Help Yourself, and Your Clients


In last month’s column (October issue), “Anatomy of an Initial Sales Call,” I reviewed the highlights of an incoming prospect call during which my prospect, Joe, began the call by asking: “Is there anyone available to discuss building a custom home?” The column concluded with Joe accepting my request to meet.

If he had lived nearby, I would have suggested we meet at my office. Instead, I suggested we meet at a local coffee shop around the corner from where he had a property under contract.

I drove by the site before the meeting so I was familiar with the property. It had an old home on it they intended to demolish. I began by asking which questions I could answer for them. When working with a couple, I find it critical to quickly assess if there is a dominant individual and then address the majority of my focus toward him or her. It was immediately obvious that Mary was more immersed in the process than Joe. Although the dominant person is not necessarily the decision maker, I find I need to connect with the alpha of the pair or I will have a lower likelihood of success.

Experience has taught me that I am much better off starting the interaction by finding out what they want to know as opposed to focusing on selling the virtues of hiring me or my company. Mary began by explaining she was feeling stressed and overwhelmed already. She explained that after they were under contract, they discovered the lot was substandard to current zoning for overall size, and a variance was required. Her lawyer had not advised her of this condition prior to their signing the contract. Mary asked: “What time and budget are required for obtaining a variance?”

Loaded question, right? I told her: “Don’t shoot the messenger. But first, you should be entitled to void the agreement. You may need another lawyer other than the one you have. If you want to proceed, you will need a planner, engineer, surveyor, lawyer and about two to four months of coordinating, preparing, notifying neighbors and paying town application fees and attending one or more evening Board of Adjustment hearings. And you may or may not get what you seek. Total estimated cost can be anywhere from $7,500 to two or three times that amount.”

Although it was not my intent, my summary increased their doubts, fears and stress levels. Variance applications in New Jersey are as I described, but clearly none of their advisers had given them a clear vision of what they were about to tackle. So, I asked them if I could offer my help and outlined my proposal for them.

“Why don’t I send you my Professional Services Agreement so you can take advantage of my experience having gone through dozens of variance applications? I can hire the professionals required on your behalf. I can manage the process for you. I will charge you a small fee for my time. It will be only a fraction of what my involvement is truly worth because I am only offering you this service for one reason: If you are successful with your variance application, then you will know me and my company. You will be in a position to feel comfortable hiring me as your builder. You will only be committed to the terms of the PSA. Would you like me to send you a proposal?”

EXPERIENCE has taught me that I am much better off starting the interaction by finding out what they want to know.

Mary asked me how much I would charge. I answered I needed to think about it but would e-mail a PSA proposal in a few days.

Below is an abbreviated version of the preamble of the PSA they received:

“This PSA is for the purpose of detailing the professional services that the Builder will provide to the Client to assist in the lot acquisition, plan selection/design and estimating of the cost to build one new single-family home on Client’s property.

  • We offer this service with the express purpose of assisting the Client with defining the new home project so that we can demonstrate to you our ability to work with you as a key member of your team needed to build your new home.
  • Although Client is not obligated, we would like the result of this PSA to be an Agreement between us to build your dream home!”

Every PSA is customized within an existing framework. Have you considered using a PSA to enhance your sales efforts? Feel free to contact me at for additional help creating your PSA.

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