Disclaimer: Like most things I write about, these are not my ideas. I have been extremely fortunate to have known and learned from a number of exceptional arborist sales representatives. This is not the only way, but if you put this sales strategy into practice, you will win more than you lose.
The best way to sell tree care is to be an expert. If you are a good arborist and work as a consultant, you have the essential ingredients. Let’s start with that premise and add a few other basic, but extremely important, norms or principles.
Always be honest
You only have one reputation. If you continually practice the right behaviors, you will be successful. Never sell anything people do not need.
Don’t try to save every tree
Too often as arborists, we have a client throw good money after bad on a tree that at best continues to die and at worst falls apart. Don’t be the veterinarian who recommends chemotherapy for the terminal dog. If there is a good chance you can save it and the client wants to try, that’s a different story. That is why we do what we do. I usually say something like, “If you spent five grand and the tree still dies, would you hate me?” Always make them choose. Play devil’s advocate, giving them good advice but letting them decide. That way they cannot – or at least should not – blame you if it does not work.
If the tree is potentially dangerous, cut it down
Spending money on a tree that still dies is bad. It’s not worth the risk of someone getting hurt or worse. Safety is the most important thing. Having said that, let’s go in the other direction.
Don’t sell on fear
Do not scare people into cutting down a tree that is healthy and/or structurally sound. We all take down healthy trees for a number of reasons, but don’t make people afraid. Present the facts and let the owner decide.
Now that we have a baseline, let’s get started. The more disciplined and deliberate you are with each step, the more successful you will be.
The initial inquiry
Good news! Someone has called or emailed and wants your help. In a perfect world, you have someone answer the phone or it goes to a cellphone. We live in a world of instant expectations, so if you cannot answer the call live, respond to the call, email or internet inquiry as soon as possible. Meaning within minutes. Get the person on the phone.
This helps to show them they are important and also allows you to qualify them. How did you hear about us? If they say, “Who are you, I called five places,” you will handle the call differently than someone who says, “Joan Shapiro gave me your name.” Joan Shapiro is your best client, so you will make an appointment with them ASAP.
That does not mean you don’t make an appointment with the guy who called five places; it means you have a slightly longer process. You should ask things such as, “What are you hoping we can help you with?” After they answer, ask yourself a few questions. Is that the type of work you do? Is that a town you service? Design a series of questions and a rationale that is best for your business.
Let them know you expect them to meet with you and walk around the property with you. If they don’t want to be there, don’t go. You are less likely to make an initial sale or have a long-term business relationship with someone who does not care enough to meet with you. I would say, “If it’s not important enough for you to meet with me, we are probably not a good match.” Do not just make appointments blindly. Your time is too valuable.
Manage your calendar
Have specific days when you are in the office, when you are in certain towns and when you have in-house meetings. If you work in the field part time or have other responsibilities, have those days built into your calendar as well. This enables you to maximize your time. Don’t waste time driving around. Use your office days to manage your calendar, qualify new people, write proposals, call existing clients and follow up on proposals, prospects, etc. If you put this into your calendar and stick with it, you will be successful. Don’t just be busy.
Confirm the appointment
“Hi Friend of Joan Shapiro, this is Joe Treeguy from Wicket Pissah Tree. I want to confirm our appointment for January 2 at 8 a.m. When we spoke on the phone, you said you were worried about the maple in front. Just so you know, I will review your entire property.” This gives you the opportunity to upsell other pruning, plant health care (PHC) and other services. It also allows you to look for any glaring problems the prospect may not have seen. More important, this sets you up as a consultant who wants to inform the client, not just someone who is an order taker. Be careful; there is a fine line here between wasting time and building credibility.
Show up early and park in front of the front door. If you are running even a little late, call and say, “I may be a bit late, I just wanted to let you know.” In today’s lack-of-service and transactional world, that old-fashioned type of service goes a long way. Ring the doorbell and step back a few steps. This should go without saying, but dress neatly in company clothes. It’s obviously OK to be dirty when you work in the field (I do it all the time, and I’m proud of what I do), but for the first meeting, dress as an expert, not as a worker. People judge you instantly.
How can I help you?
Let the prospect speak first and listen to their concerns. You may have seen this situation hundreds of times, but this is a tree that is very important to them. Discuss options and come up with a plan. Then continue to review the other trees and shrubs on the property. This gives you the ability to identify all the plants and make recommendations as and if needed. If they ask a question you don’t know the answer to, say, “I’m not sure, but I can find out for you.”
Now is the hard part. As you conclude the sales appointment, discuss what is most important and review the next steps.
Ask for their budget
Don’t hide behind an estimate hoping to be the lowest bidder. This can be done several ways, but it needs to be done. Ask how much they were hoping to spend. If they refuse to give you a number, set their expectations with a bracketed price. “It’s probably going to be between $2,500 and $3,500,” for example.
