Systems and Sales

When you paint a house, you probably follow a system. You perform certain tasks in a specific order because you have found that process to be most effective and efficient to consistently accomplish your goal. The same principle applies to sales. If we want consistent results, then we should follow a system.

Effective sales isn’t about manipulating the customer into buying something he doesn’t want or need. It’s about playing the role of a consultant and helping the customer make a wise purchasing decision. It’s an educational process, and that education must be a two-way street to be effective.

First, we must allow the customer to educate us regarding his needs and desires. We must learn what he wants and why he called us to give us an estimate. And what he wants usually involves a lot more than simply putting paint on the walls. But we won’t know this unless we let the customer educate us.

Second, we must then educate the customer how we propose to satisfy those needs and desires. This involves much more than telling him what paint we are going to use or our methods of application. It means addressing the customer’s “hot buttons” and the values he seeks when hiring a contractor.

A sales system provides us with the steps required to consistently and effectively achieve
this. It provides us with a guide for obtaining the information we need. And then it provides us with a process for imparting the information we need to share with the customer.

To be clear, a sales system is not a robotic, canned speech. It is, like any system, a series of steps to be followed to achieve a desired result.

Selling paint jobs isn’t always fun. At times, it can be frustrating and disheartening. We hear “no” more often than “yes.” But if we follow the proper procedures, we can increase the frequency of “yes.” And more importantly, we will sell at price that is profitable.

Outselling Chuck in a Truck

After last week’s email, a reader asked if customer education is effective when bidding against Chuck in a truck—contractors who offer insanely low prices. My answer was a resounding “yes.” In fact, customer education is particularly effective when bidding against low-priced contractors.

From my experience, Chuck shows up, looks at the job, and throws a number at the customer.
Fundamentally, this doesn’t differ much from what most reasonably priced contractors do. They show up, look at the job, and then email a number to the customer. Sure, they probably have a nice web site and a more detailed estimate. But their sales process is essentially the same as Chuck’s.

For the customer, this process can be quite confusing, particularly when Chuck offers a price much lower than yours. The customer may recognize the fact that you speak better, have more detail in your estimate, and seem like a nice guy. But they don’t see why they should pay you a lot more money to put paint on their walls.

The simple fact is, if the customer can’t see the difference between your company and Chuck, price is often the deciding factor. If you want to stand apart from Chuck, then you can’t look like him (literally or figuratively). And the most effective way to do this is through customer education.

Most contractors, including Chuck, make some attempt at customer education. They will tell the customer about the quality of their work, the products they use, and similar things. But that’s not really customer education. Customer education means helping the customer make a wise purchasing decision based on his particular needs and desires.

If we want to help a particular customer with his needs and desires, we must first understand what they are. Only then can we propose the products and scope of work that will be satisfactory. If we assume that we know those needs and desires, we are not much different from Chuck.

If we want to outsell Chuck, then we must be different than Chuck. Ultimately, that means discovering what matters to the customer.

Teaching an Old Dog New Tricks

Last week, I was in Florida to teach my estimating and sales system. One of the attendees has been estimating by the “eye-ball” method for twenty years. When Mike (not his real name) entered the training room, he made it pretty clear that he thought he was wasting his time.

By the end of the two-day session, Mike was one of the most vocal in praising the training. It is possible to teach an old dog new tricks. But one’s success in doing so depends on the dog, and the tricks one is trying to teach.

In Mike’s case, he was willing to keep an open mind and consider something new. Though he was skeptical at first, he was willing to listen and consider what I was saying. He could see how my system could help him sell more paint jobs.

Too often, contractors view sales as a necessary evil. It is something that we have to do to get jobs. And when that is our attitude, we often do little more than throw a number at the customer and hope that some stick.

In truth, sales is little more than playing the role of a consultant. We should be educating our customers about what is required to achieve the results they want and why our company can provide those results.

To accomplish this, we must first determine what the customer really wants or needs. We must ask questions and then listen to the answers. Only then can we propose a scope of work and products that will satisfy the customer.

Contractors often lament the fact that may customers think that anyone can paint. But many contractors approach sales with this same mentality. They treat every customer as the same and don’t spend the time to discover what a particular customer wants or needs.

Professional painters know that a lot more is involved in a quality job than slapping paint
on the walls. Professional salesmen know that customers don’t always want or need exactly the same thing. If we are selling paint jobs, we must integrate these two facts.

If we treat our customers all the same, they have no reason to view us differently than our competition. And when we look the same as our competition, price becomes the deciding issue. But when we treat our customers differently than the competition—when we spend the time to learn what they really want and need—then they view us differently than the competition. And when we look different, value becomes the deciding issue.

Be a Problem Solver

How you define your company will have a huge impact on every aspect of the business. For example, if you define your company as a discount service, you will advertise and operate much differently than a company that defines itself as a high-end, custom service. How you define your company instills a certain mindset in the owner, employees, and customers.

It is probably clear how the above examples would impact a company and its operations. A discount service will focus on price, while a high-end service will focus on quality. But these types of definitions are somewhat limiting, for they don’t identify an essential component of a successful contracting company.

Fundamentally, painting contractors are problem solvers (or at least they should be). We are called to a customer’s home to solve a problem. Granted, sometimes that problem is relatively minor in the grand scope of things—they simply don’t like the color of the powder room. But the significance of the problem isn’t the issue.

Sometimes, it is obvious that we are a problem solver. If the customer is having a problem with peeling paint, the problem is easy to spot. But other times the problem is less obvious, and our ability to identify and solve that problem can present us with opportunities.

For example, like many contractors, I often get calls from a prospect who “needs” some painting done yesterday. His problem is a time crunch, or so he believes. But often, the prospects perception does not match reality. If we can solve his problem in a mutually beneficial way, we become a hero.

As an example, many of my prospects want painting done before they move into a house. And often it is impossible for me to accommodate that desire. However, I can often propose a solution that provides them with a better final product and lands me a new customer. Rather than attempt to paint the entire house prior to move-in, I often propose that we paint the bedrooms before they move, and then do other areas later.

I explain that stairways, halls, and other common areas often get beat up during the move. Their fresh paint is going to get damaged. However, if we paint after they move, we can repair the damage and they will wind up with a fresh paint job.

While this suggestion doesn’t always work, it is effective a large percentage of the time. It works because I try to be a problem solver.

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