointments—a term offensive to some, who prefer “one spouse”—have long been the bane of anyone selling home improvements. Nor is that likely to change anytime soon. No matter what homeowners tell you, what Todd Warren, president of Otter Creek Awnings, an awning/sunroom/closet build-out company in the Burlington, Vt., area, says he has found, is that if two people own a home and are seriously thinking about improving it, invariably “there will be discussion. It’s a decision that couples want to make together,” whether both of them are sitting in front of the salesperson or not.
No Money to Be Made
Not all contractors agree with this. What they would agree on is that though many couples may want to make those decisions jointly, it isn’t always convenient for both to meet with a salesperson. Or so some homeowners will claim.
Traditionally, home improvement companies have avoided sending salespeople out on one-leg appointments for the simple reason that such prospects generally don’t buy, says marketing and sales consultant Vaughn McCourt. McCourt, a CPA and former executive at several large home improvement companies, says that looking at a results log at one company where he worked convinced him that one-leg calls produced no Net Good Business.
In addition, he says, they can demoralize. Salespeople, anticipating either a deferred decision or a cancelled sale, find their enthusiasm begin to deflate well before they get to the door.
“The salesperson is on commission,” McCourt explains. “It doesn’t make sense to send someone out when there’s no chance he can make any money.” The alternative, he says, is to send a sales manager, who is on salary and more likely to convert the lead to a sale.
‘Our Policy’ Leads to Pushback
Experts such as McCourt point out that there are two ways to manage one-leg situations: when setting the lead, and when running it.
“Since one-leg calls contain a built-in objection that [homeowners] are always going to exercise,” says John DeRosa, sales manager at IKO and a frequent speaker on sales topics at venues such as the International Roofing Expo, it’s smart to avoid them by being clear and upfront that the appointment needs to include all decision-makers. (See his online video called The Dreaded One-Legger.) That point, he says, should then be reiterated with a confirmation call the day or the night before, preferably with the spouse who did not actually set the appointment, a practice known as cross-confirming.
Some companies have traditionally scripted appointment setters to say that no salesperson or estimator can come out unless all parties are present. If questioned by homeowners, they respond that it’s company policy. That’s less and less convincing to today’s homeowner.
“You have to give them a compelling reason why it’s to their advantage to both be at the table at the same time,” DeRosa says. If you have a hard time thinking of an explanation, he suggests, “think of any past experiences or stories you can share with the prospect, where you didn’t have both people there, and what happened. That’s so they understand why it’s important.”
And whatever you do in setting the appointment, avoid leaving homeowners feeling pressured.
Marketing consultant Jim Rafferty, who has been director of marketing and sales for one of the largest home improvement companies in Maryland, points out that contractors who dig in their heels and don’t adequately explain their policy are in for a world of social media hurt. An assertion that any quick scan of review sites will affirm and where an inflexible No One-Legger policy is seen by some homeowners as a red flag for high-pressure sales tactics.
Rafferty suggests that in setting the appointment, explain to homeowners that having all decision-makers there is a way of saving them time. “Because you are busy, we would prefer to do this in one visit, rather than two.”
What Happens Next?
Invariably, though, there are those homeowners who agree that all decision makers will be present, only for the salesperson to find that that’s not the case when he or she arrives at the house. How such situations are handled varies. What all would agree is that it’s far better to have a plan than to blunder through, which risks offense and the likelihood of walking away empty-handed. Successful companies are prepared to:
• Be flexible in appointment-setting. Warren says that if two people own a home, just about any size home improvement will take input from both. But people are busy. “If the husband says: ‘My wife travels all the time,’ we don’t say: We won’t come to see you. Instead, we find a good time that works for both. If the only way to visit is when Mr. is there by himself, we’re still up for that.”
At Tom’s River Door & Window, in New Jersey, what co-owner Bob Mikaelian says sometimes proves persuasive is pointing out in the course of appointment-setting that there are certain decisions, such as buying a car, that are better made jointly. Once prospects agree, then the sales rep stresses that “we want to make that as convenient for you as possible,” whether it’s in the living room or the showroom.
• Be the good guys. Jake Jacobson, vice president of sales at Premier Window & Building, in Baltimore, notes that many companies, including some of the largest, won’t schedule one-spouse sales calls or, if the rep arrives to find only one spouse there, have him or her walk away. Being pleasant, and willing, sets you apart. But, if after presenting the product and price the prospect says, “I have to talk with my wife/husband,” then, Jacobson says, “you have a right to say: I thought you told me you could make your own decision?”
• Work with whatever situation they find. If a salesperson arrives at the house to find just one spouse, she might, in fact, be the sole decision-maker. How do you know? That’s why Brian Brock, general manager of Chattanooga, Tenn., home improvement company Hullco, says that assuring her of your willingness to come back at another time will not get you anywhere. At Hullco, salespeople encountering a one-spouse situation are encouraged to introduce themselves, do a walk-around, look at the windows, discuss the company, and make recommendations. At that point, Brock says, “she will know either that it’s her decision or that she needs her spouse there.” If it’s the latter, the salesperson sets that second appointment.
“If we know the husband or wife wants to consult with the other,” Warren says “we work toward increasing enthusiasm for the project rather than trying to close. We say: What are the questions your wife/husband might ask about this? What will he/she think about the color?”
In that way, salespeople sell the one spouse owner on a second appointment. “In such situations," Warren says, “our close is: What happens next?”