I was having a discussion with my wife this Saturday morning as we were preparing to begin our morning errands for the weekend including picking up supplies for several home maintenance chores. She continued to speak as she was brushing her teeth and what I heard her say was “WHA OOH GANO WALD”. After I stopped laughing, I had a minor epiphany (something that seems to be occurring more frequently as I get older and something that I find somewhat unusual as I am Jewish), realizing that what we hear is often not what the speaker intended to convey. And this miscommunication, instead of leading to amusement as in this case, often has negative ramifications, especially in sales and for all of the housing industry.
We are all salespeople; we are all selling something to someone every day, even to our children, spouse or significant other. As general real estate agents and new home sales representatives we are selling homes to prospective homebuyers. As real estate developers, homebuilders and remodelers we are selling the viability of our business to our banks and investors for continued financing and to our team members for their continued participation. As subcontractors and suppliers we are selling our companies and products to homebuilders and remodelers, whether they are existing customers or new prospects. And as professional service providers we are selling our knowledge, talent and competence to potential customers wherever they can be found. If we are to be successful in any of these endeavors, each sale requires proper communication. So here is a lesson that I relearned in the hope that my readers can apply the principle to increase their own success and create more sales.
Every day is a great day for me but Wednesday was an even better day than usual as I closed a sale with a new client and, even better, I learned (or in this case relearned) something valuable. I had first contacted this prospect four years ago. I was in his housing market in a northeastern city working on an assignment for an existing client and as part of my due diligence had been shopping competitive developments. I chanced upon this prospect’s operation and saw several opportunities for improvement.
While I am certain that I am similar to many of my readers in that “cold calling” is not one of my favorite activities, it is one of many necessary components of successful sales so I researched the client and his operation and picked up the phone. Fortunately, this builder had some familiarity with my company (I put forth substantial time and effort promoting my visibility within the real estate and homebuilding industries) and he took my call and we chatted for 30 minutes on the overall housing market and his operations and I received his confirmation that he recognized opportunities for improvement and thought that I could be of assistance. After the call I sent a proposal for a market analysis and operational strategy, assuming that the sale had been made.
I was not successful in that initial sale and, in retrospect, it was entirely my fault. I had discovered a prospective customer with a defined need for my services but instead of truly communicating, I had made the mistake of assuming that what I thought was needed was in, in fact, what this customer wanted and could afford. I had failed to properly follow one of the prime tenets of salesmanship; I had worked toward a clear cut objective but I was not mindful that my objective was not necessarily the goal of my prospective customer.
Fortunately, I have stayed in contact with this builder on a regular basis over the past three years, sending emails, letters and speaking on the phone, not necessarily trying to “sell” but simply providing information that I thought would be useful, thus creating a friendship, while maintaining my visibility and, hopefully, reinforcing the benefits of my services. And I had “invested” in this potential client by keeping abreast of his activities and progress, both by visiting his developments when I was in that market and by maintaining an eye on his market’s demand components, sales absorption and new competition. In fact, I had emailed him an article the prior month on some innovative housing design concepts that I thought he might be able to utilize.
So when I called again last week to inquire how his new models were received by the market, he accepted the call from a “friend” and we had a pleasant conversation. He mentioned that he found my recent article of value, enjoyed our discussions and he wished that he could afford my services. As I heard the “buying signal”, I automatically responded with the closing question, “what services did he think he needed and what would his budget allow?” And we ended that conversation with my commitment to send a new proposal and his assurance that he would be receptive and read it as soon as it was received.
When we spoke Wednesday morning, the only question from this new client was “when could I start?” The new proposal was for a more limited scope of service and at reduced fee from the original concept three years ago but it is a starting point and I am confident that the door is now open to build a long-term relationship and a win-win partnership.
And I had relearned a valuable lesson – the necessity of proper sales communication. If we wish to be competent communicators and create more sales then we must first determine the customer’s true needs and then translate those needs into the products or services we can provide that solves those needs within the customer’s budgetary requirement. It worked for me and I believe that it will work for you. But that’s just my opinion.
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