The Sales Call
May 3, 2022
This is the fifth installment of our six-part series on Sales Best Practices for the Green Industry. This post will talk about the “Do’s and Don’ts” of the actual sales call with a customer.
Just a few brief notes about this one – I’ll provide some research on this, but I’m drawing on a LOT of experience here. I spent six years making door-to-door sales for a lawn care company and another few years doing Inside Sales. I’ve found the principles I learned while making Outbound sales held pretty true for visiting a lead that came through Inbound channels. (For a deeper understanding of Inbound v. Outbound, check out this blog post.)
Why do those principles transfer so very well? Because the ability to self-prospect and cold-call is a “fundamental and highly transferable capability.” You learn a LOT about connecting with people when your family depends on you doing it successfully.
Lastly, a note about B2B: for the B2B crowd, I’ve tapped the expertise of Kevin Shackleford, the CEO of the Shackleford Landscape Group (SLG). SLG handles primarily commercial contracts in three states across the East Coast of the US.
Why is this important?
Some people say, “I know my industry well. Why do I need to prepare for a sales call? I don’t even know what they want yet!”
“B2C companies understand that their customers are more likely to make impulse decisions, can be swayed by various factors, and require trust to establish loyalty,” says Fabrik Brands, a global branding and marketing strategy company.
“B2B clients are more likely to conduct extensive research and a well-thought-out analysis of quotes they receive,” says Shackleford.
There are two things, in particular, I want to drill down on there. The wording “more likely to make impulse decisions” and “require trust to establish loyalty” are essential to keep in mind.
Building trust with your potential customers, and the communities where you work, is critical to your success. Without it, you won’t have any customers.
Penn State’s Agricultural Economics, Sociology, and Education Department have created a Community Engagement Tool. It’s a framework for people working in communities that need to solve problems and get input from community members.
For example, there’s a 16-acre park in Atlanta designed to flood. The money and approvals needed to get a project like that completed required a lot of buy-in from people who live in the area and the city politicians who hold the purse strings.
According to the Community Engagement Tool, respect is one of the “Keys to Building Trust.” People need to feel respected and heard before they’ll trust you.
You may be saying, “I’m not bidding on those types of projects,” which is a fair point. I would say that people are people, no matter what type of project you’re working on. If people feel disrespected by the way you carry yourself, in some cases before you’ve even stepped foot on the property, you’ll always struggle to win business.
Another factor is an impulse decision. I know some of you reading this may say, “Yeah, right! People take forever to get back to me!” And some of them may do that.
There’s the concept of “vicarious ownership.” It is the connection between a consumer and a product. People start to think about “the thing.” It doesn’t matter if it’s a beautiful patio on which to entertain or the newest smartphone. They begin thinking A LOT about “what if I had ‘the thing’” in their spare time. This thought pattern forms an emotional attachment to “the thing,” and they’ve gotta have it.
I saw this a lot when selling Lawn Care, both door-to-door and on the phone. People get the idea of a “perfect lawn” in their heads, and they can’t let it go. I once had a guy with an otherwise perfect lawn (and it was immaculate) buy a seven-visit Lawn Care program from me five minutes into our talk because a patch of clover covered about eight square feet, and it drove him nuts. I told him we could take care of it (and we did), which thrilled him. Someone may be trying to reconcile sticker shock with having “the thing,” but make no mistake: most buyers in our industry make impulsive purchases.
Keep in mind that B2B is a different animal altogether. Shackleford says, “B2B is more negotiated contracts or low bid.”
Having said that, you can destroy the chances of making a great sale by failing to show them respect and build trust before you even get there or while you’re on the property. Here are some tips to avoid pitfalls when making in-person or over-the-phone sales calls.
Trust is needed in B2B as well. Especially on larger properties. You will be prequalified whether you like it or not.
Don’t Drive Like a Jerk
I supervised a team of people who fielded sales and customer service calls at an extensive landscaping and lawn care company. It was a GREAT company and had an incredible safety record. We had a safety and OSHA compliance director on staff, and most of our team bought into the idea of being safe on the roads and job sites.
Even still, you’d be surprised at the number of angry phone calls we fielded from parents in a neighborhood or another commuter on a highway that made a point to complain about our driving habits. Everything from soil blowing off (the tarp was fastened down, just old) to a call about someone driving a company truck to church on a Sunday morning and giving someone the finger (true story).
People’s experience with you starts before you’ve ever stepped foot on their property. Make sure you drive courteously through the neighborhood if it’s a set appointment. Focus on your driving. Stay off your phone. If you must take a phone call, make sure you’re using a Bluetooth-enabled device (earbuds, the vehicle, etc.). Drive the speed limit through the development; your customer’s neighbors have kids playing there.
Where to Park
You might be thinking to yourself, “Really, dude? You’re going to tell me where to park?” Yes, I am. I’ll tell you why, too – you don’t want to make life difficult for your soon-to-be customer.
If they live on any main road (anything with a double-yellow line), park in the driveway. Do your best to position your vehicle so the customer can still get their cars out. The last thing you want is to move your truck mid-consultation because someone else in the house has to leave to go to work or run an errand. It leaves a bad taste in your prospect’s mouth.
