1. Missed the live Ask the Expert event?
    Catch up on the conversation about fertilization strategies for success with the experts at Koch Turf & Ornamental in the Fertilizer Application forum.

    Dismiss Notice

prequalifying customers

Discussion in 'Business Operations' started by jc1, Feb 13, 2002.

  1. jc1

    jc1 LawnSite Silver Member
    Messages: 2,117

    There was a thread several weeks back that discussed questions to ask customers on the phone so that you could help weed out the price shoppers. If anyone has the link to it or would like to review that topic again I would appreciate it. I have tried searching but havent been able to find the thread I am looking for. Thank you all.
  2. HBFOXJr

    HBFOXJr LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,712

    I think that thread died or drifted off to something else. It is worth reviving.

    I've been listening to a sales/motivational tape called Scoring in the Red Zone. In it they are referred to suspects and prospects. The idea being to convert a suspect into a prospect through the qualification process.

    There doesn't seem to be a real hard weeding process with this guy but it does go on. Basically it shakes out to when do you want to put our product/service to use, whar is their budget and who in addition to yourself is involved in the decision.

    I listened to this tape and other before. One thing that triggered in my brain after umpteen years is that sales isn't what some of us think it is. Sales is about leadership. Just like you lead a crew, team, club or any other group. Sales is about leading the prospect to the proper decision. Consider your self as the helper in the decision making process. Your the professional that knows things that can help them. If they aren't making the right decision to go with you they have a reason(s) known as objections in sales. Find the objections and overcome them. Then ask for the business.

    It all sounds simple and I personally suffer from a confidence crisis (not personal) in the sales pro's methods. I'm not yet a believer.

    I've lead all kinds of groups since I was a school kid from committees, clubs and industry organization but I can't seem to save as many people as I want to any more. They make the most stupid decisions about buying irrigation systems primarily based on price and lie to themselves that they are comparing apples to apples among different contractors.

    We've become such a retail, deal oriented, price consious society that too many people think everything is a commodity to be valued alike.

    Why would someone spend $2,500 on a system when they need to spend $3,500. The 2 brain halves are not connected. The buying half is cheap, cheap, cheap. The user half is in a panic when they have brown spots due to dryness from an inadequate system or can't get the guy to come back and fix something broken.

    I try to lead them by educating them about the water requirements vs precipitaion rates and watering hours, head spacing and location and why it is important. I show them written documentation and sample drawings. Size matters. In this case it is the size of the price and big isn't better.

    If you go to the irrigation section and read the recent posts on tracing pipe you'll see how an engineer capable of "rational thought and purposeful action" didn't exhibit any such behavior in selecting a contractor. And that is the point of this rambling. You can lead a horse to water, but if he's a stupid horse you can't make him drink.
  3. LawnLad

    LawnLad LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 738

    It was the Yellow Pages thread:

    Good points Harold.

    Questions I ask on the first phone call:

    1) How did you hear about us? - track referal sources. Ask this one first... it sets up the whole conversation and is an innocent question. Also gets them used to your asking questions about where they're coming from.

    After I have their name, address, home phone (I ask, is this the best number where I can reach you... usually then they'll give me a work number), I ask them as well if they use email and if it's a good way to correspond.

    Usually they'll tell me about their project. I keep it short since I don't want details now. Just tell me... is it a patio? Maintenance? Pruning job? I know what I'm walking into then when I get there and any sales stuff I want to take with me.

    Then I ask:
    2) How long have you lived in your house? Just moved? From where? Ohhhh... you moved up from Georgia? Are you familar with the climate in Cleveland? Converse a little here. They might say they gardened.... or never have. Be willing to talk with them, the more they say the better.

    3) Have you worked with a landscape contractor before? No, you haven't... okay. Well I'll be happy to answer any questions you may have about the process... blah blah.

    if yes: 4) Who? For how long? Why are you changing?

    You can get a lot from people on this one. If they're changing because they're unsatisfied... ask what specifically were you not satisfied with? You certainly don't want to fall into the same trap the previous contractor walked into. Sometimes their reasons for quitting a previous contractor will be norms in the industry, and you may have the same practice. At least you know.

