The Why Determines the What

Too often, we show up to give an estimate for a painting job and assume what the customer wants. After all, they called us for a painting estimate. But until we know why they called, we can’t really determine what they need or want.

Just last week, a customer told me that he wanted all of his fascia and soffit boards replaced. When I showed up, I asked him why he wanted so much repair work. He replied that he just assumed that, given the condition of his house, it would be required. His primary reason for calling was to do the maintenance he had been neglecting.

I soon discovered that less than 10 percent of his fascia and soffit were actually in need of replacement. I could have bid the job he originally asked for. But that isn’t what he needed or wanted. It would have cost a lot more money.

It would have been a different story if he had said that he wanted to bite the bullet and put on Hardi so that he’d never have to worry about rotted wood again. His “why” would have been much different. And that would have changed what I bid.

As it was, I bid what he needed and really wanted. I got the job.

Training our Customers

Most contractors recognize the need to train their employees. If we want work performed to a certain standard, we cannot assume that our employees know how to achieve that result. We must show them the proper way to perform the tasks required in their job.

Unfortunately, we often fail to recognize the need to train our customers. Yet, the results can be much worse than failing to train our employees.

Consider: You have given the customer an estimate and they ask if you can do better on your price. If you immediately cave and reduce the price, you have taught the customer a lesson—his wish is your command. And he will likely continue to act on that premise.

However, if you tell the customer that you can reduce the price by changing the scope of work or by using different materials, you have taught a much different lesson—your price is determined by the labor and materials required, not the customer’s desires.

Virtually every interaction with our customer implicitly trains him as to what we expect and will tolerate. We can train the customer to use and abuse us, or we can train him to treat us with respect and professional courtesy.

As professional contractors, we know what it takes for a job to go smoothly. This requires everyone involved—our employees and the customer—to do their part. We spend time training our employees to do their job efficiently and to our standards. We should do the same with our customers.

I Want My House Painted

One of the worst things a contractor can do during the sales process is make assumptions. Unfortunately, it is easy to do. We often assume that we know what the customer means. And often that assumption is wrong.

For example, I once had a customer tell me that she wanted the entire interior of her house painted. That seems pretty straight forward, but appearances can be deceiving. As we walked around her house and discussed the project, I asked her about the ceilings, closets, and several other items. After she told me to leave three or four things off of the estimate, she jokingly said, “I guess I don’t want the entire house painted, do I?”

If I had assumed that I knew what she meant, I would have bid a job that was much different from what she wanted. By asking a few questions, both of us became clear as to her needs and desires. And then I could bid the job accordingly.

I don’t mean to imply that we should endlessly interrogate a customer. That would serve no useful purpose and would likely annoy the customer. But we must be careful to identify when we are making assumptions.

If we seek to satisfy the customer’s needs and desires, we must first know what they are. And that means asking the right questions. Anything less is a disservice to the customer and to ourselves.

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.

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