Extra Edition / Business Management / Business Services

Plan Your Close in Advance

June 6, 2011
KEYWORDS marketing
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Michael O’Grady

I learned years ago as a business owner that nothing happens until a sale is made. There is no need for the accounting department to come to work; the warehouse people and customer service department can stay home, too. The bottom line is that if there is no sale made or no money coming in, there is no company. One thing that seems to elude contractors at times is their ability to ask for the order. In other words, “close the sale.” Years ago I learned to plan your close in advance and build your sales presentation around it. Too many sales people and contractors like to dazzle a homeowner with their knowledge. They put on “presentations,” but never ask for the order.

Don’t get me wrong, I certainly realize that there are very important technical components when assessing a homeowner’s situation. It’s your professional responsibility to communicate what someone needs and why. However, if you spend all your time doing this and then mail them or email them a proposal, you are giving away your control of the situation and involvement in the outcome of your visit. If people make buying decisions differently based on their personality type, as a sales person you have to take control. How do you do this? You have structure in how you ask for the order.

I’ve found that when selling to a homeowner there are three basic closes that I use. The Options Close, the Assume-the-Sale Close, and the Interest-Free Financing Close. Before I go into more detail with each, it is important to understand several things. First, each of these closes may be used with all personality types. Second, there are many different types of in-home contractors with many different scenarios and solutions. You will have to customize these closes to fit your business and situation. And last, it is important that you know these closes inside and out so you can go smoothly into your close with confidence. You want to be able to ask for the order anywhere and anytime that a buying situation presents itself.

Now let’s look at the different types of closes.

Options Close: The theory behind this type of close is that it is better to give someone a choice between something and something versus something and nothing. Show someone option (a) with all its detail and then option (b) with all its detail. Every once in a while there’s even an option (c). Try to limit your options to a maximum of three. The more options, the more confusing it can be to a homeowner and the more challenging it can be for you to maintain control and close the sale. You then follow this with a closing question: “So, of these two options, John and Mary, which one seems to make the most sense to you?” Once they give you their choice, “Option (a) seems to make the most sense,” you roll with it. “Okay great, we can get started on that Monday or Tuesday, which one of those days work for you?” You can also use other closing questions such as, “Will you be giving a deposit on a credit card or would you like to give a check?” followed by, “Okay great, should my technicians come through the front door or would you prefer that we use the back door?” I’ve found that once you start with options you’ll continue with options right until the close.

Assume-the-Sale Close: This close can almost be defined as an “Act as if” close. If you act as if you are already doing the job from the time you walk in the door, the customer may follow. Talking past the sale with statements like, “I’ll make sure the guys protect this entrance way with drop cloths when they’re bringing the equipment in,” or “I made sure I held tomorrow open for you as soon as I heard that you called. Do you want me to have them move that pipe to the left or just leave it where it is?” A lot of times I will use this close when dealing with a very good referral customer or repeat customer. Once you’ve gotten to the point where you have all the details down on the order sheet, you can ask for the order in any one of the following ways: “I just need you to authorize right here at the X and I can get started right away,” or “Here is the total, this is your discount which brings it down to (blank). Now, would you be paying by check or using your credit card?” Or, you can use the ever-popular Silent Close. Once you’ve presented the price, simply put an X at the spot where they’re to authorize, put the pen on the paper, and slide it over in front of them and be quiet!

Interest-Free Financing Close: This can be a game changer. With this close, I have seen the most arrogant dominant directors be turned into peaceful nice guys. I have also seen the most analytical and indecisive cautious thinkers become relieved and decisive. If you are in a contracting business that offers some type of equipment or material installation, YOU MUST, MUST offer interest-free financing as an option. Some have six-month plans. I’ve seen up to three-year interest-free financing plans. Any time you can use someone else’s money for free for six months or a year or more, everyone wins. A good portion of the time you don’t even have to ask a closing question. The homeowners have already let you know they’re using the interest-free program. In those rare occasions when you don’t have a firm commitment prior to the close, simply ask the following: “Will you be using a conventional deposit down with check or credit card or would you prefer to use the (blank) month interest-free payment program?” When referring to these programs I highly recommend that you don’t use the word “financing.” Financing is the “F” word. This is an interest-free program for people just like yourselves that allows you to pay this over time with no interest. For some people, just hearing the word “financing” creates a negative connotation. Even though you explained it’s interest-free, that word itself implies interest, fees, and negative implications.

