If you're a baseball player, getting one hit out of every three pitches is a sure ticket to the hall of fame.
But if you're running a small business in the building industry, that kind of percentage for sales pitches could spell trouble. "It probably means you're spending more time talking at prospective customers rather than listening to them," says Debra Ellis, a business consultant who provides sales growth advice to construction-related businesses. Ellis says businesses should strive for a 50 percent or better success rate when it comes to landing sales with qualified prospects.
So how do you increase your chances of turning a prospect into a customer? It's not a matter of luck. You need to create a system of best practices for yourself and your sales team to ensure that customer development is a science rather than a twist of fate. Here's how:
Sure, there's advertising, trade shows and general networking, but the key to transforming prospects into sales is lending distinction to your brand. When you're more visible in your target communities, you'll generate more prospects. When you've distinguished your business among competitors in those communities, you'll likely turn those prospects into customers. So how do you do this? Establishing yourself as a star in your field certainly can pay dividends. "You can write how-to articles in local newspapers or a popular blog," Ellis says. "This establishes you as an expert and builds trust and brand awareness. Teach workshops on how to improve your home's value, reduce utility costs or whatever else you could provide as a paid service. And make sure you invite the media to these workshops." Posting that workshop on your site via web cam-or even uploading to YouTube and social sites-is another way to raise visibility.
There are plenty of businesses out there that do what you do, so you need to do it well. Maybe you're the best green friendly residential renovator around. Or perhaps you're extremely skilled at providing modern electrical upgrades in older homes. Or you have a special talent for building a retaining wall that's both elegant and useful. Whatever your niche, you need to exploit it to stand out from your competitors.
"If you line up any three established building industry small businesses and put their marketing materials on a table, or pull up their web sites, you'll often be hard pressed to find one reason to pick one over the other," says Practical Marketing Expert Stacy Karacostas of www.success-stream.com, her web site through which she provides resources for builders. "They all typically do design/build. They all build to code. They all use nice granite for kitchen countertops. So they battle for customers on price, which can cut into revenue. You want to make it clear that you have something different to offer. That will turn prospects into customers, and customers into referrals."
Many sites are bogged down with flashy but relatively pointless eye candy, at the expense of providing an easy-to-navigate user experience that brings prospects to the point of sale rapidly. ThomasNet.com, an industrial destination featuring more than 607,000 companies in 67,000 categories, estimates that a site has no more than five to eight seconds to convince a user that it has what he or she is looking for. According to ThomasNet, sites must allow users to search for specific items and services in multiple ways. They should allow for comparisons with respect to price, scope of project and other factors. And they need to provide a number of options for prospects to request additional information and/or make a purchase, with phone and email contact information on all pages, request-for-estimates links and other tools that bring the customer closer to the point of sale.
Many prospects get turned off because they want to have a conversation with the business owner, or a representative in the field, but they get a sales pitch instead. "While it's tempting to jump in with the sales pitch, you need to invest your time in understanding what the customer's needs are," Ellis says.
If you had a good initial sales call, the difference between getting the job and losing it to a competitor can be as simple as sending a thank-you card or e-mail after the call. So make sure you and your sales leaders are constantly reminding prospective customers that your business will be there for them. "In addition to a thank you, you can send them a helpful article or FAQ that addresses what the customer discussed," Karacostas says. "It demonstrates your professionalism, and that you have their interests at heart."
Call them and ask if they are satisfied with the project, the work ethic and overall professionalism of your crew and any other customer-centric needs. Make sure they get a promotional product such as a magnet with your logo and contact information for their refrigerator. Ask if it's ok to send literature-in print and/or via email or enewsletter-about future sales or special offerings. "Most customers are lost by neglect," Ellis says. "It's a personal touch that separates you from your competitors."