Getting to "Yes" With the Commercial Client - Part 2

May 19, 2004
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Identify the “Decision Maker” so you don’t waste your time.


"One of these days is none of these days."
- Old English proverb

My guess is you did not go into business out of an overwhelming desire to clean the homes of your customers forever. Instead, you want a routine flow of easy money and the more the better and with the lowest "hassle factor" possible. For many carpet cleaners, the easiest route to these goals is regular contract commercial carpet cleaning.

Of course, the pickings are going to be pretty slim unless you get out there and sell. How? We covered my five steps to commercial selling in last month's "To Your Success" column:

  • Make a firm time commitment on how many hours per week you will devote to selling. Your goal? Three mornings a week dedicated to making at least 40 new contacts per week.
  • Focus on one type of business at a time. (For example, a marketing campaign aimed just at doctor's offices.)
  • Dress up. Your goal is to look like a professional.
  • Invest in quality sales tools, including a leather briefcase, a "sonic tape measure" and a photo "brag book."
  • Make your time count.

    This last item is a common trap. If you aren't careful, the hours you have set aside for commercial account selling will be frittered away in inconsequential errands, breaks at the coffee shop and general procrastinating. (assuming you even make it out the door of your office). Here's how to get the biggest bang for the buck for each hour you invest in sales:

    Cooperate with the "Gate Keeper." Every business has one of them, including, very likely, yours. Their job is to screen out people who will waste the time of or high-pressure their boss. Don't try to go around them or, even worse, bull your way through. Instead, just communicate that your visit with the Decision Maker will save the company money, make the life of their boss easier and, most importantly, reflect well on the Gate Keeper's decision to let you through (a sincere smile, a respectful manner and a jar of candies won't hurt either).
    Note: With larger companies, it may work better to send marketing material ahead and follow up with a phone call requesting an appointment. However, remember that companies are inundated with tricky mailing pieces and constant telephone solicitations. Sometimes nothing beats a live person requesting to see the boss. Why not try both approaches? Your time will be very well spent.

    Identify the Decision Maker. Big corporations especially can be a maze that a hungry carpet cleaner will waste a huge amount of time in. So, while being courteous and professional to everyone you meet (especially the Gate Keeper) is important, don't be distracted from your goal of a signed contract. So always be asking, "Who should I coordinate with" or ‘Who else do I need to review this program with?" (This may require some persistence on your part, because people don't like to admit they do not have the final say in the matter.)

    Be respectful of their time. Successful managers are extremely conscious of the value of their time. So save the chatting for your residential homeowners. Be courteous, but also be direct. Get to the point on what you are offering and how it will help them.

    Focus on W.I.I.F.T. We are all basically selfish creatures. Business managers are no different. They will buy from you because of "What's In It For Them." Very likely your W.I.I.F.T. message will include saving money, better appearance, longer carpet life and the hugely popular "less hassles for you" approach. Never assume the prospect will automatically understand W.I.I.F.T. Use "feature/benefit" phrases. For example: "We have a specialized commercial crew that works a regular after-hours shift (Feature), which means you have no employee overtime to pay and no supervision problems (Benefit)."

    Always follow up. You will hit roadblocks, everything from "the manager isn't in" to "we already have a cleaning service" to "not interested right now." Your goal? Always have a reason to return and/or keep your name out front. How? A note thanking them for seeing you, a regular newsletter and, as you leave, always casually ask if you may check back in the future to see if their needs have changed. Then put their date in your planner and follow up.
    Of course, be sure that the job is worth the effort. If you hit a "brick wall response" or it really doesn't look like an account you want, cut your losses and move on. There are a lot of very attractive fish out there in the commercial sea. Just keep trolling.

    Go for the gold. Sure, if you can make a nice profit, you'll take any work that comes along. But what you really want are commercial jobs with the magic words "regular" and "contract" attached. So when writing a proposal, always give the customer at least three options. Try a higher-priced, one-time "resurrection cleaning" to restore the carpet, along with two or more contract cleanings with different frequencies (if I really wanted the contract I'd offer to do the initial cleaning at the lower contract price).

    Get a signed contract. Business managers expect to sign a contract when they are entering into a long-term agreement. Contracts formalize and gain respect for the arrangement and add a lot of value to your business if and when you decide to sell.

    The best thing you can do to get commercial jobs? Just do something. Between fear of rejection, inertia and the constant urgent demands of daily business, the average carpet cleaner never makes it out the door to sell. That is such a shame, because regular contract commercial work is some of the easiest money out there, once you get to "Yes!"

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