Selling Relationships

Keith Alward's Ph.D. in developmental psychology comes in handy almost every time he meets a client. Because Alward charges time and materials, he runs into a fair share of cautious people who want to know just one thing: "How much is this going to cost?" And that would be a problem if he didn't know how to read and quickly react to a client's nonverbal, and even sometimes even verbal, cues.

June 30, 2006

Michael R. Morris
Editor in Chief

Keith Alward's Ph.D. in developmental psychology comes in handy almost every time he meets a client. Because Alward charges time and materials, he runs into a fair share of cautious people who want to know just one thing: "How much is this going to cost?"

And that would be a problem if he didn't know how to read and quickly react to a client's nonverbal, and even sometimes even verbal, cues.

"It's an extremely difficult human moment," says Alward, "because no matter what I've said and no matter what I've sent them, they're nervous about being taken advantage of, getting into some situation that they won't be able to control, spending more money than they ought to spend, all the possible fears. That's where my focus is. What are these fears and how do we get beyond these fears? And it might be talking about their house or whatever. I try to find some connection and I'm looking for every cue."

Alward, CR, president of Alward Construction in Berkeley, Calif., got into the remodeling industry almost by accident (like a lot of remodeling firm owners I've talked to). After graduating from Cal-Berkeley, he was constantly being asked by friends and acquaintances if he would fix this or remodel that, because of his advanced carpentry and people skills. Before he knew it, he was making a living doing something he loved — working with his hands.

Twenty six years later, Alward Construction is doing $7.5 million in sales volume per year with 35 full-time employees. Yet Alward remains the primary sales person for all of the company's work. Although this puts a fair amount of pressure on Alward to close a lot of sales per year, he's hands-down the best person for the job.

"I think of the people I work for as clients, not customers," he says. "I don't think as though I'm selling them a product. Instead, I'm engaging them in a relationship. I just convince people that I'm fair, open, honest and that I will try to figure out with them what their project's going to cost in a completely open way.

"I have an incredibly good reputation, and they usually know that before I go out to their house," says Alward, who gets 90 percent of his jobs from referrals. "They're not looking to see whether we can build it; they're trying to figure out whether or not they want to work with an odd duck like me."

Do you have an interesting story to tell about how your company has overcome obstacles to growth and/or success? Send me a letter or an e-mail.

630/288-8057, michael.morris@reedbusiness.com

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