How To Generate Sales For Your Trade Business

Our guide to increasing  your qualified sales leads

It can also increase your existing customer relationships as well!

how to write an estimate

Introduction to sales process

It’s a struggle to grow the number of potential leads that you get if you are an ambitious trade business, but it’s even more draining to lose a job after you’ve gone to the trouble of producing and following up a quote diligently. That’s why it is so important to make sure that you maximise every opportunity (or in sales terminology a qualified lead) that comes your way. This article looks at the process of responding to and meeting customers. Sometimes a quotation is subsequently needed, and we look at this in depth in another article.

Managing the entire sales process is a critical part of growing your trade business. To do this best, you have to get into the mind of your prospective customers, understanding things from their point of view and building trust, which is the key to all selling. Some of us are naturally great at this, and some of us struggle more. It’s good to understand just where your talents lie. Probably if you keep on unexpectedly losing quotes, you’re not so good. If you’re bad at something you need to know about it so that you can come up with strategies to cope with your weakness. That might involve changing the way you work, or getting a partner or employee to do the thing you’re bad at. It’s worth keeping this in mind as you scan through this article.

Always set customer expectations

The process of setting customer expectations starts from your first contact with them, whether that’s at your web site or on the phone. The reason why this is so important is because any time that expectations aren’t met, it creates problems and will probably lead to lost business.

So don’t say “I’ll call you back soon to arrange a visit” and not schedule a phone call back for two weeks. Don’t say you will get the quote to them in two days then fail to deliver. If you can give a ball park range on price, do so and the customer won’t be shocked when your quote arrives. It’s easy to promise the earth, but good business comes from getting the customer to expect what comes next, and then delivering on it.

Breaking a promise, whether it’s telling your customer that a quote will be ready by a certain time, or not turning up for an appointment, is the surest way to destroy trust, and hence your prospects of work or getting paid promptly.

John McLouglin, a highly experienced gas engineer who ran his business for many years talks about promises related to price this way.

“Don’t break a promise. One way to not break a promise is not to make it in the first place, but I guess a quote is a promise to deliver. Suppose the customer wants a boiler in an outhouse, because it’s not wanted in the kitchen, but when I drill the wall I find it is not stable. I then have to give them the choice of either putting in a new wall or move the boiler to the kitchen. Is that a broken promise? That’s why on my quotes I always say ‘Subject to no significant discoveries that could not have been reasonably anticipated’“.

One tip is to use the reminder function on your phone to help you stick to your word.

The initial phone call, start building a customer relationship

how to generate salesIt’s important to be highly professional when a customer first contacts you, which can be difficult in smaller companies as you may be in the middle of a job. At the very least make sure that if you can’t take the call you call them back quickly. You might even have a sales team if you are a bit larger, or you can even arrange to have a telephone answering service for a surprisingly low price. Just search on Google for “telephone answering service”.

Try to find key details from the first phone call. Some customers find it tiresome to be asked too many questions at once, so at every opportunity you need to move your knowledge forward of why they want the work done as well as the full details. You should also always ask how they heard about you. It’s important to keep a record of all sales leads including where they came from and what the result was. You then know what marketing is working and what isn’t. For instance, you might lose all opportunities from a particular source on price when your plan is to compete on quality. As a result, you might decide not to pursue further opportunities from this source of leads.

The site visit

Most quotations follow on from the initial contact with the prospect. While you may not think it, the reception that your quote or estimate is going to get will be heavily influenced by the initial impression you created in your early contact.

“The key is that the client sees me and I can sell to them at that point. That’s why I will always visit every job at the start.” That’s the approach that Mark Goodchild of takes. Guy Hodgson, Screwfix regional tradesman of the year, agrees.

“The way to win business is to go in person to see the client. Listen hard and try to contribute useful suggestions. If you don’t know something, say so. Then later do research and call them back. Get your quotation or estimate to them quickly. Strike while the iron is hot.”

The normal expectation is that a quote will be free but there are two circumstances where you might consider charging, in which case you would offer to discount the charge off the final price if you win the job.

sales processOne is where you believe that you are just making up the numbers, for instance for an insurance claim where they require several quotes. Why should you do work with no chance of being paid for it? Kevin Macfarlane, posting on Facebook, writes: “I have started to charge for insurance quotes as sometimes you just know you're not going to get the job !!!”.

