The 13 Most Profitable Words You Will Ever Say

October 22, 2002
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“Better is half a loaf than none.”
John Heywood (1497-1580)

Thirty years ago I was a struggling young carpet cleaner, working like a dog to build a business and provide for a growing family. It wasn’t easy then …and it isn’t any easier for you today.

Work was slow, but I was ecstatic. A prospect from a ritzy part of town wanted a carpet-cleaning estimate. As I drove up I immediately knew this was my sort of customer: A new BMW sat on the driveway, right next to a 30-foot cabin cruiser. The home was huge, the yard immaculate. Visions of big dollars danced in my head as I rang the bell.

The homeowner and I went through the home, inspected and tested the carpet, and discussed options on how to proceed. I felt like we had built a professional relationship and I had earned her trust (see “To Your Success” in ICS August 2002).

But now it was crunch time. “Mrs. Jones, let me review our pricing and how much the job will cost.” As I went over the job pricing there was absolute silence on her end. When she finally spoke, you know very well what she said:

“Ohhh … I see. Well, let me check with my husband and I’ll get back to you.”

Uh-oh. Once I heard those fateful words I knew the job was gone. And yet, being the good, meek little carpet cleaner I was, I dutifully thanked her (for the opportunity to waste an hour of my time) and told her I’d be waiting eagerly for her call (yeah, right.)

As I trudged out to my car I started to get angry. Due to my poor selling skills, both the homeowner and I were going to lose. She wasn’t going to enjoy my superb carpet cleaning skills that I knew that she could easily afford, and I wasn’t going to get her money or the future referrals that she, as a delighted cheerleader customer, would bring me.

So I did a U-turn, marched back up to the porch and rang her doorbell. As I waited I had absolutely no idea what I was going to say. All I knew was she needed me and wow, did I ever need this job.

Let’s be honest. The “Let me check with my husband …” objection has nothing to do with spousal permission. What the homeowner is really saying is “The price is TOO HIGH but I’m too embarrassed to say so.”

Sales experts say a hidden objection is the hardest to overcome. So you must “smoke out” the real objection while allowing the customer to keep her dignity. After all, no one likes to admit they can’t afford something.

Here is what I blurted out when Mrs. Jones answered the door, a perplexed look on her face.

“Mrs. Jones, I’d want my wife to check with me before making a big financial investment too,” I said. “But before I leave, let me ask you …does the way I have this work order written meet your projected budget?”

Those 13 little words got me that job and went on to earn me hundreds of thousands of dollars through the years from other “lost jobs.” Let’s analyze why it’s so important to use this exact phrasing:

“Does the way I have this work order written” sends the silent message that yes, you can “re-write” the job specifications. No, you won’t give a discount or lower your price. But since you already have a substantial “time investment” in this job, won’t you cheerfully drop the price if the amount of work is reduced also? (You’re also doing a bit of “assumptive closing” when you use the words “work order.”)

“Meet your projected budget?” These words remove the shame of having to admit it is more than they can afford. By using the business-like phrase “projected budget” you are now two executives discussing a proposed project. After all, there’s no reason to be embarrassed if the money just “isn’t in the budget.”

Once you have the price problem out in the open it is easy to start “consultant selling” with the homeowner.

“Hmmm … the furniture in the family room is never moved, right? What if we just clean all the open areas? That will reduce your total bill by $35.78. Now, what about your bedrooms…?”

At some point in this process the customer will almost always say, “You know, I think we could swing that.”

Here are two thoughts to keep in mind. As you suggest ways to lower the price, the customer will often just say, “You know what. Just do the entire home like we had it written up.” Other times, when your cleaning crew arrives, the customer will greet them with, “We talked about it and we’d like the entire job done.” In both cases all your customer really needed was a little bit of control over the process.

Everybody wins. The customer realizes there is more to clean carpets than just a low price. You make more money. But even better, both of you are now building a mutually trusting relationship that will endure for years to come. Just remember the 13 Most Profitable Words you will ever say:

“Does the way I have this work order written meet your projected budget?”

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