By Brian Bower
Several years ago, at a time when I was still pretty wet behind the ears, a young, attractive woman invited me to join our local Chamber of Commerce and attend a meeting with her.
“Sure,” I said. “I’ll give it a shot.” I showed up for the event and met a bunch of banker types, and it seemed like everyone was a vice president of something or other. I was just starting to get comfortable when the woman who had invited me explained that it was customary for new members to stand up and tell everyone about his or her business.
As luck would have it, I didn’t go first. Another guy stood up before me and talked for a few minutes about his carpet-cleaning business – a trade he obviously found to be less than stimulating. He spoke in a monotone voice and made carpet cleaning sound like, well, carpet cleaning. Inspired by his lack of enthusiasm, I decided to
try a more positive approach.
When my turn came, I stood up and told this group of experienced business leaders that I did much more than dig holes and fill them with steel, concrete and water. “In fact,” I told them, “I make a product that provides health, fitness and relaxation, extends people’s lives, improves their quality of life, keeps families together, cools them off when it’s hot, relieves stress when they’re weary, creates visual art and beautifies their homes.”
In other words, I really got into it – and they stood and applauded when I finished. Later on, I received a number of positive comments and was warmly welcomed into the group.
THE MORAL OF THE STORY
It didn’t take much brainpower to realize that the reason I’d made a connection with these people – right after the gentleman with the carpet-cleaning service had almost put them to sleep – was that I had a positive mindset. Because I was proud of what I did for a living and was eager to tell them about it, the audience responded in a positive way.
It was a powerful lesson. It showed me that mindset has a huge effect on the things you say and how you say them, on the way you act and therefore on the impressions you make on other people. In the time since that meeting, I’ve come to appreciate how critical a positive mindset is to business success, because everyone you meet is either a potential customer or a potential referral. You just never know how the things you say today (and to whom) may influence whether or not you get a sale later on.
I’ve found since then that I tend to gravitate toward people who share this positive mindset, both in the industry and in my community. I’m at my best with people who represent their businesses with enthusiasm and confidence.
In my own case, this positive approach to watershaping means I won’t ruin the good moods customers have when they call me; rather, I reinforce them and build upon them in every way I can by being upbeat. And I see a big difference between knowing this and practicing it: In other words, having the right outlook and saying and believing positive things won’t do much good unless you take the attitude out for a spin.
After my Chamber of Commerce experience, I began to work systematically in my community at stacking the deck in my favor. I became involved with a variety of organizations that let me rub elbows with professional (and generally upscale) people. In marketing terms, I made these folks my “target demographic group” – a set of people who feel good about what they do and are likely to have money and enjoy the good life.
One big step I took in this direction was joining the American Institute of Food & Wine. For one thing, I really enjoy food and wine. For another, my involvement in this organization puts me in an atmosphere where I’m selling all the time, although it never really seems like that’s what I’m doing. I get to know people; when the time comes for installing a pool or spa, they start with me – and so selling becomes an easy, natural extension of an activity I enjoy.
HORNS OF PLENTY
The great thing about this kind of “community prospecting” is that there are so many different types of organizations that fill the bill.
For starters, I strongly recommend joining your local Chamber of Commerce. You should also look into local service organizations like the Rotary Club or the Kiwanis; if that’s not your thing, get involved with your local Little League or some other type of family-oriented organization.
As long as you have that positive mindset in joining and participating, the networking and prospecting will come naturally. You’ll find yourself building alliances with other business people, increasing your credibility and your standing among your peers. You’ll also make friends, do business with friends and get referrals to their friends. Hands down, it’s an easier way to go than making cold calls.
In fact, this networking is my total advertising program: I don’t run print ads or radio or television ads; instead, I make customer satisfaction my marketing approach.
To do so, I always try to do something in the process of the job that makes the customer happy. I’ll get more specific about this in future columns, but if I have to spend an extra $300 on some special feature that isn’t in the contract, I don’t make a fuss about it: I just figure that this is my “marketing budget.” In other words, I even look in a positive way at the problems you inevitably run into in the course of installing any sort of watershape.
As you take this mindset out for regular spins, you’ll find that something great will start happening. Before long, in fact, you’ll find that everything comes together – that the positive mindset supports the personal prospecting you follow up with personal service – and then with service to the referral business that flows your way. What happens is that the sales-and-marketing aspect of your business becomes a part of your everyday life; you don’t ever feel like you need to force it.
There are enough of you out there who know me well enough to know that I practice what I preach. To me, a positive mindset, appropriately applied, is the difference between the suede-shoe/aluminum-siding, mercenary type of sales and selling by participating in your local economy.
WHEN THE PHONE RINGS
Let’s pull all of this grandiose stuff into focus with a look at what I do with the initial phone call and see how a positive mindset influences things from the first “hello.”
When I’m contacted by a prospective client, the first thing I do is pull out a folder, put his or her name on it and grab a pad of paper for taking notes. The second thing I do is remind myself – and even at this stage I still need this – that my job here is to gather information rather than make a sale. (I like to think of myself as a detective and the folder as my case file.)
