I want to start by saying that the actual Sales Process begins well before you meet the customer in-person for the estimate.
The marketing messages you use; the way you answer the phone and the methods you use to pre-position the customer all set the table for a successful sales appointment.
Here are my 10 tips for creating the most effective estimate possible. Again, the focus is only on your actual in-person meeting:
1) Make a courtesy call on your way to the appointment.
“Hi, this is Mark from MDF Painting. I am giving you a courtesy call to let you know that I am on my way to your home and will arrive in approximately 17 minutes.”
I always make this call: when I am on-time, early or slightly late. Years ago, I would only call if I was running a few minutes late.
Now I call each and every time for two main reasons. First, it reminds them of the appointment which can be helpful if they are running late or neglected to remember our meeting. Secondly, it sets the stage for a professional meeting and it separates us from most of our competitors.
2) Make sure you cover the basics
You have heard this all before but it is worth repeating. Show up on time, wear a clean uniform (for me this is a polo shirt with an embroidered logo), drive a neat, clean vehicle (a stenciled truck would be ideal).
I always introduce myself with eye contact, a handshake and a smile. I always say: “Hi, I am Mark with MDF Painting. Thank you for inviting me to your home to help on this project.”
4) Give a gift
We give out cookies from a local bakery shaped like our logo. In the past we have given out t-shirts, coloring books for kids, biscuits for pets, etc. I think that giving a small gift is a subtle way of saying “thank you” for inviting me to your home.
5) Control the order of things by letting them lead the way
Years ago, I would try to get all my questions answered before the customer started to show me the actual scope of work. Now, I start things out after my introduction by simply saying: “How can I help you?”
This “how can I help you” mentality is really the key to the entire estimate. By saying it out loud I allow the customer the opportunity to unload all the information that they want me to know. I think this is important because as we discuss the project they are more open to listening to me and internalizing my questions.
Sometimes when someone has something on their mind to tell you, they tend to subconsciously ignore what you are saying until they have the opportunity to give you all the information.
6) Ask smart questions, every single time
Every successful estimate must include a discussion of: price, past contractor experiences, customer needs (the not so obvious ones) and the homeowner’s decision making process.
The difference between a rookie estimator and a seasoned salesperson is how well you can slip your questions in during a conversation. I find that if you simply ask your questions one after another in an interview style, you generally lose some trust and make it difficult for the customer to open up.
The real key is to be genuinely interested in helping them and to slip your questions in naturally during your conversation.
7) How to slip in your key questions rather than interrogate your customer
Most customers want to tell you about the details of the work and many want to physically show you the scope. This is your time to take notes and listen.
Actively listen and ask smart questions that are scope-related. At some point while examining the scope you should ask:
“Have you hired a painting contractor in the past? How was that experience?”
If the customer simply says: “It was a good experience,” you should then ask:
“How could it have been better?”
This question is meant to elicit more information about the customer’s hot buttons. Their answer tends to tell you exactly what they care about most.
For example, if the customer says that the last contractor was reliable and did a good job but destroyed her plants and then never came back to fix the problem. This is information that you should definitely use to contract around. When presenting your price and your recommended scope at the end of your meeting, you should put great emphasis on your set-up process, the steps you take to protect landscaping and the protocol you have in place for daily clean up. You may also want to talk about your touch-up programs and the fact that you encourage past customers to call you in the future for any issues.
Other questions you should ask include:
“What does your decision making process look like?”
“How many other quotes have you received so far? Were they similar in price or was there a large range?”
“What is the most important factor in who you decide to hire as your painting contractor?”
From these questions you will find out who is making the final decision and how important price versus quality is to the customer. Some customers may be very transparent and tell you exactly what their other prices were but most will tend to withhold that information until after you give them your price. This is also the time when you should explain to the customer that you will be putting together a detailed proposal with a fixed price while you are still on-site. You should also be very direct and tell them that you like to talk openly about the price to see if it is something they want to schedule. This sets the stage for you to review your proposal and pricing later on.
8) Let the show begin
After you the customer has showed you the scope of work and you have asked your questions, you are ready to begin creating the actual estimate for the project.
At this stage, I explain to the customer that it will take me 20-30 minutes to take detailed notes and measurements and then another few minutes for me to enter all the information into my tablet in order to give them a fixed price quote.
I ask if they have any questions right now and then I give them my company packet.
This packet is a professionally printed folder including nearly 100 pages of documents: testimonials, license, certificate of insurance pages, references and tons of information about the products we prefer and the processes we use.
While they review this information, I put on a show of snapping photos, touching surfaces and measuring.
I have been estimating residential homes for over 20 years. I can often “eyeball” a space and very accurately estimate man hours of labor and gallons of material; however, I will always be detailed in taking notes and measurements.
First, accuracy will help you in determining a price and later in executing the job. Secondly, being detailed oriented in examining surfaces and measuring will make the customer feel that you are professional and this in turn will make the trust you more.
The more they trust you, the more likely they are to hire you. You may be capable of “eyeball” measurements, especially when looking at interior rooms; however, always use a tape measure, laser measure or a wheel–your sales rate will improve just by doing this alone.
9) Calculate your estimate and print out a proposal on the spot
Personally, I like using Brat’s Paint Cost Estimator Pro. This an inexpensive app that you can easily use on a mini-iPad in the field. I use this simple app along with a WiFi hotspot from my cell phone carrier ($20/month) and an HP wireless printer (under $100) to print out a proposal in my vehicle. This entire process generally takes me between 5 minutes and 30 minutes depending on the size of the project.
10) Review the proposal and ask for the job
With a printed proposal and an fixed price in hand, you will return to the customer to review everything.
This is the point where you should actively use the customer’s hot buttons as you explain the proposal. Be sure to highlight your services in such a way that you are focusing more on their needs as you explain your processes. For example, if the customer is very concerned about her plants, you should spend a lot of time talking about landscape protection and less time explaining all the details of oil-based primers. You must cover all the elements of your process but should focus most on what is most important to that specific customer.
After reviewing your proposal you should tell them the specific price and ask:
“Is my price right in the range of your other quotes?”
Usually this is the time when a customer will be very transparent with you about their other prices. They may tell you something different than what they had said when asked earlier about their other estimates.
It is important to always ask:
“I would love to get you into my upcoming work schedule. Would you like to hire us for this project?”
Many painting contractors become very timid when discussing price and they never ask this question. It is your job to verbally ask this question at every estimate. The customer may say “no,” but you must always ask.
If the customer does not commit to the job on the spot but says they will “talk it over” or “discuss with a spouse,” then take the opportunity to schedule a Next Step Agreement (NSA).
An NSA involves you writing down an exact day and time in which it would be best for you to call the customer to follow up on the proposal. Physically take out a pen & paper or open a calendar on your phone and set the appointment up right there in front of the customer. Explain that it is just a friendly 5-minute call to check-in, see if they have any additional questions and ask if they want to get into your schedule before you are completely booked.
Obviously phone, email and mailed follow ups are essential to any sales process. Additionally, there are many nuances that can be added to each of the steps above but this is the basic format I use to close sales for MDF Painting and it is the same system I teach to painting contractors around the country.
Mark A. DeFrancesco is the president of MDF Painting & Power Washing and founder of PainterMarketingTool.com, a website design and marketing service for painting contractors. He teaches owners how to create “Set It and Forget It” Online Marketing Systems. Learn more and schedule a free strategy call at www.PainterMarketingTool.com.