    5) How many quotes are you getting? (If they came from a current customer, I dont' often ask this one unless they're wishy washy - or sometimes I'll ask this question in person instead of on the phone if everything else sounds good).

    To really qualify the questionable ones on the phone, if I'm trying to shake them, I ask them if they have a budget in mind for the project that we're talking about. Usually I dont ask this question until I'm in person and unless it's relevant (which it isn't all the time... and can be an offensive question or appear that you're only interested in the money) A patio is going to cost more than $250.00. So I might throw out a couple of numbers... asking them how big of an area. Oh, it's 20 x 15... that's 300 sq ft. Depending on the materials you choose, it could be $14 to $22 per square foot, or $4500 to $7000 (round high)... if they gasp... or make a comment about cost... don't waste your time - or charge them for your estimate.

    If it relates to design, or hints that there is design work, I'll tell them that we charge for design work. I'll be happy to look at the project and meet with them, the first visit at no cost. But after that, if they don't have a specific project for me to bid on - it's $65.00 per hour for me to come up with the design. This helps to separate the wheat from the chaff. If I like the person, and don't want to scare them off - I'll explain that we are design/build company. We will often rebate a portion of the design cost depending on how much design time goes into the project and what they decide to install. This way if they do the whole $10,000 project, you may only charge 50% ish of the design cost... give 'em a break as a loss leader. If they go with nothing, at least you recoup your ten hours of time... and bill them $650.00 for your time.

    Qualifying on site is a much different matter. And each conversation, sales call is different. So I won't go into detail here.

    Hope this helps.
  4. HBFOXJr

    HBFOXJr LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,712

    I do much of the same/similar for irrigation installs. For service we're primarily order takers without problems.

    Another question is how many estimates/proposals have you had so far. If they've had several and are now calling more people i dig deeper. What is it your looking for that you haven't found yet? If the answer is price I may ask if that is the primary criteria. It usually is and I politely tell them we sell on quality and service so unfortunately we are unable to deliver those 2 things at the lowest price. I hang up without even trying to persuade them otherwise.

    I may ask how many esti they are getting and if it is 5-10 ask them why. Here again it reverts ususally to price an i decline. I sopmetimes ask who are they getting quotes from or who they called to see wherre they are fishing. If the competition is bottom of the barrel I decline. When I'm searching for something I don't know too much about I ask qualifying questions of my own to determine who I might want to do business with. Consumers don't seem to do much of that, although referrals from friends sort of does that for them. But that is like the blind leading the blind. Just like I don't trust some of my friends judgements in movies and dining out.

    I also ask time frame for the project and if ther isn't one I ususally feed them some info and send a card for when they are ready to puchase. That has been a waste.

    Sometimes they answer the budget question afirmatively and sometimes ask what has that got to do with anything or they'd rather not say or we don't know what these things cost. I tell them everyone has a budget even if we don't know what thiongs cost because we know how much we will be willing to part with to aquire something. If we find what we want at $ we'll part with we usually make a deal, right? So I tell them I don;t want to waste their time or mine talking and estimating if we are not in the ball park before we start. I tell them based on sites in their area a broad price range and ask if that is what they had in mind. A yes or no determines if I go.

    At the very least you gotta have a budget and a time frame for the job. Without those they are not committed to buying from anyone.
  5. augs dad

    augs dad LawnSite Member
    Messages: 32

    Lawnlad..just want to give you a personal thank-you for the effort you put into helping people with so many 'basic' questions...You and the others on this site are a great bunch of knowledgeable and no-nonsense folks. I'll make it a point to contribute when I can.
    Gary in PA
  6. diginahole

    diginahole LawnSite Member
    Messages: 249

    Great topic.

    Qualifiying leads before a salesman is sent to meet with a prospective client is paramount in a succesful sales program. A salesman who goes out on every call recieved is spinning his wheels trying to sell to consumers who are not prepared to spend. The sales process starts with the Maketing Department. Marketings function is toseek out and supply Sales with qualified business opportunites. I define a qualified business opportunity as a consumer who is prepared to spend money on a product that I am able to supply. Sales is entirely about competition, even if the competition is the consumer not spending at all. The less competition the Sales guy is up against the better his odds for success. Pre-qualifying should identify the competition your sales force will be up against and seperate those with the best odds for completed sales. Pre-qualifying prospects can also involve getting them to invest time prior to the meeting they are requesting. Having a prospect gather information before a meeting requires some of their time to be spent and puts an added value to the time we will invest in meeting with them. Time invested by the prospect is a difficult thing for him to throw away, so in requiring him to spend time for us, it has put a mark in our favour on his decision check list.