From the first seconds of the conversation, I take notes on anything the customer says with the thought I may be able to use it later on. If the prospective customer has a good grip on the process, I don’t have to say much and can get away with asking a few key questions. If he or she isn’t so forthcoming, I use the questions to build the conversation – taking notes on everything they say.
Ultimately, these pages of notes and details inform everything I do, from the initial design of the pool to the small courtesies I’ll extend as the job progresses.
This isn’t easy, by any means. It’s hard to be quiet when you want to sell yourself and your skills, and it can be even harder to resist the temptation to run out ahead of the customer and start making assumptions that will get you in trouble later on (or even right away). To keep myself in line, I always bear in mind that way too many people have been programmed to be afraid of our industry and are conditioned to ask about cost right up front.
So I hold back and try not to think about how nice it would be if this or that client would just pick up a pen and sign on the dotted line. What I do instead is really try to figure out what the customer is after in general terms before I even begin to think about the specifics of the design. That way, when I talk about dollars later on, I’m representing a project that is customized for the client’s needs and desires.
I’m always after a few key facts about the customer and his or her family. Who lives at home? How many kids? What ages? (This fact alone is huge: If the customer has small children, for example, I know I’ll need to deal with safety. If there are teenagers, it’s likely the pool will see a lot of use and will lead me to define a whole set of possibilities from diving wells to slides.) And it impresses the customer later on in the process when I remember details such as the children’s names – all from asking, “Do you have kids?”
SETTING A CHECKLIST
The family question is just the tip of the iceberg. As the customer loosens up, I work in a whole set of questions that will assist me in defining and meeting needs and desires. And mind you, this is before I’ve even met the customer and his or her family or seen the backyard in which the pool ultimately will be installed!
[ ] What prompted consideration of the project? We know from industry marketing studies that the decision to buy a pool can take years. How a customer answers this question gives me insight into how long they’ve been considering buying a pool or spa and who is driving the decision – husband, wife or both.
[ ] How did you come to me? It’s very important to keep track of referrals for a variety of reasons: You can tell, for instance, how well your prospecting efforts are working, and it never hurts to follow up with the person who actually gave the new client the referral if for no other reason than to say “Thanks!”
[ ] Who will be using the pool? This tells you more about the family (which in this day and age of divorces, remarriages and mixed families can fit any number of profiles) and gives you an idea of how the pool will be used. If exercise comes up, for example, file the thought “lap pool” in the back of your mind. If relaxation comes up, think “spa.” Or if it’s all about aesthetics, you’ll eventually want to draw in waterfeatures and decorative options. I generally don’t even mention these specifics so early in the process, but early questions about usage often point me in the right direction.
[ ] Do you swim? A question like this might seem frivolous, but I’ve actually met a number of non-swimming customers. If the client doesn’t know how to swim, you can bet I’ll be sure later on to refer them to a place where they can get lessons!
[ ] What other kinds of physical activities do you enjoy? I want to know if I’ m dealing with physically active people or more sedentary people, so I’ll ask if they jog, ride bikes or ski. This is where I might find out about a back problem or some other physical problem, or I might be told that getting a pool is part of the client’s plan to pursue a more healthy, active lifestyle. Either way, I can use the benefits of pool ownership to sell the project later on.
[ ] Have you had a pool before? This is a biggie. Here I get the customer to talk about past experiences and let me in on any of his or her preconceptions about pool ownership. It can clue me into what types of aquatic experience have positive associations in the client’s mind – and isolate negative impressions. If he or she has had repair or maintenance headaches in the past, I can be sure to address those concerns later on.
[ ] How do you see yourself using the pool when it’s complete? This is another question designed to get at intended use. If they can’t navigate this question, then I know I’ll have to keep looking, because I really do need to know whether I’m dealing with true swimmers or with sip and dippers.
[ ] How much entertaining do you do? I need to know if the pool is intended as a centerpiece (or backdrop), whether for family fun or business. If people will be getting wet during parties, I may end up suggesting things like swim-up bars, a barbecue area or even a cabana beside the pool. This also gives me a sense of direction when it comes to lighting or landscaping, including a nice, shaded area in and around the pool.
JUST THE BEGINNING
The important thing to point out here is that these are all just over-the-phone preliminaries and really shouldn’t take up more than a few minutes.
If the conversation leads us to agree to continue the discussion in person later on, I know I’ll have a chance to get much more specific about details from benches and entrances to lighting and waterfeatures. I’ll get to features that create the sound of moving water, then I’ll get to heating, chemical treatment, safety, therapy features and more. I’ll ask about who will be doing the landscaping and will find out if I’ll need to interface with an architect or landscape designer. This second checklist, which we’ll cover in a future column, goes on and on.
Ultimately, I see this initial phone conversation as a simple selling tool – and a way of impressing the customer with my positive mindset about what I do for a living. And the fact that I take extensive notes means that if the in-person visit or a second call comes weeks or even months later, I can impress the customer with my command of the basics and show that I cared enough the first time to pay attention.
Probably the best thing about approaching prospecting and sales this way is that it never seems like selling in the way that most of us think about selling. In fact, I’ve had more than one client laugh at the suggestion that I’m a salesman, and I always take pride in this kind of response. I’ll laugh it off, all the while thinking “You just spent $150,000 with my company, but I’m not a salesman.” That’s when I know I’m doing it right.