Our second “Plan for Profitability in 2012″ webinar took place on Nov. 17 2011, and this time the topic was Landscape Sales. Once again, our guest speaker was landscape industry specialist and consultant Marcus vandeVliet. We’re pleased to post a recording of the webinar below, for those who missed it or wish to view it again.
The PowerPoint slides from the presentation are available here. The supporting article, “12 key sales tips to increase your close rates and your profits“, can be viewed here. You can view the webinar in its entirety by clicking on the video below.
It’s as true in the landscape industry as it is in any other: without sales, you don’t have a business. A key goal for any landscape company that’s serious about planning for profitability is to excel not only in the work that you do, but also in your ability to regularly generate good work all the time. Here are 12 key sales tips that can help your business to improve both your sales closing ratios and your bottom line.
- Understand what your customers really need.
Understanding your customers’ needs and what kind of work they really want from you is very important. If you can connect with them and come to a good mutual, positive understanding of the work to be done, the customer will feel more inclined to purchase from you. If you have ideas and input that you would like to add, start by setting the stage for your suggestions and recommendations by first asking the customer’s thoughts, and then expanding on them using your creativity and unique skills, never telling the customer what they need or what they like. It is their house and they are the boss.The key is to ask the right questions in exploring exactly what the client is looking for. Questions could be grouped in the following categories: how the property will be used; scope of work and budgets; customer likes and dislikes; customer priorities; etc.
- Don’t drop the ball by not following up.
Always follow up! If you show professional responses in a timely matter, getting back to customers promptly, it shows that you want to work for them and that they have your attention.Following up is critical to your sales success. Most of your competition will not follow up. This is an easy way to differentiate your sales process in your marketplace. Your follow-up process should be structured and enforced. This could include follow-up e-mails, thank you cards, phone calls and site visits.
- Execute weekly.
As a salesperson, you need to be able to execute week after week, closing sales regardless of the size. You have to keep new work coming in constantly, even if that means generating your own leads.Hold a weekly sales management meeting. Have each salesperson report on the following: sold projects, bid projects, follow up, new business development, and year to date statistics.
- Whenever possible, close sales on the spot, face to face.
If you have the opportunity to close small jobs on the spot, face to face, make sure you do so. Be prepared with either an automated estimating system or a spreadsheet that you can use to quickly calculate a small quote accurately. That way, you’re more likely to walk away with a cheque in your hand rather than just another small lead to put on your enormous to do list.
- Know what you do – and DON’T do – well.
Establish what you do well, and what you don’t do well, by analyzing your work and HONESTLY assessing the work that you’re producing. For example, if you’re really not that good at building decks, either get some training, or stop offering to build them. Doing bad work gives you a bad reputation and is a headache for everyone involved. Do the work that you’re best at.
- Use a good sales pipeline tracking system.
Managing your sales pipeline is very important for a successful sales team. Having a good system for organizing and prioritizing your leads will ensure that you don’t let any leads fall through the cracks or become less urgent to you. There’s nothing like an automated reminder to help you keep your clients on your radar, and to keep your company’s services on theirs.
- Present winning proposals.
A carefully-prepared, attractive-looking proposal is your best calling card, a chance to demonstrate not only your great design ideas, but also your professionalism. Think of it from the clients’ point of view. If they’re comparing proposals from two otherwise similar companies, chances are they’ll choose the one that shows impressive hand-drawn quality, clear labels, plant photographs, attractive colours, subtle shadings and opacities, and 3D renderings. “Wow” is definitely the reaction you want to get from your proposals.The customer leave behind should be a bound document containing the following information: an introductory statement, a reduced copy of the plan, proposal, materials list and supporting documentation, testimonials, certifications and insurance certificates, company history and key employee bios, etc.
- Say no to lousy jobs!
Closing sales but not seeing any profits? Saying no to jobs that yield very low profits, or no profits at all, is the first step in correcting that situation. The next is only choosing work that actually does make you money. To know whether a job will be profitable or not, you need a reliable system that lets you accurately calculate your break-even point on each and every proposal, beforeyou accept the work.Explain the process. At this point in the sale you have the opportunity to set the tone of the entire job and really explain how your company does business. This alone can sell a job, when people understand the next steps and understand what to expect it creates a much better relationship with the client and really helps close business. This is also when you would address what will happen if any changes for whatever reason arise in the job and that it may cost the customer extra money, so as to not hurt yourself if there is something out of your hands that causes the job to be more expensive, whether it be unseen terrain or an old septic tank. Develop a sweet spot project criteria list for your company. This would include who you would work for, the size of project, the type of project, schedule requirements, company profitability, etc. The sweet spot would help define what type of projects your company should be competing for. These projects will better suit your company’s strengths and give you a competitive advantage.
- Have a system for handling changes on the fly.
Job changes on the fly can often be a great way to make a job even more profitable, but only if you’re handling these change requests efficiently and accurately. Tracking all the changes, and ensuring that they’re all ending up on your invoices, will make or break this as a profitable source of revenue.It is vital that change orders are effectively communicated before the work was actually completed. Many landscapers are afraid to discuss the actual costs involved. Unfortunately, this leads to customer dissatisfaction or will cost the company profits during a negotiation upon the completion of the project. The change orders should also have a separate payment schedule, that requires payment upon completion of the change order not the project.
- Show your company’s value.
You may be promoting your company’s skills and products quite well, but are you also pointing out how much your work will benefit your customers? Help them to understand the true value and worth of your services. How does your expertise, or longevity in the landscape business, improve what they’ll get by hiring you? Don’t be afraid to point out how great it will be for them to have beautiful landscaping around their house or business, for example, and how easy it will be for them (or you) to maintain it. Sell the long-term value of your products and service, not just the cost.
- Gather and use references.
Ask each satisfied customer for a reference after you’ve done the work, and keep a list of those references handy to show prospective clients. It’s a habit that not only motivates you to make sure all of your clients are thrilled with your work, but also develops a great reputation for your company that will help you to close sales.
- Go after repeat business.
Create a system that prompts you to go after return business, especially (but not only) if you’re a maintenance company. When you’re phoning or emailing clients, remember to set up winterizing or spring openings. Make it easy for the customer to pre-book your services – it’s more convenient for them, and it guarantees you their return business. Set up a basic schedule that your customer can either confirm, or reschedule.Rule of Thumb – Make it easy for people to do business with you.
BONUS tip: When you lose a bid, find out why!
Everyone wishes they could win every piece of business that presents itself, but this is never the reality. Whenever possible, ask clients why they chose someone else. Finding out and cataloguing the reasons that you’ve lost jobs can be almost as valuable to your company as winning a single job. If you can understand losing trends, you can identify ways to improve your bidding process, and put in motion actions to prevent or alter those trends and turn more proposals into sales. You’ll never win every single job, but taking that losing percentage and cutting it in half or even one third can significantly drive up revenue and make your business more profitable.