As the housing industry begins to simmer down, remodelers will find they can't just take orders; they need to sell. Here, successful salespeople and leading consultants share suggestions for effective and efficient remodeling sales. What are you waiting for? Get started today.
1. Sell solutions, not products or services
Providing solutions requires stepping away from the traditional sales presentation and pitch. Instead, ask the right questions and then listen to what's said and unsaid.
"Salespeople still have this idea that they want to show and tell," says remodeling consultant Steve Johns. "Most want to race like Secretariat to the presentation and close."
That method's time has gone, says consultant Mike Gorman, CR, a remodeler for more than 20 years. He suggests that salespeople spend most of their time exploring customers' needs. He recommends the following "Problem-Solving Equation":
- What is the problem?
- What is the cause of the problem?
- What are all the possible solutions?
- What is the best solution?
Better not to swing for a home run every time, agreed Mark Richardson, CR, during his "Managing Sales" seminar at the 2002 Remodelers' Show. He's the president of Case Design/Remodeling, a $26 million design/build, kitchen/bath and handyman company. Sometimes selling one replacement window, he suggested, might be the best way to turn a person into a great client down the road.
Companies that specialize in replacement windows agree. Brent Novotchin, a salesperson for Dial One, says changing his approach last year led to a 15-20% increase in his sales. "I used to try to shoot out all these things about the product," says Novotchin, who has worked for the $10 million window, door and gutter company based in Santa Ana, Calif., since 1999. "Now I try to help people buy as opposed to trying to sell them. No one likes to feel like they're being sold."
Dave Mattson, vice president of in-house sales for the Sandler Sales Institute, agrees. He suggests creating a comfortable environment for the homeowner and keeping meetings conversational.
2. Appeal to customers' senses
Start with the visual. Any presentation book or Web site should have beautiful project pictures. But a presentation book, says Gorman, is also a "storyboard for the remodeling movie" and should help clients visualize the entire process. Besides, he adds, the pictures will help create emotional involvement. "Emotion is what powers the sale," he says. "You want them fighting over where the sofa will go in the new family room."
If you have a showroom, get prospects into it for the initial visit if possible. Novotchin says the stone flooring, wood molding and other aspects of Dial One's showroom vignettes help prospects imagine the possibilities for their homes in a way nothing else can. The company even gets a number of one-close sales from the impact of its more than 20 custom-built entry systems on display, he says.
Being able to touch and try out - to sit in a bay window or to push up a window so the vanishing screen disappears - is even better than seeing, Novotchin adds. "They get more excited about spending the money on it."
3. Push investment value
Potential customers want to know how a project will affect the value of their home and what kind of return they can expect from their investment. You can and should be ready with information on how particular types of jobs affect the value of houses in your market. Being ready with this information can help give prospects peace of mind.
Alan Hanbury, CGR, treasurer of House of Hanbury Builders in Newington, Conn., says a remodeler can use this concern about investment value to up-sell a project as well. If a client wants repair work done in the bathroom, for example, you can explain that as long as that work is being done, extra money should be put into updating the bathroom's appearance, thereby ensuring a better return.
"There's a fairly good supply of people who understand that reasoning," Hanbury says. "You might get an extra couple thousand for tile." - Toby Weber
4. Focus on the cost of buying new
It's the equal and logical opposite of emphasizing the value of remodeling: Emphasize the cost of buying a new home. In addition to the price of a new home, Jim Breidenbach, president of Craftsmen Construction Inc. in Spokane, Wash., points out to undecided prospects the money spent and never regained: moving costs, closing fees and interest on a new mortgage.
5. Tell a story
Breidenbach has a couple of favorites. One applies to design: "Mr. and Mrs. Client, we're in a grocery store. I'm pushing the cart. Whatever you put in it is up to you. When you get to the checkout, it costs what it costs. If you want to remove or exchange items, that's your decision."
The other one describes what remodeling is like without a professional contractor. "It's like do-it-yourself dentistry. You can pull a tooth out yourself, but it will bleed."