    For most of us the only thing defining the different departments in our companies is the hat we are wearing at that particular momment in the day. It is important to remember which hat we are wearing at which time. Most of my sales are done at night or on weekends, valuable time that I prefer not to waste. When I wear my marketing hat, I remember that the sales guy will be pissed at me if I send him (me) a fist full of dead leads. When
    I wear my sales hat, I remember to let the marketing department know the kind of prospects I want delivered to me and how to identify them.
  7. HBFOXJr

    HBFOXJr LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,712

    Sooooo, please share with us how we can get these slothful folks to invest sometime as you suggest. My main problem is selling new sprinkler systems. Any ideas on how to get what your refering to?

  8. 65hoss

    65hoss LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,360

    The only thing I'm going to comment on is what lawnlad brought up about why are you changing.

    I found out several years ago that if you listen hard enough most people will give you this info. Sometimes you may have to ask specific questions to get it, but many times they will say things to let you know if your listening and reading between the lines. As soon as I get back in the truck I analize the conversation before I drive off. I'm looking for anything that was said that would make me understand why they are looking for someone.

    Here are a couple of examples that I should have heard what was said, but it burned me because I didn't read it correctly:
    1. A couple of years ago this woman calls for an estimate. She also says her boyfriend has a house not far and needs someone also. When I was there talking with her she told me how her boyfriend has a Koi pond installed and to get the guy to throw in a bunch of extras for free, he kept holding the guys check. We both laughed and went on. I should have realized I didn't want to be involved with this type of people. But I didn't. That lesson cost me about $500 dollars between the 2 of them.
    2. The elderly woman that lives across the street from an old customer asked for an estimate on maintaining her lawn. I knew she had someone else doing it. She proceeded to tell me the other quit doing it and she didn't know why. She then told me how he would not do a good job trimming and didn't always make it look right. Not long after I found out why he quit. Because so did I. She wanted a mow and go price. But she wanted a full service job at no cost. The calls started. You didn't pull that weed under a bush. etc, etc. After about 3 times of dealing with her, I dropped her. She tried to make me look bad to my customer. But the relationship was already established with them so I didn't have any problems. But it could have hurt my reputation.
  9. diginahole

    diginahole LawnSite Member
    Messages: 249


    I can't speak with much authority toward the irrigation only sector but in the residential design/build sector I ask potential clients to set aside at least a full hour where both hubby and wife will be present for my on site consultation, one of the two won't do. I ask them to go through magazines and walk around their neighbourhood and make notes of things they like and dislike. I ask them to dig out the site survey. I ask them to be prepared to give me a budjet for this project and for future projects. Think of things they will be renovating in near and distant future that would have an effect on current design parameters. Maybe some of these will help in your market, maybe not. If they are doing this legwork for HBFOX Jr they are putting a check on the plus side of their contractor comparison for HBFOX Jr not Joe Sod Soaker. Every little bit helps, think of some things they can do to prepare for your arrival.
  10. HBFOXJr

    HBFOXJr LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,712

    We used your same methods when landscaping. Unfortunately irrigation is inderground and only the results not the product have any aesthetic value. Since the products used to create the system are branded, that seems to carry more weight than who designs, installs and services. Irrigation is purchased like a commodity such as one would buy a computer, an auto or a washer and dryer.

    That is perception is where the problem lies. The almighty dollar apparently saved installing an irrigation system is more important the real working value of the project received.

    It is my experience even as it applies to service that many consumers can be BSed and abused a lot more that most business people, consultants and professionals think.

    There has to be a way to do something and educating a consumer about the technicalities are not it. If a guy says a s---ty system will water the lawn and there will be no brown spots, that is what they believe.

Share This Page