Screening Out ‘Tire Kickers’ Builds Profitable Relationships
Remodelers who know how to screen prospective customers over the telephone can get rid of “tire kickers” who are unlikely to sign up for a job, Paul Winans, a remodeler in the San Francisco Bay Area for 29 years before he sold his business in 2007, said at an educational seminar during the Remodeling Show in Indianapolis on Oct. 27-30.
In the brief 20 minutes or so it takes to interview the prospect over the phone, remodelers can not only ensure that they are talking to the type of person who is good for their business but they can take a major first step in establishing the trust that is vital in seeing the job successfully through to completion and adding to the base of previous customers who are a major source of future sales, according to Winans.
“You don’t want to walk into somebody’s house and feel like you’re the floor show — the seventh remodeler who’s been there,” Winans said. “You don’t need to be entertaining these people. They definitely don’t care about what you’re selling.”
With a lead sheet in hand, the remodeler should start with a series of questions that will eventually determine if the person on the other end of the phone is a suitable customer.
“The more clarification questions you ask, the more likely you are to know if you should go visit the lead and that they are someone interested in the services your company performs,” said Winans. Ask “whatever you need to know to determine if they will be a potential client. If they don’t like to answer questions, refer them to the competition.”
On the phone, the remodeler can expect the prospective client to be scared they don’t know the correct questions they should be asking. The remodeler’s or intake person’s job during the interview process is to make them feel warm and comfortable.
Asking where they live is a good place to start to determine whether their home is located in the area where you want to work, he said. Remodelers should know what areas are best and where they can find their best customers.
What kind of work they are looking for is also important, he said, to see how it matches up with your capabilities, followed by what is their ideal date for completing the job and what they are looking for in a contractor.
Getting to the ‘Pain’
As the interview continues, the lead intake person should be delving further to gain some insight into the deep emotional reasons — or “pain” — that are at the root of the desire to get the job done. “What’s wrong with your home? Why are you thinking about doing this project? Ask over and over,” said Winans, because the closer the remodeler gets to establishing the emotional reason for the job, the less the home owner will be focused on price.
“Everybody likes to be asked clarification questions,” he said. The person on the phone will measure “the yahoo” who already visited their home “against all of the questions you ask.”
“You also need to know about their budget even if the person is uncomfortable talking about it,” he said. Ask them for their “investment amount” or for the amount they have set aside to improve their home, which is their biggest investment. Find out what they need and their point of reference for what the job should be.
“You are breaking down barriers, becoming a consultant, not a sales person,” Winans said.
“Make sure the ‘pain’ problem is understood,” he added. “Otherwise, price is everything.” The remodeler should become part of the process of easing the pain. If a kitchen is being discussed, ask what the floor plan is now and what they want it to be. “How about the cabinets? What do you want them to be? Why? And price goes to the bottom of the list.”
At this point the remodeler can throw out a ballpark figure of what they think the cost of the job will be, higher than the likely final cost but still close to it. “You will find their budget out even if they don’t tell you initially. When you work the pains, you build a relationship by using the information” they have provided to help you determine if their project is feasible or not.
“When you’re on this call, show up and be present,” Winans advised, “and don’t be thinking about the next thing you’ll be doing.” If it looks like it’s worth moving forward, ask when you can get started and work together on a timetable. “The intake person has to have a clear idea about goals,” he said.
Winan reminded his audience that “people buy relationships. They don’t buy remodeling. They want to feel good about who they’re doing business with. Trust is how you make the sale,” and in a telephone interview that has gone well the customer will have gone from being scared at the start to being trusting by the finish.
“You are not selling fine joinery,” he said. “Everybody sells quality.” The remodeler’s goal in this conversation is to convince the person on the phone that they understand their needs more than anybody else.
“Our goal is to be regarded as a resource,” he said, “and we’re not meant to serve everyone’s needs.”
No ‘Free’ Estimates
Consumers will probably want to get three different bids because that is what they have learned is the smart way to proceed, but Winans described a different approach that is both more effective and avoids having to provide a “free” estimate.
He suggested asking the client, “Would you be interested in hearing about an alternative way of selecting your contractor than just focusing on price?” Provide them with specific questions they should ask other contractors they will be interviewing. Tell them to check references on the contractors they might consider hiring, and ask for references over a period of time. “You are positioning yourself as an adviser,” he said, and pulling back, which motivates people to move toward you.
“Ask them their idea of a preliminary ballpark number,” he said. “Ask them to prepare a proposal that won’t be a free bid” but set the stage for some problem solving and advice before the contract. “If they say yes, you sold the job. Now you have a partner, opposed to an adversary.”
Give the potential client time to check three references, and then get back to them and ask how things have been going.
“Times are tough, but try something different,” Winans said. “People don’t know what they need to know in order to make an intelligent buying decision,” he said, citing an observation by Harry Beckwith in his book, “Selling the Invisible.” “You need to help them.”
“Find out what your clients are really buying,” he said. “Clients are experts at knowing if they’re valued. They’re buying a relationship.”
Information that is collected in the sales and marketing process needs to be managed and tracked,” Winans said. “To know what works, you need to track where the leads and sales come from.” And tracking your leads shows where you should be making your marketing investment and where you should concentrate your visits. “Mine the data and find the trends.”
Sixty percent of a remodeler’s business typically comes from repeat business or client referrals, so it’s a good idea to call five of your best customers each week, checking up on them and surveying their needs, he said.
Remodelers should also be focusing on their brand, which is “what people think about when they hear your company’s name.”
“You have a brand whether you are working on formulating it or not,” Winans said. “Your reputation is created whether you worked on it or not, so take control of the process.” Sell yourself as the remodeler who can help home owners who don’t know what to do and who leaves them feeling “glad I hired your company.”
If you can find a good trainer, Winans recommended providing Sandler Sales training for everyone in the company.
He also recommended putting “The E-Myth Contractor” by Michael Gerber on your reading list and investigating the resources of remodelersadvantage.com.
Winans can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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