I often find that when I am working on a marketing initiative or plan that I draw from my personal experiences, putting myself in the shoes of a consumer. I also often find parallels between other markets and industries that help validify that perspective.
Recently I decided to do a little car shopping, out of necessity and not the desire to own a new vehicle or the car payment that comes with it. I tend to buy a car and own it for many years, running it into the ground and getting every penny’s-worth out of it. I take my time to look for a vehicle that suits my needs and lifestyle, has the options I want that give it value to me, and lets me feel comfortable and happy about driving it. And yet, the idea of getting a new car is actually very stressful since it feels like a big financial commitment and I feel dread over going through the sales process.
My first step – open up the laptop and do a search for local dealerships. Some sites were great, others I navigated away from in mere seconds. The good ones were easy to read, professionally done, and I could find the information I wanted and needed to get me to the next step – picking up the phone. I called several dealerships to find out if specific vehicles were still available. The ones who returned my calls and gave me the information I needed prompted me to my next course of action – getting in the car to see the vehicles first hand. Now, here is where it gets dicey…
We all know the classic ‘used car salesman’ stereotype. Sadly there is a reason for that stereotype and it is because those people DO actually exist. Unfortunately, I also did encounter them. They are the vultures waiting outside and who descend upon you before you can even get out of your car. Promptly they begin their pitch and all the while you wonder if they actually are deaf since they seem to not hear what you are looking for and the price range you are considering. This hearing loss is more apparent in the last days of the month when they are trying to reach a quota or sales goal.
First, I found out that what I thought I wanted actually did not fit my needs and lifestyle. So despite my research, I was back to ground zero and looking at a car lot full of possibilities. Once I decided on a make and model the next step was finding one with the options and value at the right price. I ended up at a dealership where the vulture wasted no time. He swooped in and by chance he had almost exactly what I was looking for (not crazy about the color), but the price was a little too high. I was ready to move on, keeping that one in mind as a possibility, when he came at me with the, ‘let me see what I can do to EARN your business.’ Being the (detrimentally at times) trusting soul I am, I took him up on his offer to come sit down and talk some numbers while continuing to let him know that I was not prepared to make a purchase that day.
So the negotiating began. Well, at least for him it did. Quickly he began dropping the price until there was a number in front of me that was in my perceived budget. I really was sincere in my insistence that I was not prepared to make a commitment that day (and not fishing for a lower price) so I asked if I could take a day or two to think it over. Two days later I placed a call to the salesman (whom we now unaffectionately refer to as ‘Brokeneck’) and told him I was ready to commit. His response was, “Great! When will you come pick it up? Oh, by the way, it turns out that I can’t do the number we talked about. The price will actually be ‘x’ (about $1000.00 more than we agreed upon plus an additional $500.00 in bogus fees). Will you be using your own financing or ours?”
What?! Are you serious?! You tell me you want to EARN my business and then change the terms we discussed! It did not take me long to tell the man, politely, that I would not be purchasing the vehicle. Additionally, I carefully crafted an email to the salesman and his manager letting them know why we would not be purchasing the vehicle. I also let them know that I am an extremely loyal customer who values good service, honesty, and integrity. That they not only lost a sale, but a customer for life. That when I get excited about a product or service, I tell everyone about it and therefore they also lost an opportunity to further advertise, market, and brand their business in a positive way. I believe every manager and business owner should receive one of those emails, letters, or cards every once in a while.
It lets them know where they may be falling short and why they may be losing customers and sales. It lets them know what some people may be saying about their experiences with their company and what their ‘brand’ really may be.
Here is where I start drawing the parallels between my personal experiences and applying them to the industry I work in. Here is what you need to know:
1. Your Web site is often the primary first stop for many of your potential customers. If they have a positive experience and get a good feeling about your professionalism, it will often lead them to the next step – picking up the phone.
2. Return the phone call promptly. If they are calling you because they like what they saw on your Web site, marketing materials, or because of a positive referral from a happy customer, you want to make sure to continue that feeling of your company’s professionalism.
3. Listen to what your customer wants. While it is good to make suggestions and recommendations, make sure the focus is on what they want and need, and what will best fit their lifestyle while providing them the best value.
4. Don’t promise something that you can’t, or are unwilling, to deliver. When you set high expectations and then fall short, it is more disappointing. Promise small, deliver big!
5. Realize that pushing a sale may ultimately result in losing the sale. If someone is not ready to commit, it is important to stay top-of-mind in a positive and non-aggressive way. For most people, their time is valuable and constantly fielding phone calls (or avoiding them) after saying they are not ready, becomes a waste of time and annoying. On the other hand, ‘not ready now’ is not a ‘no.’ Keep on-going communications helpful and cheerful.
6. If you do get turned down for a job, try to find out why without being confrontational. Develop a thick skin, don’t get defensive, and consider the feedback constructive criticism. There will always be people who habitually complain and aren’t happy unless they are assertive and antagonistic, so take some things with a grain of salt, weed out the important information, and make changes accordingly. Sometimes it is more important to know why your not getting work as opposed to why you are.
Finally, we also face stereotypes in this industry. Landscape professionals are often viewed as uneducated, unprofessional, unethical, and unreliable. Which means that you/we are in the same boat as the used car salesman. Sadly, again, there is a valid reason why those stereotypes exist and the reason is because there are landscape professionals who perpetuate it. It also means that as an industry, before our customers sit down in front of their computers or pick up the phone, they already have a perceived mindset of who they will be working with.
Overcoming stereotypes is like climbing a mountain, a vast obstacle that keeps you from getting to the other side.
You are already climbing a mountain – an immense, daunting mountain. You have to make sure your marketing, advertising, and branding initiatives are consistent and professional. You have to make sure that your communication, appearance, work, and efforts defy the stereotype. With time you will build a brand and reputation that will turn that mountain into a molehill, effort will still be required but you have managed to make it an easier climb.
As for my ‘new’ car – I have found a salesman (not ‘Brokeneck’) and dealership that I really like and is willing to work with me to help me find the vehicle that will fit my lifestyle, budget, and provide me the best value. I will probably be driving this car for the next 10 years. Every time I get into the vehicle that is a perfect-fit for me, I will have a good feeling about the process of buying it and the people who will continue to provide service for me, whom I will gladly refer to friends and family.
Now, I challenge you to stop climbing mountains, develop marketing and branding initiatives that will make your work easier, and provide products and services that will leave your customers with a positive feeling and experience that they will feel every time they are in their outdoor living space so they WANT to tell their friends and family to pick-up the phone and give you a call.