The presentation went as planned. You arrived a few minutes early and even picked up the morning paper from the lawn, handing it to the prospect on your way in the door. The potential customers were eager to see you, and after commenting on their lovely home and indulging in a few minutes of pleasantries, the conversation turned to ponds. Your questions showed your commitment to fulfilling their dreams. Your experience in the field matched their envisioned pond with a solid installation plan. You matched a pond package to their budget and a proposal was made.
It should have been a sure thing. But instead of signing the contract and working out an installation date, you’re now backing out of the driveway for the long “drive of shame” back to the office.
“What just happened?” you ask yourself. The customers were responsive and eager to hear everything you had to say, and the proposed pond was a perfect match for their stated budget and vision of their backyard oasis. Things had gone perfectly … until it came time to sign the contract. Suddenly one of them had a concern about damage to the landscape during installation. As you began to address that, an objection came up about the type of rock to be used. Then it was a reference to something a competitor told them. Next thing you know, both customers were hurling issue after issue at you before finally telling you in no uncertain terms that they couldn’t afford that much money for what you proposed.
Eliminate Lethal Objections
Sometimes there is just no saving a deal once it is in this death spiral, but oftentimes you can. Sometimes walking away may be the best thing for your company, but other times a different approach may save the day and put another valuable job on the board. Knowing customers’ objections and how to overcome them can mean the difference between a company struggling for work and one that has two to three months of work scheduled. Preventing objections before they ever come up is even better. It allows you to focus on your bond with the customers, helps establish yourself as their friend in the pond business and lets you walk away with signed contracts and a lot less stress.
In spite of a very humorous (but unprintable) phrase from one of the nation’s top pond installers interviewed for this article, there is no magic formula to ensure installation sales. Different regions, customer income, the type of pond desired and other factors all require slightly different approaches. Fortunately, the mistakes and triumphs of others have allowed some companies to develop systems that work well for them. Hopefully the insights below will assist even seasoned companies to close more sales and will lessen the learning curve of those installers just starting out.
Max Phelps of Rock Castles Landscaping
Customer Question: “I’ve heard that backyard ponds are high-maintenance and need a lot of attention. Is that true?”
Response: “There certainly are some examples we could find of ponds that are a lot of trouble if we go searching for them, but it doesn’t have to be that way! If you are seriously thinking about a pond, I suggest you talk to a few folks who own ponds and are very happy with them. Seeing some water gardens that are both lovely and low-maintenance might help you with your decision. Would you like the names and numbers of some of my customers?”
John Magyar of Universal Aquatics
Customer Question: “Can you duplicate the pond in this photo?”
Response: “We can take some elements of that design and incorporate them into our style to give you the best product that we possibly can.”
Let’s face it: if the customer shows you a picture of something that you aren’t comfortable building or something that you wouldn’t want your name associated with, then that person isn’t your customer.
Freddie Combas of Florida Water Gardens
Customer Question: “Why do you charge a consultation fee?”
Response: “I understand how most people think that the consultation is free when the other companies say that they won’t charge you to come out to your home. The reality is that all companies charge for coming to your home; we are just very honest and up-front about our fees. What I mean is that if one of those companies goes to 10 ‘Free’ consultations and only sells one or two projects, those two customers will pay for all the gas and labor required for someone to drive around.”
Outcome: Most customers understand and can appreciate that. But those who don’t are encouraged to provide an email address so that we can send photos of some of our most current work. We tell them that after they have done all of their “Free” consultations, they should not hesitate to call us back if they feel that, based on the photos we send, our quality work is not superior to what they saw for “Free.” We want quality-minded customers, never budget-driven customers.
But what about price? Is that not a major objection? It certainly is. In fact, objection to price remains the number-one obstacle during the consultation process. Installers all across the country put this at the top of their lists, but many companies have found unique ways to counter this objection — or even use it as a pre-qualifier before a consultation is even scheduled.
Max Taylor of Magnolia Ponds:
Folks have no idea how much a pond costs. I combat this by finding out what they want and asking them if they have a budget set. If they do not, I press them a little. I ask them what they are looking for and give a range. I then ask them if this is in their budget.
I also have two displays at a local nursery. I ask them to visit the displays and I tell them the approximate cost of these features. I try to refrain from doing any design work without a budget to work with. Once I have the budget, then when I have met their budget and their goals, I have removed 90 percent of all objections.
Benjamin Timmermans of Liquid Landscapes Inc.:
When a new construction call comes in we first discuss the project scope and begin to wedge into pricing. Once we hear what they are looking for, we inform people that we could design something for $10,000 or something for $100,000. In the interest of not wasting each other’s time we ask for a ballpark number on what they have budgeted for the build. We let them know that this will help both of us get to a great design within their expected price range.
Davin Paul of Davin Paul Designs:
For price it’s building value to justify the investment. There are a ton of things you can do to build value. But every client is different and you need to know what they want and why. Then clearly show that you can help make their vision a reality.
One thing I’ve done in general that makes a big difference is to explain to potential clients that I’ll be the one physically installing the water feature (with some help if it’s a larger project). I’m not just a sales guy who’s going to send an inexperienced landscaping crew out to do the job.
Freddie Combas of Florida Water Gardens:
I can understand that, as I am a customer and have personal budgets myself. There are many ways to properly filter a pond and we can redesign the filtration system and/or the size of the pond and waterfall in a manner that will fit your budget.
After some education on varying filtration technologies and methodologies, most customers will opt for the better system. Regardless, our closing ratio is extremely high after taking the time to demonstrate our knowledge of varying system options and demonstrating to the customer that we’re not a one-trick pony (one filtration system fits all ponds) type of company.
Perhaps the most unique approach to overcoming customer objections is to eliminate them before they come up. The following company has developed and utilizes a seven-point system to completely immerse their prospective customers into the pond world.
Eric Triplett, The Pond Digger
By the time I get to a consultation I have removed most, if not all, of the objections.
- We pre-qualify interested customers by providing price ranges on different pond construction philosophies and styles. This allows them to know in advance if our professionally installed ponds will work with their available budget and desired goals.
- The client has seen our work from display ponds around town and watched our attention to detail on YouTube.
- We’ve asked them their timeline for installation.
- We have invited them to our retail facility to see working features.
- We review our Pond Design Guide with them.
- We offer them three construction options to choose from and advise them on their ongoing maintenance for each.
- We of course show them just a taste of shoddy workmanship from unethical, amateur contractors.
These steps take objections and toss them out the window! The biggest objection I run into is what color pen we’ll use to sign the contract and when I can get started!
Ultimately, overcoming customer objections is something that installers must continue to deal with. Companies may face different challenges due to demographics and even topographic issues. While there may not be one perfect solution that works for every business in every situation, the responses above yield some valuable insights into what is working for others. It is important to keep in mind that potential customers come to you because you are an expert in your field. They count on your guidance through what may well be one of the largest investments that they will ever make in their landscaping. Some customers will not hesitate at spending a small fortune on a pond from you, and others would rather have a root canal than part with even a few thousand for a basic pond. Sometimes it’s OK to walk away from a client and nicely let him know that your service may not be right for his needs. It is your job to know the difference and to fully understand the customer’s concerns. Utilizing your pond knowledge and emulating what is working for others will overcome more customer objections and result in more pond contracts and a healthier bottom line.