If they live in a development, try to park in front of the house. Be sure you’re not blocking their driveway OR parked across the street from a neighbor’s driveway. Again, I’ve seen incidents where a salesperson parked in front of their customer’s house, and the neighbor backed out of their driveway directly into the sales vehicle. Avoid this easily by parking somewhere you aren’t blocking a driveway or directly across from a driveway.
If it’s an old neighborhood in an urban environment, the houses are closer together. You are likely to have fire hydrants to consider, too. You may need to park a few homes down to avoid the driveways and hydrants in these cases. Be sure to bring whatever you need in hand from your vehicle.
For B2B clients, park in the back of the parking lot to not impede the business’ operations.
Etiquette on the Property
Cool – you’ve made it to the house and parked somewhere successfully. Now what?
The Approach to the House
Don’t walk across their lawn. 99.5% of homes will have a sidewalk > driveway > walkway pattern in the US. You can make it from your car to the front door without walking across any grass or beds. Do that.
Taking the paved path to the door does two things for you. First, it shows you respect their property before talking to them in person. I can’t tell you how many times I was door-knocking, and this opened the way to a conversation. Conversely, I worked with a guy (6’ 6”, mind you) who just stomped across lawns from door to door. I watched him get chewed out by a little old lady for being disrespectful.
For B2B, introduce yourself to the secretary or ask in advance about a designated meeting spot on the property.
Secondly, it shows you presume nothing. You’re saying, “I’m going to leave it up to you whether you not you give me permission to walk around the property.” Even if they called you for a quote, this is a great practice to adopt. People notice, and they appreciate it.
Pro-tip: If the homeowner isn’t available when you get there, make sure you call, email, or text them in advance to let them know an approximate time you’ll be there. I saved myself more than one call to the police from a freaked-out teenage daughter by communicating with the homeowner in advance; when they called or texted Mom and Dad, they found out I was supposed to be there.
B2B Salespeople – most site visits will be done without the decision-maker due to time constraints and the fact that they receive multiple bids for the work.
Also, leave a card, door-hanger, estimate, ANYTHING physically at the property as proof you were there. You know, in case they don’t have teenagers at home to tell them someone was creeping around the house.
Most homes will have a doorbell. Use that as the first option. If they don’t have one (or you pushed it properly, and it doesn’t ring), knock firmly three-to-five times. You don’t want to be so gentle that they can’t hear you, but you also don’t want to sound like the cops serving a warrant. Find the middle ground.
After ringing the bell or knocking, step back from the door at least three steps. If COVID precautions are being observed in your market, you may want to increase that distance. The key is to give them space while remaining visible from the front door. Turning your body slightly to the side (especially if you’re a big dude) helps. Positioning your body this way makes you less threatening.
You’re giving the homeowner the ability to come out of their home and greet you. The alternative is standing on the doorstep and immediately invading their personal space. If it’s an older adult or someone with other mobility issues, you can always close the gap to ensure they aren’t struggling to do so, but allow them to greet without feeling threatened.
Looking someone in the eye and offering a firm handshake (or wave if it’s cold and flu season) and introducing yourself is best. “Hi, I’m [your name] with [your company’s name]! How are you today?” Say it while smiling; it makes a difference in how you are received.
Next, share the reason you’re there. Or, if you’re going door-to-door, tell the homeowner why you’re there. “I understand you want to talk about removing those sweetgum trees in the back yard” (for an Inbound lead) or “I’m talking to several of your neighbors about their lawn care plans, and I wondered what you’re doing with your lawn this season?” (if you’re cold-calling). Both are great conversation starters.
Discussing the Project
How you talk about the potential project on a customer’s property is equally important as how you conduct yourself. Some good general rules I’ve followed have served me incredibly well.
B2B Salespeople, “You should take notes on the property even if they are small details. You will be more engaged by writing down notes and leaving a better impression to the client,” says Shackleford.
Avoid Industry Jargon
If you’re there to quote a pruning job, you tell a customer, “Well, I’m a little concerned about that codominant leader, but the tree is a little old to try subordination pruning, so we’ll likely need to cable it,” you’ve lost.
The same goes for Lawn Care guys saying, “Well, I see a lot of skeletons around, so we’ll want to get a pre-em down to prevent unwanted crabgrass germination.” Landscapers, you get the gist.
Talk to your customer in terms they’ll understand. Please find a way to explain technical concepts so that they’ll understand. For example, I often explain turf and ornamental diseases and the pathogen triangle using an analogy from the bathroom: steam from the shower. The host is there (tile grout), the pathogen (mildew spores) is there, but it takes the heat and moisture of the steam, without proper ventilation, for the conditions to be suitable for mildew to grow.
You can explain the pathogen triangle till you’re blue in the face. Explaining things in a simple, easy-to-understand way is best. You’ll stand out and win more deals when you can tie it to something they see and can immediately relate to in their day-to-day.