6. Use technology to provide quick answers
With a laptop, a CAD program and a portable printer, a salesperson can provide a preliminary floor plan or sketch and an initial estimate in a potential client's home, answering many questions in just one visit, Gorman says. "Customers love it. They don't want to hear, 'OK, I'll get back to you,'" he says. "That's the kiss of death."
7. Sell the experience
"I can't differentiate my company by measuring and giving a price," says Novotchin. Instead, he educates prospects on their options, emphasizes that all work is done by employees, not subcontractors, and explains Dial One's entire remodeling process.
Ken Moeslein, president of Swing Line Windows Inc., in Pittsburgh, agrees. "We're not cheap, but we have some neat things we do that others don't do," he says. "It's not selling a $500 window; it's selling a $100 difference." For him, that means emphasizing personal service, such as fixing blinds, and an on-staff carpenter who can do custom trim.
8. Itemize estimates
With consumers carefully watching their dollars and using the Internet to research pricing, itemizing a bid can help gain a prospect's trust. Novotchin takes pride in knowing that two customers requesting the same services and products on the same day would receive the exact same price.
9. Offer one-stop shopping
Stephen Gidus, CGR, partner at PSG Construction Inc. in Orlando, Fla., works with outside architects on some projects, but moved to a design/build scenario for projects of less than $200,000.
"We've had a very good response to the design/build process where the client wants to go to just one person to take care of everything for them," Gidus says. - Linda Abu-Shalback
10. Overcome 'I want to think it over'
Find out what the "it" is, and you have a chance of making the sale. You can find the "it" by learning to clarify the objection. Ask, "What exactly is it you want to think over? Is it the design, layout, color scheme, the way it feels to you, something about our company, the investment involved?" Always put what you think it really is last. Most often it will be the money, although prospects might not want to admit that right away. By providing choices, you make it easier for them to be straight with you as to why they're not buying, and you also gain information you need to overcome the objection.
Once you find the "it," isolate it to make sure it's the only thing holding them back. For instance, if they say, "Well, I have to admit, it's a little more than I wanted to spend," respond with a further clarification and then isolate. First ask, "When you say the investment is a little more than you had planned, is it the total investment, or could it be that the monthly draw might be a little tight on the budget?" Most of the time it's the installment, but it's important to know for sure before moving on.
If you fail to isolate, the prospect has the opportunity to throw more objections at you down the line. Say, "Other than fitting payments comfortably into your budget, is there anything else holding you back?" If there is nothing else, you know what you're working with and can begin closing by working on creative financing, cash down, extended terms, justifying the price and value of the product, etc. If the prospect does throw another objection into the works, don't despair. Be glad you found it out now. Simply keep isolating objections until you know exactly what you have to do to make the sale. - Steve Johns
11. Remind the staff that everybody sells
Employees should realize that how they look, speak and behave reflects upon the company. Their enthusiasm for work and sense of investment in the company also make a big difference.
Mattson says that while it's the responsibility of the sales force to close business, all employees need to think about bringing it in. "You get more bang for your dollar if you train someone else to ask for referrals because the prospect isn't as wary," he says. "A lead carpenter can talk with passion and conviction. "
"Salespeople can get a job. It's the people on site who will keep it and guarantee repeat business. Repeat business always comes from people on the ground, not the sales force."
12. Write down your sales process
"If all remodelers did was write down what they know in their heads, they'd be so far ahead," Richardson said during his seminar. Documentation will help make sure the right things get done every time, especially with more than one salesperson.
He proposed starting with your "sales recipe," whatever it might be. For example:
- warm-up call
13. Identify and solve common objections
Richardson also suggested writing down potential customers' standard objections and spending time as a sales team to develop a set of standard answers.
14. Form an alliance
Take a proactive approach to targeting prospects, as Mike McCoy, CEO of Coy Construction in Walled Lake, Mich., did. His company builds or remodels 1,200 decks annually, so he looked for neighborhoods of new homes without landscaping and then offered those homeowners a free preliminary deck design and estimate.
