I am a guy who loves ponds. It is an obsession and it’s my favorite hobby at home. At work, however, it’s not about my hobby, but rather my career that pays for my hobby.
Translating my passion into sales dollars—closing the deal—means identifying customers, ascertaining their needs and matching their unique dreams with my knowledge and experience.
At our store in Holland, Michigan, we normally have over 1,000 koi and goldfish in the store, ready to entertain customers. They generate lots of giggles from little kids and “oohhs” and “aahhs” from passers-by. Some of those people are like lookers at a zoo, while others may be interested in ponds of their own. The first group needs to see your enthusiasm through friendly words and a little food for the kids to feed the fish. The second group, however, is the one you need to focus on during a busy store day. They are your clients.
What do we need to focus on with people who are interested but don’t know what comes next? Wants, needs and realities in that order.
Step One: What Do Your Customers Want?
“What do they want?” is where you start. Is it a koi pond, goldfish and plants; or perhaps a bubbling rock fountain? All conversations need to be friendly, effortless and seemingly just that: a conversation. But you need to be asking questions to isolate what they want and whether you have an opportunity to provide goods or services to meet that desire.
Step Two: What Do Your Customers Need?
Once you find out what your customer wants, make sure it is what she needs. If your customer wants a dedicated koi pond but she travels for business two weeks at a time, this scenario is not going to work for her without hiring a service. There are plenty of other options that will. Perhaps a pondless waterfall will satisfy the want of water along with the need for ultra-low maintenance. If she is handy and loves to putter, maybe a DIY kit will turn into a labor of love. If handy and dedicated are not two words that describe this client, then it is time to talk about professional installation. “Money cannot buy happiness” may be the old adage, but it will buy you a great pond and the service to maintain it.
Step Three: Counting Pennies
The last and most important aspect between want and need is the simple, realistic question, “What is your budget?” It is always one of the tough questions, but it needs to be asked in order to close a sale.
There is a restaurant next door to us with an outdoor patio that the owner wanted to freshen up. A local contractor came by, scheduled four visits over two months, spent at least 40 hours doing a design with 3D renderings and submitted a proposal for an amazing $125,000 renovation. They never discussed the budget in any of those four meetings..a budget that was actually $10,000. The contractor looked silly, the owner felt awkward and a lot of time was wasted.
Reality is there for all of us to deal with, and it is different for every person. If a client envisions a water-filled theme park in his backyard and has the financial resources to buy it, then have at it. But, as is true with most customers, we have to blend the dreams of the clients with their financial abilities and find the sweet spot in the middle.
Satisfying the Client
The want is usually the easiest to satisfy and requires you to paint a picture of the new water features in a way your clients can understand and visualize. Satisfying the need portion is all about making sure that what you are offering will fit within their lives for many years to come. Living within reality requires them to understand true upfront and ongoing costs and you need to provide that accurately.
Many times you can close the sale right over the phone or in your store with the customer. There are times, however, when he will want you to come to the house and go over (in detail) how this water feature will look and feel in his family’s life. From a design point, there is no substitute for seeing the actual location in person to get perspective on your design. And if it is going to include installation services, it is an absolute must.
Charging for Consultation
Some may disagree with me, but I charge for this home visit. When I first started, I was so desperate for a sale that I would offer a home visit and quote nearly every customer who was interested. What I found is that I spent a lot of time and closed a very low percentage of sales. Part of what it comes down to is the value of your time. I don’t just mean that “time is money,” which we all know is true in business. But what I am talking about is the perception of the value of the service you are offering.
This is where an old college term comes in: TANSTAAFL (pronounced tanstaffle). TANSTAAFL means, “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.” If you place no value on your time and efforts to visit your customer’s house, don’t expect him to place value on it. Gas costs money, vehicles are expensive and my time has value. Like I said at the beginning, ponds are my hobby … but we are working in the pond industry to make money.
When in the selling phase of a relationship, I tell all of my customers that there is a charge for coming to the house and quoting. What has this done to my business? I quote 60 percent fewer ponds than I used to, and I also sell almost 90 percent of the ponds I quote. The $65 fee I charge covers the cost of my time, fuel and knowledge to help in the client’s design. It also places a vision of value in what I offer to my customers. If they will not pay even a small fee for your time, then understand that when you go to their homes, they will perceive no value in what you are offering them.
This fee also separates the lookers who snuck through your qualifying conversations from the people who are ready to pull the trigger on their projects. If they are committed to spending $2,000 on a kit or even tens of thousands on a custom project, they are not going to say no over a small fee. Also, I tell everyone that the fee is 100 percent refunded upon the first payment for services or pond kits purchased. So it still is a free service … if they go through with the project.
Give Them Real Value
No customer wants to be nickel-and-dimed at every turn, but a customer who is looking for a solid relationship understands that life does not come for free. By placing a value on your time and efforts, your current and future customers will see you as a professional offering them something more than they can get from a website something they need. And, if in response to their willingness to compensate you for your time, you deliver on what you promised with a timely and accurate quote for a project they want…well, the deal will almost close itself. Isn’t that why we are in business?
Closing the deal is what allows your hobby to provide for your home and family … as a business. When you do find that just-right spot for your customers, your reputation will blossom for it.