You can use some technical terms, but be sure to explain the meaning. This tells them you’re a professional and helps them understand what you’re trying to communicate.
For B2B, Shackelford says, “Use some industry jargon, just not too much. You want to communicate professionalism to the client, like different pruning techniques your crews use. Explaining things like why hand pruning is important to improve plant health rather than a power hedge trimmer to shear the bush.”
Choose Your Words Selectively
When I’m on a customer’s property or talking on the phone, I’m conscientious about the words I use. There are certain words I don’t use at all, and there are some that I use intentionally to communicate. I’ll give you a few examples.
Which of these sounds more appealing?
Example 1: “Your first app is crabgrass killer. Rounds 2 through 5 are a combination of fert and chemicals to kill the weeds. Your last app is a Winterizer.
Example 2: “Well, Mrs. Johnson, our program includes six treatments throughout the year at intervals of four-to-six weeks. We can only prevent grassy weeds in the lawn, so we’ll do that with your first visit. On your second visit, there’s pressure from weeds trying to compete with your healthy turf, so we’ll treat the entire lawn to keep those down. The third and fourth visits typically take place over the Summer. We’ll continue to lightly fertilize the lawn to help it recover from Summer stress, but we’ll only be spot-treating for weeds. Pressure is lower, and we don’t need to use as much product. For your fifth service, when the weeds pick up in the Fall, we’ll do one last blanket spray to ensure a much cleaner slate towards the end of the season. The last treatment for the year is called a Winterizer; it helps keep the lawn healthy over the Winter months and ensures a healthy green-up the following Spring!”
Words like “chemical” and “kill,” as used in the first example, evoke a fearful response. They freak out potential clients. Work on using words that help them understand what’s happening without painting a bleak picture.
Agree on Next Steps
No Sales trainer would disagree with me here. Get an agreement on the next steps from the customer before you leave the property.
If you’re charging a consultation or design fee, get a consensus about what comes next. Say, “We’ll be billing you for today’s consultation.” If it’s for work you haven’t yet completed (a landscape or hardscape design), ask, “You want me to come up with a design for you. I believe that will take me X number of hours, which will cost about X dollars. Is that how you’d like to proceed?”
For lower-spend items like Lawn Care, still clarify. “It sounds like you want us to come out and begin your service. That’s a six-visit program, and each service will only cost X. Is that what you’d like to do?” Don’t leave the property (or phone conversation) without clear direction on what’s happening next and who is initiating that action.
Try to get everything agreed upon in writing. This ensures whatever work is carried out is exactly what was agreed upon. This also helps with aligning sales and operations.
Lastly, ask the customer how they’d like to receive a follow-up. Is email best for them? A text or a phone call? Please don’t assume your preferred communication medium is theirs; meet them where they want to be met.
Pro-tip: Take responsibility for that “next step” out of your client’s hands. Saying “We’ll reconnect in a week” and walking away leaves ambiguity – who is supposed to contact whom?
They’re hiring you to be a convenience, not an additional chore. Don’t say, “We’ll reconnect in a week.” Take charge and say, “I’ll call you by Tuesday.” This takes the onus for following up off their plate AND gives both of your clarity around who is initiating the follow-up.
Once you’ve decided on the follow-up with the customer, make sure you actually DO it. Ensure you do what you said you’d do. This establishes trust and reliability in the customer’s mind before the business relationship is genuinely off the ground.
Please don’t say, “I’m too busy to do that.” You’ve got a MUCH better chance at securing a sale from someone you’ve spent time with on their property than you do from a net-new customer. Focus your attention in the right places, and sales success will follow.
Prioritize those calls. Call before heading out to the field if you know you’ll get bogged down when you return to the office. Call (using Bluetooth, of course) while driving from one appointment to the next. If you’re genuinely short-staffed, hire someone else to do that follow-up for you.
I worked in one company that hired a full-time administrative assistant to follow up on outstanding proposals. The sales staff was chronically understaffed and therefore too busy to follow up on their proposals. This was a good workaround.
Find a way to automate follow-ups. If you forget, add an extension to your Gmail that will allow you to schedule email follow-ups, and create a generic template that says, “It was great meeting you the other day! I’m following up on your proposal as we agreed upon. Let me know if you have any questions!” You can also schedule texts to send on many Android devices or download and use Google Chats rather than your phone’s preloaded text messaging app.
Whatever method you land on, follow up consistently. Follow up on an outstanding proposal at least three times before giving up and moving on.
Strategic investments of time and practice will reap HUGE benefits in your sales.
Building trust and making it easy for people to give you an immediate “Yes” will go a long way towards closing deals.
Consider carefully how your approach to the home, from driving and parking to physically knocking on the door, can impact your success or failure on the sales call.
While on the property, show deference and respect to your potential customer. Avoid industry jargon when talking to them and avoid words that may evoke an emotional response. Find analogies or illustrations most people can relate to explain the concepts you’re trying to convey.
Agree on the next steps before leaving, and make sure you follow up on your proposals!
Go back and read Part 4 – Customer Experience
Keep Reading Part 6 – Upselling and Retention