Over the past few months, my family has been fortunate enough to buy a 1925 bungalow in the neighborhood where we wanted to live. If you have ever acquired an older home with some character marks, you know that these are not perfect structures with straight lines and worry-free living. Once the inspection came back and we decided what issues we were going to immediately tackle, the sales process began with numerous contractors and specialists. None of these issues were uncommon for a home of this age in this area. We engaged specialists for the foundation, structural, electrical, floors, painting and general handyman services.
The entire experience was a vivid reminder of sales basics at work.
Basics #1 – The power of referrals from trusted advisors
My agent, Patrick Wood of Dorsey Alston, was awesome. Patrick knew that I had limited time to manage estimates and seek out all of the professionals we needed. He quickly got to work and created a list of possible providers that he works with on a regular basis for issues like these. I called a few to set up some appointments, and Patrick also got to work on his own to make things happen for us. Did I spend 12 seconds seeking out my own people? NOPE. The only people I called were direct referrals from Patrick. Why? Referrals from a trusted advisor are more powerful anyway – why bother.
Basics #2 – Responsiveness
As things heated up, we had to get multiple estimates, and these all mattered since we were still within the 21 days we had to walk away. If any of these estimates were too high or pointed to big issues with the home, we were willing to walk away – let’s say the sense of urgency was fairly obvious. I was truly amazed by the number of contractors and companies that just dragged their feet when we were painfully clear about the timelines. The companies that moved fast were in the game immediately and others who “tried to fit us in” or did not return phone calls were out of the game fast. Yes, numerous companies did not even call us back.
Basics #3 – Communication Skills
I do not want to appear to be the first person on earth to buy an old house, but this one was new to me. It was a big decision, many dollars saved were on the table, emotions were high, and we were just out of our comfort zones. Any qualified person in the mix who listened, understood what we were faced with, explained the estimates well and allowed room for us to ask and learn was still in the game. A few of the main players in the game passed the communication test, but some who chose to just work through e-mail and voice messages were eliminated from the process quickly. We had questions and needed answers.
Basics #4 – Follow-up Skills
I would expect that most companies know big decisions equate to multiple estimates and that equates to a competitive sales environment. When you send an estimate that includes drawings, technical language and multiple options, you should call the potential customer and discuss it. To my amazement numerous people sent the estimates and never even followed – not a call, not an email, not a letter in the mail, not a telegraph message, pony express nor cave wall drawings. The few that followed-up and engaged were still in the mix. I did have one company call me, take the time to explain the complex work and answer all my questions – he got the foundation work and happened to be the best price with the most value included. He responded to email, text and showed up when we needed him to. It really was that simple.
Basics #4 – Always ask for a little more – you never know where it may lead
Once you have determined that you likely have the sale, remember to ask for a bit more. The customer has already agreed to select you, and trust is already preliminarily established. This is the time to offer more options. For example, our painter offered to install a few things that were easy for them to do and were not huge financial choices. Our floor guy offered to change out the floor vents for wood ones and stain them to match the floors – an easy decision and not a huge dollar impact, given the big picture. Our handyman offered to install TV brackets that were easy for him and annoying for me. Most of the easy “add-ons” were done, and we are glad we did them. The key message – just ask, because you never know.
Basics #5 – Understand the decision landscape
It really does not matter what you are selling, you must find out who makes final decisions and how the process will unfold. Of course, in business-to-business selling, this can be much more complicated. Each one of these jobs involved a different decision path. Some were more my decision, and others, while I thought my opinion was important, were made by my wife. Many of these people never even asked how the decision was going to be made and what the key factors were in the decision process. I fielded numerous calls from the paint and floor people when clearly they should have called my wife. If you are selling to the wrong people, you increase the chance of losing.
So what did this process teach me? The stuff that I get the pleasure to teach really does work, and it is not all that complex. I can proudly say we are happily in the home we wanted, and we addressed all of the major issues that needed attention. Our little family has a place to call home in the neighborhood we wanted to be in. Happy selling ever after.