Before we move on to our next topic, I want to point out a very necessary part of closing the sale called the “post close.” A sales person can spend much time asking questions, gathering information from a homeowner, and customizing closing solutions that are all in the best interest of a homeowner. And then they call and cancel because of “buyer’s remorse.” Buyer’s remorse occurs after you’ve left and the homeowner begins to have second thoughts. “Did I pay too much? Did I rush into this decision? Should I have called a relative or friend to get their input?” The way to minimize these questions and reduce the buyer’s remorse for the homeowner is to do the following. Keep copies of your competitor’s estimates with you. Ask the customer if they’re comfortable with this decision. Explain that you keep copies of the competitions estimates and invite them to go through the estimates with you so you can explain the difference between your company and the others. Ask the homeowner if there is anyone they would like to call and speak to while you’re there. Before you walk out that door, confirm that the customer is completely comfortable with their decision. By doing this you are cementing the sale and reducing the risk of buyer’s remorse.

THE NON-PRESENTATION PRESENTATION

Now that we understand how to ask for the order, we have to figure out how to get to that point. I’m a firm believer in structure, but not so much presentation. Presentations are for stages and board rooms not someone’s home. When you run a presentation, you are presenting to someone. Instead, I prefer to have a conversation that is engaging.

Let me give you a real life example of what I’m talking about. A while back, one of my new sales associates “Tim” asked me to ride along with him on a couple sales leads. Tim’s closing rate had dipped quite a bit and he was looking for some helpful advice. Within the first 20 minutes of being in the customer’s home I saw an issue. Tim was using a presentation that had been developed by a large heating and air conditioning organization. There were structured questions and very important components to this presentation. Tim followed it word-for-word and page by page. There were several key components that were missing. There was no back and forth, no deep listening, no conversation. Tim was following the presentation like a robot.

If you ask someone a question, you better listen, care, and show the customer that you’ve listened and cared. I call this engaging the customer. For example, if you ask someone, “How long do you plan on living in this home?” or “Does anyone in the home suffer from allergies, asthma, or hay fever?” and they don’t answer you, you should ask them again and explain why you asked. You need to care about what a person’s response is, so you can find a solution that helps them. As Tim progressed throughout his presentation, he would ask questions for the purpose of asking a question. He was not asking questions for the purpose of seeing how he could truly help that person. As a result, Tim’s closing rate had dropped drastically, as it should have. In other words, he got what he deserved. The sad part is that the customer didn’t get what they deserved.

PRIOR TO YOUR VISIT

Preparation for your face-to-face visit with a homeowner is a key ingredient to ensuring a positive visit. There are many questions you can ask before you go running off to an appointment in order to use your time more efficiently and effectively. Here are some examples: Where did this appointment come from? Was it a lead generated from your service or maintenance department? What did your service technicians find when they were at the house? Did the lead come from an advertisement or marketing piece? What did the ad say? Are there special incentives discussed in the advertisement? Is there an interest-free payment option discussed in the marketing piece? Is the lead a referral? How does this person know the person that made the referral? Have you done business with this person that referred them? Are they a work associate, relative, or friend?

Knowing as much detail about where the lead came from, and having quality communication with this new customer, make for a successful in-person appointment. For example, Mrs. Smith calls in for an estimate on central air conditioning. She informs you that her co-worker, Mr. Jones, used your company to install central air conditioning in his home and was not only very happy but found your prices to be very competitive.

In this situation you’d want to find out the details of what your company did for Mr. Jones. As you look up the details, you find that Mr. Jones had a new forced-air gas furnace already existing which made it very easy to install central air conditioning. In the conversation prior to your visit with Mrs. Smith you would want to ask and speak about the following. “Mrs. Smith, do you happen to know if you have a forced-air heating system with air-ducts already in place ( similar to Mr. Jones) or would we be installing everything brand new?” “Does your home have radiators or baseboard in each room that water or steam travels through?” In this situation you want to know if the scope of the work that Mrs. Smith is looking for is similar to what Mr. Jones had done. You do this so you can have a logical conversation about it before going out to the home.