Developing relationships with noncompeting professionals who will send prospects your way is a logical extension, Mattson suggests. For instance, new-home builders might be happy to have their clients come to your company for a finished basement after the house is built, while a kitchen/bath specialist could pass along a client wanting an addition.
15. Know who your best customers are
Identify which of your projects are most profitable, and for which customers. Spend time identifying the demographics and psychographics of your market. For instance, says Gorman, younger people tend to be more knowledgeable about products and are looking for their remodeler to affirm or refute their product choices, not to make decisions for them.
Johns groups the basic categories to explore with clients as follows: family, occupation and recreations. He suggests finding out what clubs they belong to and where they shop as examples.
16. Follow up with existing clients
Hanbury uses warranties to reconnect with past clients. When a warranty is about to run out, he contacts the customer and offers to inspect the work. This helps his business two ways.
First, when Hanbury is inspecting a project, the owner often gives him more work on the spot. "Those people you go back to will actually ask you to do other stuff while you're there. It might generate a front-door job for $1,200," he says.
Second, and perhaps more significant, is that getting these smaller jobs helps establish long-term relationships. That, says Hanbury, pays off down the road in the form of larger projects and referrals.
"Even if it's only $1,000, it sets you up as a person to think about. It's really nice when you don't have to have everyone price-shop you." - Toby Weber
17. Reward existing clients
Every December, a slow sales month for Dial One, the company holds Customer Appreciation Month, when former clients receive a fixed discount - it was 10% in 2002 - on any remodeling job.
18. Analyze your data
No doubt you already track your leads to see where most of your company's business comes from and how high its referral rate is. But have you mined all your company's records to find all possible insights?
For instance, Mattson suggests, if the company does a high percentage of repeat business, look for patterns in the amount of time between jobs or the order in which different types of jobs are requested. Then start calling likely repeat prospects instead of waiting for them to call you.
19. Spend personal time with new clients
Gidus takes new clients to dinner or the theater. "We set aside the business side of the relationship and focus on more of a friendship," he says. "We try to let them know we're regular guys and that our goal is to make sure they're happy with their project."
The idea is to make clients comfortable enough that they will not only use PSG again for future projects, but also will spread the word about these "regular guys." - Linda Abu-Shalback
20. Ask for referrals
Asking for referrals when a job is completed makes sense. So does asking two years later. Don't just "touch" a client with a holiday card, says Mattson. While it's a great prospecting technique, it's passive, not active. Pick up the phone and ask not just what work that client might want done but also about the client's friends.
21. Keep your brand top of mind
About two years ago, Eren Design & Construction in Tucson, Ariz., began sending out direct mailings on a quarterly basis. "It looks like a greeting card and is sort of a tickler to get them to think of what a new kitchen could be like or what it would be like to have a guesthouse," CEO Janice Donald says. The direct mail has helped double the number of leads the company gets, she says. - Linda Abu-Shalback
Breidenbach implemented what he calls a "saturation bombing" campaign to keep his company top-of-mind in the Spokane market. "If you're top-of-mind, then you're a lock with that referral," he says. "Otherwise you're just one of five bids."
For More Information
These consultants offer Web sites, newsletters, classes and books with more in-depth strategies:
Phil Rea & Associates
Book: How to Become a Millionaire Selling Remodeling, by Phil Rea
Sandler Sales Institute
Web site: www.sandler.com
Books: You Can’t Teach a Kid to Ride a Bike at a Seminar: The Sandler Sales Institute’s 7-Step System for Successful Selling, by David H. Sandler, and Close the Deal: 120 Checklists to Help You Close the Very Best Deal, by Sam Deep, Lyle Sussman and the Sandler Sales Institute
Steve Johns International
Web site: www.sellemup.com
Books: SolutionBased Selling, by Steve Johns, and MAPS Marketing Manual, by Steve Johns
Web site: www.techknowledgeonline.net
Book: If I Sell You I Have a Job, If I Serve You I Have a Career, by Mike Gorman