One of the most important tasks of a remodeling company is to only work with those folks who are a good fit for what the company is looking for in a client. In other words, who do you want to play with you in your sandbox?
When a business owner starts out, he/she tends to keep the barriers to engagement very low, as getting more business seems to matter most. As the business experiences success, a challenge arises: Seeking to engage only with those who you can work with well and who want what you are selling.
So how to handle telling someone they are not a fit? Here is how to set up the expectation early in the relationship.
In the initial call with the potential client, set up a clear understanding of the call's purpose:
“Mrs. Smith, thanks for calling our company. I understand that you were referred by Sue Thompson, a client of ours for some time now. What did she tell you about us?”
Spend some time here asking clarification questions. You will learn a lot about the potential client by doing so.
“Let’s agree upon the purpose of this call, okay? You are looking to learn if what we do is a good fit for what you are looking for in a client, right? And we are looking to learn if what you are looking for in a contractor is a good fit for what we do. Does that make sense?"
Also say this:
"So, let’s agree that at any time during our call either of us can say to the other ‘I think there is not a fit’ and then we will part ways. How does that sound? The alternative is we try to make it work when one of us doesn’t even think it ever will. That would not be good, would it?”
After clearly setting up the expectation that both parties are to figure out if there is a fit and that the relationship will only proceed further if there is mutual desire for it to do so, it is a bit easier to end the relationship sooner than later.
Let's see how the set-up early in the call would evolve.
“Now that we have agreed upon the purpose of our conversation, let me ask you what you hope to cover, what questions you have for me, during our call? What I will do is write down what you are telling me and then read back to you what I have written down so that I will know whether or not I have heard you correctly.”
After doing this, give the client your agenda:
“Mrs. Smith, now that I have a clear idea of your agenda, let me share with you what is in my agenda. I hope to ask you some questions that will help me determine if what we do is a good fit for you and if your concerns are a good fit for what we do, as we discussed earlier in our conversation. Will you help me by answering my questions?"
So far, you have established a clear purpose and an understanding about the respective agendas of the potential client and you. Now it's time to cover some practical logistical items.
"Okay, we have a clear understanding of what we each hope to accomplish during our call. I think we will be speaking about 20 minutes or so. Do you have the time right now to do that? If not, we can schedule another date/time to talk."
Be ready for other conditions, too.
"I think I hear a child in the background. Will he/she allow you to be able to stay focused on the call or would it be better if we set up another date/time to talk when your child is napping or being taken care of by someone else?
Can we agree that if another call comes in on either of our phones we will not take it so we can stay focused on our conversation?”
What you are doing in reviewing these and other logistical concerns is making it more likely that the call won't be interrupted or derailed by circumstances. Again, being really clear here is important to establish that YOU are in control, not the potential client.
By the way: If the potential client bristles at any of what you have been saying you have found out that you should not work with him! Better sooner than later that you learn that, as you will be avoiding lots of grief spread out over many months.
So now it is time to agree upon what the outcome of the call will be.
“Mrs. Smith, thanks for what we have agreed to so far regarding this call. Finally, let’s agree upon the outcome of the call.
At the end of our call we will either be setting up the next call or a meeting because BOTH of us feel there is a good mutual fit between what we are each looking for and what the other is providing. Or either one of us can say that there is no reason or interest in moving forward together.Can we agree to do that at the end of our call?”
What you have done is established a PALO with the potential client, covering the Purpose, Agendas of the potential client and yourself, the Logistics, and the Outcome. You are much more in control, consequently, than if you let the client manage the call.
How do you proceed to free up the potential client’s future if you feel there is not a fit?
“Mrs. Smith, thanks for talking with me. Based on what you told me about what you are looking for in a contractor [or it could be the type of job she wants done, the terms she wants for the working relationship, where the project is located, or any number of reasons] I feel it is best if we don’t proceed any further, per what we agreed to early on as the purpose of this call.
That being said, I want to help you. Here is the contact info for the lumberyard we work with. Call them and ask them for the names of some contractors who might be a better fit for you than we are.
Also, here is the link to the membership list of the NARI chapter [or HBA, the NAHB Remodelers, or the like] that we are members of. Reach out to some of these contractors and see what you find.
Finally, let me know how it goes. I am interested in you having a successful project that has you working with someone who is a good fit for you.”
By doing so, you have provided alternative resources and expressed your interest in her project being done well. You alsoleft her with good stories to tell about having interacted with you.
Now it all sounds pretty straight-forward reading what I wrote. It doesn’t always go so smoothly, I will be the first to admit. However, the clearer you are about who you will or will not allow to play with you in your sandbox, the more fun you will have with those you decide to play with!