Even in a slow market, small business owners are faced with the challenge of having too much to do and not enough time to do it all. The Harvard Business School refers to this phenomenon as “resource poverty”. Simply speaking, the small business owner wears dozens of hats and as a result, has limited time and resources.
For people in this position, time is the most valuable and limited resource you have. With time being such a valuable commodity, effective business owners limit their focus to “high impact activities”. These high impact activities are specific actions that will have a positive impact on many different areas of your business.
Qualifying the right customer before going on an unproductive sales call is a high impact activity.
In a pre-qualifying phone conversation, you want spend 15 to 20 minutes interviewing your prospective customer. You conduct this qualifying conversation for the simple reason that you can’t/won’t take the time to go out on appointments with an unqualified prospect. Your time is too valuable to go on sales calls without a reasonable chance to make the sale. Here are 7 steps on qualifying a potential customer by phone.
Step 1: How did the potential customer come to call you? (Evaluate your marketing efforts)
It’s important to understand where the potential customer came from. If you can track where the lead is coming from, you can allocate additional time and resources to those activities that generate the highest number of calls.
Step 2: Review the Scope of Work (Do they really need your services)
When you reach a homeowner on the phone, let them know who you are, and ask them if they have time to talk about the work they want done. If the answer is “yes”, ask them to explain in more detail what work they need completed. When they have provided you with a short description of their project, you have two ways to go:
- If they want services that you don’t provide, ask whether you can refer them to another contactor who can provide those services.
- If you can assist them with the project they want, let them know you can help them. Then make sure you ask the following “do you mind if I ask you a few questions to find out more about what you want to do?”
a. When they respond with a “yes”, ask them to tell you more about their project. What is the full scope of work?” “What do they have in mind?”
b. You are the expert now. You ask the questions:
By asking these questions, you are now conducting the interview and controlling the flow of conversation. You can direct where the conversation goes.
Step 3: Review the Homeowner’s Sense of Urgency (Eliminate the tire kickers)
There are times when you will receive a call where the homeowner has little or no sense of urgency, but does need some assistance in planning their project. Even if this homeowner is not ready to start something right away, there may still be value. They may not be ready for an actual sales call, but you may be able to assist them by providing needed direction, or giving them a timetable that you both can start working toward. Many homeowners are not educated in the project development process, so you can provide value by giving helpful tips. Any help you provide at this stage may develop a relationship with these future clients so that when they are ready to buy, you are the person they call to move forward. These leads still have value. They just need to be developed.
Step 4: Determine a Homeowner’s Budget (Is their budget realistic?)
You need to ask this question of every homeowner. There is a cost for your services, and if they can’t afford these services, do you want to waste your time going to their house to determine that they can’t afford you? At this point in the interview, you will want to ask “do you have a budget for this project?”
This is a reasonable question to ask any homeowner. Do not feel shy about asking, and don’t be deterred if they will not share this with you. If a homeowner responds by saying they don’t have a budget, or they won’t share it with you, try this: if they want a new bathroom and won’t share their budget, respond by saying something like “I understand. Let me ask this another way. I’ve renovated bathrooms for $20,000, and I’ve done another for over $50,000. Are you closer to $20,000 or to $50,000?”
This broad pricing strategy will let you know if they have a realistic budget. If they tell you that they were thinking about spending $4,000, you may want to reconsider going out to their house. Because many homeowners have little or no experience with home remodeling, many are unprepared for the real cost of your services. This doesn’t necessarily mean that they are not a good customer. It may mean that you will have to do some home improvement education with them. Spending time with homeowners helping them understand this can turn them into a customer.
Step 5: Determine the Homeowner’s Schedule (Does their schedule match your availability?)
A key question to ask in this initial call is when the homeowner wants the work completed. For a project like a new kitchen or bathroom, design work may need to be done. There must be time set aside for planning, and selecting the appropriate cabinets and fixtures. Construction can’t begin until all of this is done. Because most homeowners have little experience with larger projects, you may need to guide them through an appropriate timeline when you review all the choices that must be made. These projects require planning and a time to review all the potential selections. When speaking with homeowners about their schedule, ask them:
- “When do you want to get started?”, or
- “When do you want your project completed?”
If their schedule is realistic, and allows for this planning period, you have a good starting point. If not, take this opportunity to educate them on a realistic timeline to develop good plans and specifications. They are only going to do this once, so make sure that they do this the right way. There are 2 primary benefits. First, it demonstrates that you are a professional in reviewing how successful projects are created. Secondly, with good advice and direction, you will probably make their project better. Doing numerous kitchen or bath projects provide you with the experience and perspective to improve upon what they are doing. This is what most homeowners want from their contactor. Waiting a few more months is not a deal killer. Establishing clear expectations before a project starts is a required starting point.
Step 6: Who Will Be Involved in the Decision Making Process (Don’t go out on “one-legger” appointments)
Who is making the final decision on a project? You need to know this prior to going out on a sales call. You will have wasted you time if you go out on a call to meet only one spouse and are told that they need to review this with their missing partner before they can move forward. With one partner missing, the person you speak with can always tell you that they can’t make a decision until consulting their partner. To counter this, ask the person you speak with on the phone who will be involved in making the buying decision. If it involves both partners, make sure both are there for your sales call.
Step 7: Review the Scope of Work with the Homeowner (Let them know you understand)
In this last step, summarize the scope of work that was reviewed in step 2. In conducting this phone interview correctly, you are not making a sales call on the phone. You are completing a review and evaluation of the “problems” that the homeowner has reviewed with you. You are determining if you can help. You are identifying the homeowner’s budget and schedule, and asking any additional questions you might have about what they want done. You are doing your “due diligence” to determine if this is a job you want. You are also determining if this is someone you want to work with.
In asking these questions, you find out a great deal about a prospective customer:
- Real prospects want to talk about their projects. In the course of a 15 to 20 minute conversation, you will get a good sense if they are a real customer. You will know when people are responding honestly, and you will know when people are withholding information. Since you are giving up several hours of your time to meet with someone, make sure the homeowner is a serious buyer.
- You may find you make a good connection with the homeowner. In a case like this, you have already pre-sold yourself. When you have a good connection with someone, your follow-up sales call is more of a formality if you have reviewed budget and schedule and both are satisfactory.
In the course of these “auditioning” calls to prospective customers, don’t try to sell anything! Just listen. Follow the 80/20 rule. Let the homeowner speak 80% of the time. Try not to speak more than 20% of the time. With these questions, you can guide the homeowner through a description of their project, and help them understand scheduling and project costs. This is the basis to a good working relationship. In the world of home remodeling, you are the expert. Guide the homeowner through this process, and they might become a good customer, and provide a steady source of future referrals. Take your time with this.
Remember your time is valuable and you want to make the most of it. One easy way to do that is to follow the seven steps to qualify your leads:
- How did they come to call you?
- Review the scope of work
- Review the homeowner’s sense of urgency
- Determine a homeowner’s budget
- Determine the homeowner’s schedule
- Don’t go out on “one-legger” appointments
- Complete a final scope of work review
By asking focused questions, you “control” the interview process, and you can move through the project evaluation quickly and efficiently. The answers to these questions will allow you to determine if they are a “real” customer or not.
Don’t go on appointments with unqualified prospects. Time is your most valuable resource. Only schedule appointments with qualified prospects!