The second is where the client insists that the quote is for an absolute amount with no if’s or but’s, whatever is discovered on site. In this case you will need to do more survey work than you would normally do and a charge can be justified.

When you arrive, greet them by name and thank them for the opportunity.

Try to work in a way that is convenient to the customer:

  • Find out the way your customer likes to be contacted and when. Some prefer email, some mobile, some like to be called in the evening, some just during the working day.

  • You may want to visit 9am – 5pm during week days, but this may not work for them. If you are prepared to visit evenings and weekdays, you will likely win more work.

Put yourself in your prospect’s shoes. It’s very unlikely that they know anything like as much about the subject as you. They won’t know the jargon, so try to find where they are and talk at their level, but never talk down to them.

Be sensitive to the fact that they don’t know you, a person who might (or your colleagues) spend a considerable amount of time in their house. Find ways to allay any worries that they may have.

Be fast in responding, they might have changed their mind by next week, or your competitor may have already won them over. If you can’t get back fast, keep them in the loop of when the quote will come, which can keep you in the running.

Understand in detail what they want by writing down everything about the job, on your phone or tablet if it has the facility. You might be able to remember everything (although you would be unusual) but writing things down is an opportunity to demonstrate to the prospect that you are taking what they want seriously. However smart we are, none of us can remember every detail a week or two later. The customer will probably remember what they said and be irritated if they have to repeat it.

Make helpful suggestions and alternatives that demonstrate your knowledge of the subject but don’t push your ideas over theirs if it’s clear they are not interested. Also never leave the impression that the only thing that you are bothered about is increasing the size of the job.

Continued below


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Establish credibility

sending a quoteI’ve been the recipient of many quotes over the years. But first impressions count and if the company already lacks credibility as a result of the first phone call or site visit, they are already fighting an uphill battle.

As a result, it’s important to establish credibility from the first contact with the prospect and at every chance that follows.

Adam Taylor, had turned his water off, moved his toilet and thought that he had switched everything back on. But the water wasn’t running. So he looked up a plumber through Google and RPS Plumbing and Heating arrived within an hour. The way they conducted themselves made a big impression. This covered a whole host of different points including turning up quickly and when they said they would, introducing themselves, taking their shoes off, coming in a smart clean van and treating Adam with respect. You might not think these points are important but Adam certainly thought they were.

A Powered Now survey of over a 1,000 homeowners showed that 85% of them are deterred from doing business with tradesmen that turn up late. Other points to think about are:

  • Wearing a uniform or otherwise being neat and tidy

  • Having a branded van distinguishing yourself from “white van man”

  • Your (or your staff’s) attitude towards customers - not being fresh with the ladies, using civil language, being friendly but not over-familiar

  • Not smoking on site

  • Cleaning the toilet if you use it

  • Having your own professional looking web site

As Matthew Stevenson of Bespoke Outdoor Spaces says:

“Sell based on who you are and who the staff are because people are concerned about who they are inviting into their property”.

Being flexible and responsible and demonstrating expertise goes a long way towards establishing credibility. Mark Goodchild explains that:

“we win a lot of new business by being very responsive and flexible and by sorting out other people’s messes. Once we were called by a pub and responded immediately, leading to some great business. The previous ‘electricians’ had mixed up the three phase supply. This had led to 415 volts being supplied to every appliance. As a result, the TVs, fridges, telephones and tills in the pub all blew up. When I looked at the place where the supply came in, the covers had been left off from the three phase boards, posing a dramatically dangerous risk to the public.”

You can also help to establish credibility through membership of trade associations and by sharing lists of prestigious clients, if you have them.

Selling on site

Hopefully you have established a good relationship with your prospect by following the advice about the site visit. However, it’s important to remember that while the quote may be the final thing that the customer accepts or rejects, you should be selling (subtly) all the time that you are on site. This is the chance to impress the customer and persuade them that you are professional, even before you send out the quote.

Fighting the prospect’s temptation to do nothing is often the most difficult battle. The way to try to tackle this is to find out what was driving the customer in the first place, then replay that to them.

