Siegal: Selling Is the Next Big Technology Challenge
authors Scott Siegal | February 10, 2021
A year like no other forced our company into the future of home improvement sales. When the pandemic prompted a shutdown last March, we were like every other business in the home improvement industry. Even if you have a disaster plan in place—and most companies don’t—how do you plan for a super contagious and potentially lethal virus?
We had to figure it out, one piece at a time. One good thing about the business we’re all a part of is that the need for the service we offer never goes away. Lead flows showed that our customers were still out there. We also had backlog. Moreover, where many businesses were ordered closed, ours was classified as essential.
Selling Was the Biggest Hump
But we had to work things out. One, for instance, was how to operate in a way that kept our frontline employees safe. All person-to-person contact had to be rethought. We arranged for office employees to work at home and mandated use of personal protection equipment for those who had to interact with others.
Selling was a bigger challenge. We had one really lousy month. Prospects canceled appointments, asked for emailed estimates or refused to meet with us. So, with appointments booked and no shortage of leads, how best should we go forward?
Some of our competitors continued to dispatch reps to the house. Others emailed quotes to prospects. Neither approach appealed to us. Not only did many homeowners not want salespeople in the home, but salespeople weren’t thrilled about being exposed to potential infection.
As far as emailing an estimate goes, that’s not the same thing as selling a job. It’s not even half of it. When you email a quote, price is the only thing customers look at.
We distanced. We worked from home. And we communicated the approach we were taking in our advertising, promotional materials and on social media. We soon realized we needed to find a way to have an online conversation to sell that proposal.
Why Not Use Zoom?
Like a lot of companies, we’d started using Zoom so that employees operating remotely could communicate. Video capability was the big attraction. You’re face-to-face in real time. A few weeks into the pandemic we began to give thought to the idea of using Zoom for sales calls.
We’d considered online sales before. We’d even talked with some software vendors. At that point we weren’t completely sold. Also, there was the problem that online selling seemed to work for small projects but not for anything big-ticket or complicated.
Now we needed a solution that would enable us to close business online. Our sales effort aims to communicate what makes a job by our company unique, and why that’s worth paying more for. A month into lockdown, since customers were already using Zoom for business and personal interaction, arranging a Zoom sales meeting seemed the way to go.
Kitchen Table vs. Computer Screen
Here’s how it works: We set up a no-contact visit to inspect the property. Then we arrange a livestream meeting where reps present their proposal.
We reworked our sales presentation to accommodate the online format. It’s different. We quickly discovered the attention span on Zoom diminishes rapidly. It’s the nature of the medium. Time is key. You’re just not going to hold anyone’s interest for much more than an hour.
We had to figure out a way to condense our standard one-hour and 15-minute presentation by about 20 percent. It takes close to an hour before you get your price out. That leaves a few more minutes to overcome price objections.
Like anything else, the more we did it, the easier it became. We found out there’s not a big difference between the kitchen table and the computer screen. Customers were grateful to buy safely, and reps could meet with many more prospects in a day because a lot of drive time was eliminated.
No Going Back
In early spring, no one was really sure how long the pandemic would last. Why make substantial changes if it was only going to go on for a few weeks? But at a certain point, “a few weeks” went away and we were into something that seemed, then anyway, without end.
A year later, the pandemic is still raging, but vaccines have put the end within sight. So, here’s the big question: Will we return to the sales process we used before? No way.
Online is how we sell now. Sure, it was an adjustment moving sales to Zoom. But we found online to be just as effective and far more efficient. Plus, homeowners are not just used to this, they prefer it.
There are big advantages for small contracting companies in adapting new technology to different company functions. There’s also resistance. It requires time, money and attention.
That said, online selling will happen whether anyone wants it to or not. Remember when marketing was mostly newspaper ads, fliers and postcards? Or when it was mostly shows and events? Today, most homeowners find you online.
Selling will be the next big tech challenge. Most contractors aren’t thinking about it and won’t change unless they have to. That could work to your advantage. It has for us. QR