Selling means different things to different people. When they hear the word "salesman," some folks think of the tin man - the aluminum siding salesperson.

Selling means different things to different people. When they hear the word "salesman," some folks think of the tin man - the aluminum siding salesperson. Others think of pushy fast talkers who talk potential customers into something they do not want or may not need. Many people are prejudiced against selling because they do not fully understand what selling really involves.

Good sales practices focus on sound communication skills. A sales definition I communicate with contractors goes something like this: Selling is your ability to communicate your craft or trade to solve customers' problems and fulfill customers' needs. Nowhere in this definition do you see the words coerce, pressure or push. Good selling is nothing more than good communication. But what are you really communicating?

In seminars, I like to use the analogy of visiting a doctor. We go to the doctor with a specific need or symptom. The doctor makes a diagnosis of the problem and prescribes treatment. Frequently, this treatment involves taking drugs. Most of us would not take drugs from someone selling them on a street corner, so why do we take drugs from a doctor? Because we trust the doctor and believe he or she will solve our problem.

In many cases, we might have little technical knowledge about our medical condition. We simply trust the doctor as a professional to solve our problem. Contracting is no different. Most customers have little technical knowledge of what a contractor will actually do while on the job. Like doctors, contractors should sell and inspire trust in their customers. If customers trust you, they are more likely to let you solve their problem. The following are some "do's and don'ts" to follow when trying to sell trust:
  • Don't be a stealth bomber. That is, don't just ride by the job, do an estimate and mail it. How can you evoke trust if you don't take time to interact with the customer and identify his or needs?
  • Do meet with the customer and establish rapport. Try to get customers to talk and tell you what they want. The more the customer talks, the more the customer buys.
  • Don't start an estimate by just talking about the technical aspects of the job. The customer probably does not know the difference between a good or bad job. So impressing them with your technical knowledge will not build a connection where they will automatically buy from you. Too many contractors pet the dog's head, walk around and then shove an estimate at the customer. If the first thing you talk about is an estimate, the customer will naturally want to talk about price and job details. You can only build job rapport by tying the estimate into the customer's needs.
  • Do use what you have learned from the customer with initial questioning to develop a specific estimate that will solve the customer's problems.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for the order. Customers contact you because they have a need. You go out and meet with that customer because you think you can fulfill that need. Your asking to do the work should not come as a surprise to anyone.
  • Do conclude the presentation by asking for the order. Something as simple as: "Would you like us to put this on our schedule?" or "How would you like to proceed?" can work nicely.
  • Don't prejudge the situation or impose your job on the customer. What if someone asked you to paint his portrait, and for a month he patiently sat for the portrait but you would not let him see it. Finally, you show him the portrait, and it is a picture of you. That would be absurd. However, many contractors have a vision of how the job should look and mistakenly paint their own portrait of the job instead of trying to understand and paint the customer's portrait.
  • Do ask open-ended questions and clarify what the customer requires. All professionals are somewhat prejudiced with their solutions. I am no different. When I talk with a contractor, I have talked with hundreds like him. I tend to prejudge his strengths and weaknesses. However, if I do not take the time to ask questions and connect with the contractor, we cannot build a relationship. Acknowledge that you have seen hundreds of jobs like this job, but remember this job is new and unique to the customer.

The Right Relationship

Ask most people what makes a good salesperson, and they describe a talker and social extrovert. Their personality of choice tends to be a person who has the gift of gab and is a shoot-the-bull kind of guy. Unfortunately, this type of person can fail miserably at sales. The salesperson may be great at building social relationships, but people will not pay more just because they like you. Both the customer and salesperson may like the same ball team, type of dog or enjoy the hobbies, but this connection has limited economic value to the customer. Only by building a job-related connection will the customer pay more for your services.

Let's talk about Joe, our typical friendly salesperson. Customers all love him; he is a great guy. His price for the job is $9,500, and the next quote is $7,500. Joe might be a great guy, but is his friendliness really worth $2,000? To make matters worse, Joe is comfortable in building social relationships and uses them as a crutch to help him sell. Unfortunately, this social side of Joe may get in the way of his building a job-related relationship.

How do you connect with people? You connect by finding common ground. Connecting socially is great, but it does not build trust and value regarding job performance. In order to connect on the estimate, you must find common ground about the job and how you can solve the customer's job-related problem. Such a connection offers an opportunity to sell job-related value.

When we go to the doctor, we want someone who can listen to us and solve our problems. We aren't looking for a buddy or a friend. People tend to look at doctors as professionals they automatically trust. Unfortunately, contractors don't start from this same prestigious position of trust, and therefore they must work harder to establish such trust. Only by listening to customers and taking the time to meet their job needs can you succeed.