Were they considering a new bathroom because the old one looked horrible and is hard to clean? Play that back to them. Remind them doing it straight away means they can get the benefit now, rather than getting the work done just before they move. Tell them that it will help to sell the property when that time comes (if you believe that’s true). You get the picture. Find out on your first contact what is driving their enquiry, then refer back to that every time the sale looks like stalling.

Show them before and after pictures of similar work you have previously done – this is best done on a tablet computer at the time.

Where appropriate, use a check sheet so that you have details and measurements required for an accurate quote. It looks professional, ensures that you don’t miss anything important and means that everything is laid out in a standard way that will make it easier to come up with your estimate.

Set broad expectations on price if possible. For instance, ask them what sort of price range they had in mind. If it’s unrealistic say something like “I doubt everything you want could be done within that budget”. No one likes surprises.

Guy Hodgson explains his approach:

“I try very hard to listen to really understand what the customer wants and then make helpful suggestions. This is particularly where what they have asked for can’t be done at a price the customer can afford.”

Finally, recap before you leave. Make sure there are no misunderstandings as this helps establish a good impression in the customers mind.

Gaining valuable intelligence

When you’re face to face with the customer it’s a chance to work out the degree of their intent and whether their view of pricing is realistic. Questions like “What’s your budget” and “Is there a particular deadline” may help to tease these out. This all helps you to adjust expectations and also to try to judge how likely they are to proceed with the project at all.

Head off the competition

Obeating competition nce I was talking to a guy who had done a lot of sales, and I remember that he warned me that in every sales situation, even when you think you’re the only one bidding, you actually have two possible competitors. These are that the client does nothing or that the client does the job themselves. Your time on site is the chance to batter these insidious competitors down!

You should verbally warn them against DIY and cowboys. Not everyone can pull this off without being too obvious, so don’t try too hard. However, you might achieve this by discussing true stories of how DIY jobs have gone wrong, how people have regretted starting DIY when they never get around to finishing it and what regulations and safety points they may not be aware of.

For instance there may be issues when it comes to selling their house if the proper paperwork is not in place. Remember, you may be competing against DIY even if they don’t say so. The more professional you are, the less likely they are to go the DIY route.

Where appropriate, explain that a written quote and invoice is proof the work has been done if they ever need to come back to you. If they go to a cowboy who offers no paperwork, the chances are there is no comeback for them.

Gas Engineer John McLouglin, confirmed that this is a problem saying:

“Loads of cowboys and DIY’ers do work on gas boilers. Each year one and a half million boilers are sold and installed, but only one million are notified to Gas Safe. That means half a million are fitted by a DIYer or a non-Gas Safe registered engineer”.

He also had well worked answers to people who do their own gas work and plumbing. “People will say that they do their own plumbing. I always ask how do they prove that they’ve not got a micro-leak? And you really don’t want a micro-leak in a gas pipe. It doesn’t show up by smearing the area with Fairy Liquid. I’m a highly experienced gas engineer and sometimes my equipment shows up micro-leaks in connections I’ve made so there’s no way it doesn’t happen to people doing their own work.”

He further adds:

“People often do plumbing without realising that they must comply with water regulations. For instance, if you fit an outside tap, did you fit a double check valve? People don’t realise that hosepipes are carcinogenic and if there’s a drop in mains pressure, or another tap is opened, water can be sucked back into the system, leading to potential health problems.”

You will be aware of the similar type of issues in your own trade.

Where a quote is needed

As mentioned earlier, we have a separate article talking about writing a winning quote, pricing it right and answering objections. But whether a quote is needed or not, you have to finally close the business.

How to close the sale

There is a huge amount of sales literature about closing sales, although there is some sort of magical formula. There isn’t. If you have already got the customer to trust you and believe that you will do a great job, it’s not much of an emotional step to commit to use you. So always ask, but in a low key manner; “Would you like to go ahead?”, “Would you like me to plan in the work?” “When would it be convenient for me to start?” You get the picture.

Ultimately, all business is about selling. But the easiest way of selling is doing a great job and getting recommendations. It’s always worth remembering that.

starting a trade business

Finding our guide interesting?

If you are finding our guide interesting and would like to learn more about Powered Now please just get in touch. We offer a free one to one demonstration of our software with a UK business expert. Sessions are usually 20 - 30 minutes with plenty of time for questions.