Take the time to be sure your verbal numbers are accurate. You don’t want to be held to a low verbal quote. Do not waste time writing a proposal that may blindside them with sticker shock. A lot of this can be accomplished by qualifying the person before the appointment, but it has to be done again toward the end of the appointment. This gives you the opportunity to explain your costs and why you charge what you do.
Explain what separates you from the competition
I always wanted to be the highest bidder. If you do good work, keep your promises and follow through when something goes wrong, you will create a brand worth paying for. Getting a budget can be its own article. I encourage you to read books and utilize other resources to get comfortable with this necessary skill.
Wrap it up
Before you leave the meeting, thank the prospect for their time and further set their expectations. “I will be sending you a proposal by the end of the week.” Preferably it will be within a couple of days. Reiterate what you are proposing. This is a way to demonstrate you were listening.
Follow up in a timely manner
We all want things sooner rather than later. If they asked you a question during the appointment, get back to them with the answer. “That’s a Korean pine. I wasn’t sure and I had to look it up.” Being service oriented and keeping your word leads to more sales and referrals. It is always best to send the proposal sooner than you said. If you said you would send it in three days and you send it the same day, it makes you look good.
Set low expectations
Lowering expectations is one of the most important things you can do throughout the sales process. It’s a subtle way to set yourself up for success. Do not over promise and under deliver. If you set realistic or slightly exaggerated timelines, you can be early, which makes the prospect feel good.
Always send a note or email to accompany the proposal. “It was great meeting with you yesterday. I found some time to get this proposal ready this afternoon, because I wanted to get this to you sooner rather than later. Please call me if you have any questions or if you want to go forward with the work. I look forward to working with you.”
Be sure the proposal matches what you discussed and is accurate. If your backyard bracketing math is wildly off by more than a few hundred dollars, you need to call them and explain why. Not that this has ever happened to me. I’ve just heard about it. This is another opportunity to bond with the prospect and to demonstrate you are honest and willing to own your mistakes.
Send a text message that day to ask if they received the proposal. This is not the time to follow up, you just want to make sure it’s not in their email spam folder and that you have their email address correct.
If you have not heard back from them in five business days, call them to follow up. People want to work with people who make their lives easy. People’s most limited resource is time. Show them you are interested in helping them take care of their property. It’s better to be assertive than not follow up. Your willingness to make it easy for them to work with you may make the difference between them choosing you or the person with the low bid who never called back.
Get the “no” or get the work
After two to three weeks, there are a few possibilities. They sent you a signed contract, someone else got the job or they are undecided. The best case, you received a sign contract. Call them back, thank them for the work and set a rough date. Again, lower expectations. If you say you will come in May and then call them back to schedule for April, you are a hero – sad but true.
If someone else gets the work, sometimes the prospect will tell you when you speak on the phone, but most times they won’t. However, if you do get the “no,” ask them why. This gives you the opportunity to get feedback or continue the sales process. As the cliché goes, “The sales process starts once you get the no.” This gives you an opportunity to tell them one more time why you are the right company. You are not going to win them all, but if you do the important things correctly, you will win more than you lose.
For the ones you don’t win or lose, stay in touch. Don’t be a stalker, but send an email, text or make a call every once in a while just to let them know you are interested. You don’t want to seem desperate, but sales is a numbers game. People are busy, and trees are not their highest priority.
After the job is complete
Always follow up with a phone call the day the work is completed or the next morning before you send the bill. Say something like, “I just wanted to make sure you were happy with the work. Please let me know if you have any questions or concerns.” If they are happy, especially if they are very happy, it’s a great time to ask for a referral. This is something that should be done more often, and is a great way to expand your client base.
If they are not happy, it gives you the opportunity to make it right before they receive the bill. Listen intently to their concerns and address them in a timely manner. This usually is not a big a problem, but take the time to make them happy.
Most of the time people have a legitimate complaint. Occasionally you get a complaint when something really bad happened. Once in a while you will get a crank who wouldn’t be happy if they won the lottery. Find a way to take the time to fix the issue (not the lottery). Client service is critical. Yes, sometimes you will get screwed, but even if it’s not your fault, fix it. The last thing you want is someone posting some nastygram on social media about you or your company. Doing the right thing will come back to you tenfold.
Unfortunately, with sales you’re never done.
What is your process?
Whether you agree with everything I’ve outlined or not, you need a sales process. Maybe you have the staff or equipment that enables you to be profitable while always being the low bid. Maybe you don’t want to work as a consultant, you just want to do what they ask. You know your company. My best advice is to develop a process that is right for you. It is a great subject for a meeting where you can brainstorm, decide what is right for you, develop a strategy and write it down. Then you must have the discipline to put it to work.
Your time is too valuable and you have too much to do to just wing it. The more disciplined and deliberate you are with each step of the sales process, the more successful you will be.
David M. Anderson, CTSP and Massachusetts certified arborist, is a manager with Mayer Tree Service, Inc., a 29-year TCIA member company based in Essex, Massachusetts, and is a member of the TCI Magazine Editorial Advisory Committee.