Besides being a referral, one of the topics Mrs. Smith brought up was your competitive pricing. If the scope of work is completely different, you’re looking at apples versus oranges and the budget is significantly different; because of that, you should talk about that scenario. I would also take this opportunity to look up anyone in your customer base that lives near Mrs. Smith that you have done a similar job for. If Mrs. Smith sees that it still makes sense for you to come out and you have a reference right in her neighborhood, you are setting yourself up for a successful in-person appointment and a positive visit.

YOUR FACE-TO-FACE VISIT

Although I was raised with a great work ethic, I still believe in the old saying, “Work smarter not harder.” Everything in this article supports that belief. As an in-home sales professional, you know your closes inside and out. You can ask for the order with the upmost confidence. The time you put in prior to your estimate, asking qualifying questions and logically preparing, is second to none. Now it’s time to go meet with your customer.

I break down my appointments into segments. First is the Introduction Segment. During this segment you are introducing yourself, building rapport, and confirming why you are there. Even though my rule is to call, confirm, and qualify information prior to a visit, you still want to confirm why you are there. If your service technician generated a lead, for example, you want to know why he generated it. If you’re in the heating business and your technician thought someone’s furnace should be changed, what’s the reason why? You need to make sure the homeowner knows why and confirm that. The next segment is the Survey and Analysis Segment. During this segment you need to find out information about the homeowner, their plans for staying in the house, survey the home (take measurements, engineering work, etc.), and assess what the proper solution is for their situation and budget. It’s during this segment that you’ll have to have a good balance of asking questions, listening to their answers, and professionally educating. The next segment is what I call your Credibility Book Segment. Your Credibility Book is a binder or book that has the following: Any third-party articles about your company, certificate of insurance, special certifications you may have, testimonial letters, customer satisfaction surveys, lists of references that can be called, and anything else that addresses how great you and/or your company are.

While you are sitting at the customer’s kitchen table doing your calculations, give them your Credibility Book to read through. The more testimonial letters you can have with a variety of situations, the better. If you’re with a customer with a similar situation to someone in the book or a neighbor in the book, point it out. Homeowners really do enjoy reading letters from neighbors and other people that you’ve helped that are similar to them and their situation. I’ve had the book act as an instant testimonial and referral source. It really is amazing! I’ve had customers that had booked an appointment with me from an advertisement, see a letter from someone they knew in the Credibility Book, and decide to move forward with the work right then and there. Use this Credibility Book Segment to build more rapport with your customer, establish a good relationship, and nurture the sale along.

The last segment is the Closing Segment. We’ve already talked about the different types of closes and how to ask a closing question. I hate to be anticlimactic, but at this point the close really needs to be very “matter of fact.” The theory of planning your close in advance and building your sales presentation around it is so it can be matter of fact.

If you think you are going to start overcoming objections at the very end, you are mistaken. Eighty percent of buying decisions are made after the fifth closing attempt and forty percent of sales people don’t attempt to close once. Those closing attempts are a progression of small commitment questions throughout your visit with the homeowner. For example:

• “If you’re not happy with your current service provider, do you think it makes sense to start using a great company like ours?”

• “Would you like me to put some plywood across the beams in the attic while we’re working up there, so you can store things there in the future?”

• “Would you like me to move the air conditioning condensing unit to the right a few feet when we do this?”

Those (after) five closing attempts can also be in the follow-up phone calls you make. If someone is getting several estimates, and they really NEED to get several estimates, follow up when you’re supposed to. It may take 10 or more closing attempts to get some people to make a decision. Remember that persistence and perseverance always pay off, for everyone.

Excerpted from the book, Selling at the Kitchen Table: A Contractor’s Guide to Closing the Deal, by Michael O’Grady. The full version of the book is available at www.SellingattheKitchenTable.com.

Publication date: 06/06/2011

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