Builders who focus on decks are “outdoor living professionals,” and unfortunately often crowded out by a plethora of handymen, amateurs, hacks, and the occasional big new-home builder “filling in” with a deck between more important projects.
Your intelligent and creative design paired with unequaled on-site craftsmanship will never matter, if you don’t first GET THE JOB, which means you need to operate on a different level than the rest of your competition.
This isn’t about marketing or advertising…that only gets you leads. It’s about what you do with those leads, and how you connect with those prospects that turns them into satisfied clients.
There are three big areas of understanding and interacting with our clients that are often overlooked, and when they are ignored it leads to lost projects, lower profits, and potential legal skirmishes. While these subtle selling skills are important to home improvement contractors in general, deck builders must get increasingly better at these important “small things” as a younger generation of clients (who often value technical information overload instead of personal relationships) become the primary buying demographic.
Unfortunately, today many in our industry consistently sell based solely on the merits of specific material (typically decking or railing) brands. Gaining the right information on your prospective client, and answering their asked (and unasked) questions in the right manner all while gently seeding the conversation with proof of your unique technical capacity is key to long-term success.
Contractors often are so focused on the unknown construction details up front, that they fail to properly “read” a client’s interests and personality. This leads them to then fail at connecting and interacting of the right levels during the all-important “estimating” stage of a potential project, and unfortunately, they won’t present the proposal in the proper manner. Missing out on any of these areas hinders your ability to move forward- and perhaps more importantly, can create areas of weakness that might compromise your profitability long-term.
Reading a client involves taking in constant information on who your prospective clients are, how they live, what interests them, and what their priorities are. The better you know who they are, the better you can craft the right solution for their needs. For instance: is there a car in the driveway? Is the garage door open? Are the items in the garage neat, or stacked to the ceiling? How’s the house- is it clean, or did you trip over a cat’s litterbox on the front step? What might be the voting preferences of your prospect- or their religious affiliations? Any color or design styles stand out- or is the house six years after they moved in still a “blank slate?” This isn’t being voyeuristic—far from it. It is a measured effort to respectfully understand what your prospective client values, what basis the work from with how they treat others, and how they might perceive other people’s input or expertise.
Attempting to connect with a client is often counterfeit; it’s not just getting a few good laughs out of them, or agreeing on a favorite sports team. It builds directly on top of the intel you gathered. A drinking story that might endear you to the homebrew aficionado might immediately offend the conservative Christian school teacher who would never dream of doing whatever it was you did in that car back in college. This is about trust—and without lying or shading the truth, you need to show yourself in a way they can understand and appreciate. For as much as the project details matter, these prospective clients are still, after all, mostly “buying you” (even if they think they’re buying a brand or a project!). As you seek to work from the information about them you acquired, and interact with them on a professional and appropriate level they can relate with, you will need to constantly monitor what they say, and how they react, fidget, or evade. These are your gauges of how well you are understanding and engaging with them.
Finally, each client needs the pertinent project details explained in a way that is technically accurate, and in a “language” that they understand… and of course you won’t know that, if you haven’t done the earlier two steps correctly! Your future client’s educational background, mannerisms, speech patterns, technical capacity, and prior home improvement experiences all add color to the lens they will use to interpret your proposal. If they are a more visual client, then extra 3D images and past project pictures will be critical, along with simpler descriptions. If they are electrical engineers, then attaching the full ICC reports for all referenced materials might be more important! And of course, reinforcing that you are the true professional throughout the proposal and/or presentation is critical. Your professional certifications, product training, and industry associations are critical to remind them about, in a manner that they will respect and appreciate.
Each of these points takes time to master, and every client is different and will present new opportunities and odd requests that will require continued refinement, learning and adaptation.