Being the manager of a small building company in Middle America, I’ve learned that there are many things you do to survive and grow in ever-changing economies.
Our company focus and goals have always been to keep a reputation that we are here before, during and after the sale. We want every customer to want to do business with us again.
Repeat business is your best gauge in determining how well you and your company are perceived by potential customers. How you go about establishing a relationship with a customer will gain you more business than any kind of advertising that says that you are “the biggest, the best, the fastest or the cheapest.”
Price isn’t always the reason people choose a builder. Potential customers are looking for someone who will help them look out for their best interest and give them the best value.
Recently I had the pleasure of attending the NFBA-sponsored Frame Building Expo held in Columbus, Ohio. The keynote speaker, Ted Garrison, spoke to us about “Value and Price.” He reminded us that, the purpose of our business is “to get and keep customers.”
I thought that one of his best quotes was, “If you are not unique or provide value, all you can do is to compete on price.”
To illustrate his point on price and value, he asked the audience if everyone thought that $3 per gallon of gasoline was high or not. Most everybody thought that it was. “Who would be willing to walk 20 miles to save that $3?” he asked. Nobody raised a hand; the value here outweighs the price.
We should keep this in mind every time we talk to a customer. Even if he or she is not a potential repeat customer, he or she can “pass the good word” to family or friends. Satisfied customers will recommended someone they have good experience with — and that’s worth more than any ad you could possibly imagine.
I have developed a few guidelines that I use every time I talk to a new or repeat customer.
Be a good listener. Somewhere I heard that we were put on this earth with two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk. Take the time to listen to what your customers say and try to get an understanding of “what they like, why they like it, what they don’t like and what motivates them.”
By understanding how they think and “putting yourself in their shoes,” you can come up with ideas that will benefit them and their particular situations. A lot of salespeople that I have encountered over the years like to talk about themselves and how much they know about their product. They talked a lot, but didn’t solve my situation. So, guess what — I looked for someone else to help me.
Be punctual. If you inconvenience your customer by not showing up on time for appointments, or not returning phone calls promptly, you probably have hurt your chances to establish any kind of long-term relationship.
Be positive. Most people like to associate themselves with other people who have a positive outlook on everything. My son is a manager of a fitness facility in Austin, Texas. The owner of the business, whom I have met and have a lot of respect for, told him when they started the business, to “interact with all customers like you are having the best day of your life…your customers don’t really care about any of your personal problems, they care about theirs…leave any personal problems you may have at home.”
Be honest. You lose credibility if you exaggerate your knowledge of your product or your abilities, or if you give unrealistic start and completion times. Most customers place a high value on being able to trust their builder.
Be informative. Go into every sales call with the intent to help your customer to get what is in their “best interest.” Make suggestions and follow them up with the pros and cons of each. You can confuse your customer if you attempt to give them too much information at one time. So go slowly and see how they respond to each suggestion. Volunteer to them that, if possible, you can get them any additional information that might help them make a decision.
Repeat business doesn’t just happen; it is a direct result of your efforts to help your customer throughout the entire building process. Treat your customers well.
With a few words they may turn potential customers against you, or they may just be better advertising than money can buy. n
Ralph Twellman is general manager of Bilt Rite Buildings in Ashland, Mo., and served on the NFBA Board of Directors from 2005-2008.