Contractor Business Sales Success
Preparation and attitude. The art of selling is viewed by many as the art of persuasion — convincing people that they can't do without your product or service.
By Bruce Hackett
, equipment and skills affecting the painting contractor industry, PaintPRO strives to provide its readers with information that deals with how to run a successful business. Managing employees, building a reputation, and managing cash flow have been addressed in previous issues; this month, we explore the concept of salesmanship — how to improve your ability to turn prospects into customers.
The art of selling is viewed by many as the art of persuasion — convincing people that they can't do without your product or service. Consequently, people are often leery of a salesperson's motives, as in, "This guy wants my money, but how do I know he and his product are any good? I don't want to get ripped off."
Painting contractors may regularly face this kind of resistance because of the nature of the business. You're basically a total stranger, approaching homeowners and asking them to give you hundreds, or thousands of dollars for your services, and they're understandably hesitant, perhaps because they've been burned before, or know someone who has.
"Let's face it, no one really likes a salesman," notes Lynn Fife of Evergreen Technology, a renowned authority in the painting industry and the author of several business-related books including Sell, Sell, Sell. "Many people are skeptical of salespeople, and sometimes with good reason. The stereotype of the unscrupulous used-car salesman comes to mind. I have found that you're more likely to win the job if you think of yourself as more of an educator than a salesman. Most homeowners think painting is no big deal, anyone can do it, and they don't know the difference between a superior and an inferior paint job. Generally speaking, they are uneducated consumers when it comes to painting. So it's really a matter of educating."
It's also a matter of credibility and trust, says Donna Mabrey of Donna's Designs in the Greater Atlanta area. She runs faux finishing seminars that place substantial emphasis on business issues such as sales, marketing and pricing. "I believe painters have a responsibility to be worthy of what we're asking customers to pay," she explains. "We must be ready with professional portfolios and firmly established pricing, and an attitude of confidence and professionalism. The portfolio should have what I call a credibility section, which gives biographical background and experience as well as references. You need to show the prospect that you're worth what you charge for your services."
Industry experts concur that when a phone call comes in from a prospective customer, the very first step a painter must take is pre-qualification „ asking a series of pertinent questions to help establish a customer profile and help screen out the undesirable candidates. "The first thing I want to know," says John Jorza, co-owner of Star Mountain Painting in the Seattle area, "is what the purpose of their paint job is. Is it a rental? Are they looking to sell the house? In those two cases, all they want is the cheapest price, and I usually pass, because we stress high quality, not lowest price. If they just bought the house or are doing some remodeling, they're more likely to view the job as a long-term investment, which fits our typical customer profile."
By learning everything you can about a customer beforehand, you can increase your chances of making a favorable first impression in the face-to-face meeting. "I also want to know if time is a significant factor. Do they need the job completed by a specific date for a party? Do they already have colors in mind? Do they have any pets? Kids? Is there an interior designer or architect involved? By asking these questions, I can be better prepared for the appointment when I go to the site for a walk-through."
Mabrey advises her seminar participants it makes good business sense to have a list of questions ready by the phone when a prospect first calls. "Time is money, so you need to work smart. I always ask, 'Are you ready to do something right now?' This helps me separate the lookers from the buyers, which is especially important with faux finishing. If they're just shopping, I tell them I charge a consultation fee, and then if they decide to hire me, that will be applied to the overall cost. This screens out the people who want to pick my brain but not give me anything for it. I also make it a point to tell them where my prices start. I can't give them a specific price until I visit the home, but I can say that my prices start at X dollars for a 10'x10' room. If there's going to be any sticker shock, I'd rather it be up front instead of after investing the better part of a day preparing for and traveling to their house."
Many pro painting contractors now have websites and urge their prospects to visit them to get a better sense of their experience, their philosophy and descriptions of recently completed projects in the area. This can help establish the all-important "comfort level" that customers need before doing business with you. Says Jorza, "Our website outlines seven key things we do that differentiate us from the competition. By outlining these elements of quality service, we're explaining why we charge what we do and why we're worth it."
When the time comes to knock on the prospective customer's door, you need to be ready „ in more ways than one. First and foremost, you need the right attitude „ professional, cordial, confident, and not overly aggressive. You also need to be a perceptive listener and observer in order to pick up on verbal and non-verbal signals a customer may give. "Just as their body language says a lot about their receptiveness to your presentation, your body language speaks volumes about your confidence and professionalism," adds Jim Canfield, a seasoned sales veteran in a number of industries. "Naturally, your appearance is important, too. The customer will expect you to look like a contractor, with some paint on your clothes and so forth, but if you can go a notch or two better than what they expect, that will certainly win you some points."
As you walk around and through the prospect's house, you have the opportunity to educate them about what constitutes a quality painting job, notes Fife. "Perhaps you notice there's moss growing on the siding. You can say, 'Power washing may not sufficiently remove all the spores that may be living there, and a bleach treatment or mold inhibitor may be warranted. Would you like us to do that? It would run about $50.' He probably had no clue that he had fungus growing there or that it could cause premature paint failure, but you've taken the time to explain this to him and provide a solution, and he's learning what a quality paint job really means.
"The same thing holds true with surface preparation, and with the quality of paint selected. You can educate the customer that there are different levels of quality he can choose, and different costs associated with them. The bottom line is, you're going to shine in the customer's eyes when you demonstrate how a truly professional painting contractor should operate."
Once you know all the specifics about the job, it's time to submit an estimate of the cost, and this is perhaps the most crucial part of the selling process. First, the estimate should be presented promptly, in order to reinforce that you're professional and sincerely interested in their business. "Presenting it on a second visit shows follow-through," according to Fife, "but it's even better if your truck is equipped with a computer, and you can bang out the estimate and come right back in a half hour or so."
Second, the estimate should spell out, in detail, the scope of the work involved. "I think it's important to submit a separate sheet that outlines the exact steps you intend to perform," says Fife. "That way, if they choose to seek competitive bids, you can urge them to use that sheet to give to other bidders so they'll be comparing apples to apples. It also shows the other bidders the quality of work the customer is already considering." When the moment of truth comes, Jorza says, "Look them in the eye, say your price, and stand tall. You arrived at your figure based on your experience and the work you've indicated you'll need to do, and you should be firm. This doesn't mean you can't negotiate and eventually drop your price a bit if necessary, but be patient. Stand behind your price and remind the customer of the extra services he's getting."
Canfield agrees. "You have to be confident about your price. The worst thing to do is to hedge, or mumble, or avoid looking them in the eye. If you're not confident, the customer won't be, either. You need to be comfortable about how you price your service and why it's worth it. If the customer objects, you need to be ready with several key benefits you offer. 'Hey, here's why we're a little bit better, here's what we do that's different.' Talk positively about your strengths rather than saying anything negative about the competition."
Know When to Fold In some instances, when a prospect is making what you believe to be unreasonable demands about price or other matters, the best thing to do is politely decline. "Who says you have to win every job?" points out Jorza. "It's okay to walk away sometimes."
Adds Canfield, "You have to make money on every job, so you need to know where the line in the sand is between profitable and unprofitable. Nobody closes every deal. I compare it to a pro baseball player: The very best hitters in the game are successful only four out of 10 trips to the plate. You need to keep your expectations realistic, and don't take the rejections personally. Those ballplayers can't think about the six times out of 10 they were unsuccessful."