Remodelers tend to waste a lot of time chasing leads that end up going with the low bid from the guy working out of his garage. Sometimes that's just the type of person the client is, and all you can do is improve your qualification process. Other times, you just didn't do a good enough job of differentiating your company.
It's a tough task, says sales and marketing expert Mike Cohen of Remodeling Success Systems in Cumming, Ga. To the prospect at a sales meeting, "even the best and worst [remodelers] look and sound the same." For remodelers not blessed with a silver tongue, using the right presentation tools can make all the difference.
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One of the more common sales tools is the information packet, often called a "leave behind" because it's left with the prospect after the first sales meeting. Many remodelers now use the materials in the packet during the sales call to guide the presentation, while others mail the packet before the meeting. However it's used, the packet physically represents the company, so a professional look is a must.
Michael Menn of Design + Construction Concepts, Northbrook, Ill., hired a professional marketing firm to ensure a professional image for his $2 million company. All items in his packet, from the testimonial brochure to the copy of his newsletter, echo the same clean, black-and-red theme and feature the company's professionally designed logo. The consistency is key, says Menn. "It's the repetition. It's the brand awareness."
But looks will only get you so far. To ensure the content sets you apart, Cohen recommends a packet contain at least the following items: a simple cover letter; a consumer guide (like NARI's How to Select a Remodeling Professional); references; company newsletters; testimonials; copies of your warranty, license, insurance, and association membership certificates; and color photos of projects.
Cohen also recommends adding a "why-I'm-different page" that includes "your credentials, experience, a bio, number of customers served, things like that." Reprints of articles featuring your company or copies of awards you've won can take your packet up a notch. It needs to detail "in both image and statistical/historical data how you're different," Cohen says.
Beyond the Paper
Creative remodelers today use much more than the printed page to sell their work. Tim Cross of Merrick Construction, Rumson, N.J., gives a 15-minute before-and-after videotape to his potential clients. He says it's particularly effective with non-referral leads. "A lot of people are hesitant about going to someone's house they don't know and walking around," Cross says. "So this gives them a chance to walk through someone's house while they're sitting in their living room."
Cross saved money by doing the taping himself, and he made sure to get both wide shots for the overall look and zooms to show the quality in the details. A professional editing company put the final product together, complete with music and a voice-over, for less than $500.
Cross plans to do a new video with a professional videographer. "Videotaping is not easy," he warns, and having the whole piece done professionally makes for a slicker product. To get quality taping at a minimal cost, Mike Cohen suggests hiring either a wedding videographer who gives discounts for weekday work or a semi-professional, like "the college student who's in the graphic arts department." He also warns against overlooking the importance of the label on the cassette. "One of the keys to having a best-selling book is the title," he says. "It should compel them to watch it." Cohen suggests having the homeowner comment on the project on the tape, too, which gives the prospect a living testimonial.
The Next Level
Tech-savvy remodelers have begun using CAD presentations at sales calls to give clients a sense of exactly what they're agreeing to pay for. Jim Mirando, president of Excel Interior Concepts and Construction in Lemoyne, Pa., brings his laptop when he meets with qualified leads in their home. He uses it to give a PowerPoint presentation that walks the prospects through the remodeling process and shows pictures of past jobs, but he goes a step further by pulling up his CAD program, SoftPlan, and showing them some possible floor plans for their project. He says clients appreciate it. "Some of it is psychological for them. They get a sense that we're going to be very professional," Mirando says. "It helps them visualize, and [makes] them feel we're up on the latest technology." This perception helps Mirando move the clients to the next step of signing a design agreement.
Tom Riggs of Riggs Construction in St. Louis uses an LCD projector to give qualified leads a computer presentation in his office's new conference room. The designer, salesperson, and prospects can all sit in comfort and watch the screen as floor plans (and sometimes basic elevations, depending on their level of confidence in the sale) come up on the screen.
If the clients like what they see (and Riggs says they usually do), the salesperson can pull up a scope of work onto the screen. After making any adjustments, the design agreement comes up next. The salesperson and client work out the details and make any changes on the spot. They can then print out the agreement and get it signed right there. "It's streamlined things considerably," Riggs says. "Before, getting a design agreement could take up to six or seven visits, but now it just seems to click."
In terms of the "wow" factor, though, no CAD presentation can beat Rick Glickman's, of Dream Kitchens in Skokie, Ill. Once prospects send in their dimensions and a retainer fee, Glickman creates a drawing on his photo-realistic CAD program, Planit Future Vision. Then he shows the clients what their remodel will look like on a big-screen TV. He finds his older clients tend to be intimidated by computer screens, but they can relate to the television format more easily. And far from a line drawing, the high-end CAD system creates a virtual home, complete with flowers on the table and a view out the window. The most common reaction he gets from prospects: "Honey, I think that's our house."
The top-notch software, fast computer, special video card, and big-screen TV will add up to $8,000 or more, but Glickman says the presentation sets him apart from the competition and has shortened his sales cycle by one to two visits.
Mirando, Riggs, and Glickman all suggest that remodelers get to know a CAD program backward and forward before using it during a sales presentation. "You can't be fumbling around or it's just going to have the opposite effect," Mirando says. But using it right "helps present a professional image up front."
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