Don Distel

Have you ever said no to a prospect? I just did. It was a difficult decision, but it was the right one. Late last year we received a call from a referral who sounded like a great new prospect: a well-respected family with a member who is an independent business owner. They had a lot of ideas for their home.

But after a few rushed weeks in the planning phase, my gut told me they were not a good fit for Steve Gray Renovations. The homeowner didn’t want to adhere to our process. The husband talked a lot about money, repeatedly pointing out that he always pays his bills on time. Past experience tells me that if someone constantly repeats a phrase, it likely isn’t true. We were also one of several bidders and none of us had a common set of specifications. Our team decided to walk away and refund the up-front design fee.

Prospect Guidelines

We pride ourselves on a professional reputation created by our value system: honesty, integrity, quality, and craftsmanship. We don’t want to say no, but we also don’t want to compromise our company culture. We took this opportunity to revisit our guidelines.

  • Ask non-referral prospects to review the company website. We ask that they do this to ensure that they see our style and our high-quality finishes and familiarizes themselves with our process before we set a time to meet. It helps rule out prospects who are not a fit for our company.
  • Ask a lot of questions during the first phone call. If I hear certain answers, I know the prospect will not be a good fit, and I can bow out gracefully.
  • Ask to meet at the prospect’s home to give you an opportunity to see the space and get to know the prospect’s personality and lifestyle. Prospects think they are qualifying our company during this visit when, really, we are qualifying them. When we talk about budget, I provide a price range to see how they react.
  • Ask for a design-retainer fee. Some companies offer a free sketch and price from that sketch. The problem: the sketch gets passed around from one remodeler to the next with tweaks made from one contractor to the next and the homeowners get confused and frustrated. This is not how we like to do business. Instead, we ask for a design-retainer fee for a conceptual design and construction drawing. The design allows us to create a set of construction specifications for the project and a set price. The end result: It creates a document for a buying decision. And because we’ve worked together to create the plan, we’re seen as a professional partner, and the homeowner is more likely to become our client.
  • Listen to your instincts. After years in this business, most of us have a great sixth sense. If your gut says something isn’t right, have an honest discussion with the homeowner. Maybe it is not a good fit or perhaps there is just a misunderstanding.

These guidelines have helped us to build a professional reputation and to make tough decisions about working with specific clients. I invite you to set up your own guidelines — you’ll find yourself spending more time on real business and less time on tire kickers.

—Steve Gray is the owner of Steve Gray Renovations, in Indianapolis. Steve’s vision is to bring professionalism to the home renovation industry.

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