Punch Up Your Sales Now!

When it comes to remodeling sales, some markets still boom; others are closer to bust.

February 28, 2003


When it comes to remodeling sales, some markets still boom; others are closer to bust. As the economy lingers in a downturn, remodelers find themselves returning to the role of salesperson rather than order taker. Time to shake it up. On these pages, successful salespeople and leading consultants share their suggestions for creating more effective and more efficient sales for remodeling companies. What are you waiting for? Get started today. - Kimberly Sweet

Try a New Sales Tactic

1. Sell solutions, not products or services

Give the customers what they want. It sounds like the simplest thing in the world, but it can be the hardest. Providing solutions requires stepping away from the traditional sales presentation and pitch and instead asking the right questions and then listening 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":

  1. What is the problem?
  2. What is the cause of the problem?
  3. What are all the possible solutions?
  4. 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. In addition to working, this approach is easy to implement for a contractor or designer with no sales background.

Gorman adds that getting customers involved in the sales process this way also makes them more emotionally involved. "Emotion is what powers the sale," he says. "You want them fighting over where the sofa will go in the new family room." - Kimberly Sweet


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.

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." - Kimberly Sweet


33 Push investment value; go for the up-sell

When the stock market was booming, many remodeling clients paid for the jobs with money they made off investments. "It wasn't money they had worked hard to earn, so they were a little more frivolous in their spending of it," says Dennis Gehman, CR, president of Gehman Custom Builders in Harleysville, Pa. Now that potential clients are more frugal with their money, he says, they emphasize the investment aspect of a remodeling job. Potential customers want to know with much greater certainty 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 potential customers peace of mind - sometimes enough that they'll sign off on a job.

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 money lost in 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. - Kimberly Sweet


5. Use vivid analogies

There's nothing like good storytelling to make a point stick. Breidenbach has a couple of favorite metaphors and similes for the remodeling process. One is borrowed and applies to the design phase: "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 is his, and he uses it to describe 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." - Kimberly Sweet


6. Incorporate technology; try for a one-call close

With a laptop, a computer-aided design 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." - Kimberly Sweet


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. - Kimberly Sweet


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