Regardless of the ongoing COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic, landscaping companies still need to make sales.
One of the biggest sales-based issues landscapers are facing during these uncertain times is how to sell projects without actually meeting with customers face to face.
According to Jack Jostes, CEO of Ramblin Jackson, Inc., the solution could be utilizing video calls in your sales process.
“I feel like in any business that has a consultative or design-build element to it where you used to meet with people in person, people are going to be resistant or reluctant to do video calls,” says Jostes. “I believe that using video is one of the best ways to position yourself as an expert and engage people, and using Zoom video conferences is second best to meeting in person.”
Jostes says with customers stuck inside, there’s a good chance they are taking notice of their landscape and improvements that could be made, but due to COVID-19, they aren’t going to feel comfortable having face-to-face design consultations.
To talk more about the process of selling projects via video calls, Jostes invited Cheri Stringer, owner of TLC Gardens in Boulder, Colorado, to talk through how she got her teams set up to sell this way, as well as how it’s gone for them so far.
“I keep in touch with my clients,” says Stringer. “This is even more important now in the current climate we’re in. It’s the connection. If we have a connection, then they’re going to want to talk to me, I want to talk to them, then I understand what’s meaningful for them.”
Challenges of operating during COVID-19
While some businesses have been able to move forward with operations with little change, landscaping companies nationwide have been forced to take a step back and reevaluate daily operations.
For Stringer, one of the biggest challenges so far has been making sure construction projects are still up and running, regardless of the quarantine.
Stringer says that most of her clients still want to move full steam ahead with scheduled projects, but with that comes the added need to make sure employees are staying safe and following social distancing and sanitization guidelines.
The second challenge Stringer faced was maintaining a connection with her clients without being able to engage with them in person, which is when the idea of using video calls arose.
“I know the most important thing right now is to make sure that my message is exceptionally clear,” says Stringer. “If I can get my why across very clearly and I can up my game in presentation skills, then I can maintain that connection.”
After deciding to use video calling, Stringer says it was challenging to then get customers comfortable with talking with her via Zoom. Many of them still begged to meet in person at a distance, and she says she had to work hard to sell them on and demonstrate the positives of utilizing this technology for the time being.
The third challenge Stringer says her company faced was figuring out how to get people to pay without physically exchanging money.
“This is a big challenge that a lot of people overlook because you’ve got point of sale, which is easy to do, however, there are a lot of fees,” says Stringer. “Then, you’ve got ACH, which you’re going to set up with your bank. My challenge was, how do I maintain those sales, both in construction and design, with a mobile interface and make it easy for my clients?”
Adapting the sales process
“Within the sales process, what I had to do is pretty much up my game,” says Stringer. “We’ve got an opportunity right now and it’s an amazing opportunity to get better at presentation because now we’re on a video platform.”
Aside from the challenges of setting up a video platform, Stringer says she and her teammates have to be able to deliver the goods. Stringer says if she can deliver once, clients are on board and momentum will build from there.
Stringer says the first thing she did was analyze her presentation and her energy while recording videos to determine what she needed to do more and less of. Since there is very little body language that can be seen during videos, Stringer says facial and verbal animation is key, but be sure not to go overboard and overwhelm your clients.
“That was the number one thing I did to overcome the hurdle of video, and I knew as soon as I could get to a video with a client and they could experience that, then they would be hooked,” says Stringer.
Once customers were participating in the video calls and showed an interest in moving to the next step, Stringer says she encouraged designers to then share their screens with the customers to walk them through a more detailed look at what the next steps would be.
“I think that people are going to expect more of this type of buying moving forward,” says Jostes. “I think that when we emerge out of this whole quarantine, there’s still going to be some lingering aftereffects and people are going to realize it’s pretty convenient.”
Preparing clients before the meetings
Before initiating the call with a client, Jostes recommends sending them an email with an instructional video on how to set up whatever video conferencing service you will be using, as well as the time and a list of topics for the meeting.
This, he says, ensures that no time is wasted waiting for something to download or for an account to be created, and it also helps potential clients get to know you and feel comfortable with you before the video call.
Jostes also encourages landscapers to send a small gift or card in the mail to help establish a positive working relationship with the client.
“I think the more that you can send little videos, helpful PDFs or a gift in the mail, it’s going to help make up for that lack of rapport that you can build in person,” says Jostes.
On the sales side, Stringer says she shares TLC Gardens’ “4 Steps to Design” outline sheet with the team to give them an idea of how they should conduct the meeting, as well as what to expect.
For clients, Stringer says she shares a Dropbox-like program with them during the video to show them project renderings and a 3D model walkthrough so they know what working with TLC Gardens will be like if they choose to move forward with the project.
So far, using the video platform has proven successful for a few of Stringer’s projects, and she’s confident that sales will only continue to improve as more of her employees become comfortable with video calls.
She adds that using the video calls has also helped the sales process by cutting down on drive time to and from sites, as well as having less overhead.
“What we realize now is we can do it so much faster and better by preparing the information beforehand for the TLC Mobile platform and the video,” says Stringer. “I feel like it’s sharper, it’s cleaner and I try to make it more vivid. We’re actually compressing the sales process in a lot of ways.”
Once a call is complete, Jostes recommends sending a short thank you video to the client to thank him/her for his/her time, as well as to briefly recap what was talked about.
For those still working on getting comfortable with video calling, Stringer says her biggest piece of physical advice is to pause between phrases and points when talking. Video calls tend to make people nervous and lead them to rush, which greatly cuts down on the impact of your verbal presentation.
Mentally, Stringer says to make sure you go into the call knowing your ‘why.’ As long as you know why you are selling, she says the process is made much easier.