Beating the Wintertime Blues - Part III
January 1, 2007
“Everyone lives by selling something.”
-Robert Louis Stevenson
Carpet cleaners who face sleet, ice, snow, mud and the generally yucky conditions of winter have every right to be depressed right about now. Inevitably, your residential cleaning will fall off dramatically in wintertime. As I’ve discussed in my last two To Your Success columns, carpet cleaning in the home is an emotionally driven event and customers just don’t feel like cleaning their carpets in bad weather.
But if you add regular commercial-contract carpet cleaning to your menu of services you will keep your employees busy and the all important cash flow coming in – no matter what tricks Old Man Winter tries to play on you.
Of course, commercial accounts usually won’t beat down your door begging for your services. You have to get out there to contact and sell these folks. Last month we covered my simple Dedicated Sales Morning (DSM) system for signing up regular commercial accounts (remember, while you certainly will accept one-time jobs, your goal is to get regular commercial contract accounts).
The Dedicated Sales Morning strategy depends on four main points:
- You “put yourself out there” with a formal goal of religiously contacting at least 20 new prospects every single week over the course of one morning. No excuses.
- Focus on one market sector at a time. For example, one week call only on medical complexes. Then move to realtors’ offices or restaurants. Then focus on attorneys or banks.
- Find the “Decision Maker” in the business and demo your cleaning prowess, either at the first call or at a later scheduled appointment. (Make sure the DM is there when you do the work.)
- Write up a “zoned proposal” with multiple options, giving progressively lower square footage pricing for increased frequency.
So here we are. By following the DSM system you are ready to present a professional proposal promoting the regular carpet care maintenance concept. Your prospect has already had you clean the toughest area and you have impressed her with your professional attire and demeanor. Now what?
Review their options. At this point you assume she will become your client for life. Their only decision to make is which item they will choose from the menu of cleaning frequencies/areas you are presenting.
Get the ROI principle on your side. The longer you can keep the attention – and the time – of the Decision Maker by asking them to make valid business decisions based on your proposal the better (within reason, of course). The more of their valuable time your prospect invests with you, the more likely it is they will want a return on their investment. And the only way for your business prospect to get a good ROI on their time is by saying “yes” to your proposal. So now …
Ask for the order. Remember to make it easy for them to say “yes.” Present your AFO question as a simple logistical query: “Mr. Jones, which frequency option do you think would be best?” or “Will it work better for your accounting to start the program the first of the month?” You want to be viewed here as a consultant instead of a sales person.
Smoothly proceed to the logistics. Now that you have the client’s “yes,” either verbal or implied, quickly move into filling out your Job Profile form. Suggest that the customer and you take a quick tour of the job. This process does several things.
- Shows the customer you have your act together. Even if this is your very-first-ever commercial account, you surely don’t want the customer to know it. Instead, give the impression that this is just a routine transaction where you now need the job data to fulfill your end of the agreement.
- Clears up any misunderstandings. Now is the time to resolve any possible problems. As you walk through the job pre-qualify potential problem areas and note them down on the Job Profile form.
- Meet your new contacts. Hopefully the DM will introduce you to company employees you will be coordinating with. Be sure to exchange business cards with them or at least write down their name and contact information. Remember that some of these employees may view you as a threat. So make nice.
Get the key. I know the common opinion is a lot of businesses won’t give you a key, but it never hurts to ask. If you have to schedule the job and meet someone to open up you lose all scheduling flexibility. Even worse, every cleaning becomes a huge hassle for the customer. If you are an irritation for the client you will not keep the account long term. Instead, your goal is to “blend into the woodwork” and never put your services into question. You can’t achieve this without having open access to the building.
Get the key by asking leading questions. As you go through the Job Profile form you will ask questions that subtly set the stage for the fact your people will be working in the building alone. “What lights should be left on?” “Who should we call if there is an emergency?” “Any special security arrangements I should be aware of?” Then, as you finish up, just casually say, “Oh, and I’ll need a key.” At this point you will hear:
- “OK.” Wonderful. Mission accomplished.
- “Uh, I’ll need to get you a copy.” You reply: “You know, I was just on the way to our locksmith to get copies for some other new accounts” and show them some loose, tagged keys in your pocket. “If you will loan me your copy I’ll have it back to you within the hour.” Be sure to give them a signed, pre-printed receipt for their original key. Note: If it is a “Do not duplicate” key, many locksmiths will make copies for you if the manager just scrawls out signed permission on anything with the business letterhead on it.
- “I’m not sure we want copies of our key out.” Your reply: “I understand your concern. Many of my long-term commercial accounts felt that way when we started. For example, we clean for (mention several established businesses you clean for) and they have all found that it is much more efficient and saves the salary of an employee if we have after hours access to the building. Of course, if you want to come down yourself and help out I could use a good assistant ...” (Much laughter here.) If you are dealing with the owner here, it’s amazing how many will go along with this.
- “It is against our company policy to give out keys.” At this point you can either give in or explain that that is fine but you can’t give the discounted price unless you have a key. See what happens. At the very worst you can always fall back and…
- Negotiate for the future. If you are willing to take the account in the beginning without a key, at least negotiate for access after you have proven yourself. “OK, Bill, I’ll give your way an honest try just so you can get to know us. But let me propose something. You try our services out for three months. Get to know our people. And then I’d like permission to bring up this whole access issue again and see if we can work something out.”
Get the contract signed. Assuming your DM has stayed with you for all the above five steps it is a foregone conclusion you have the job. So now just casually mention “Finally, here is the paperwork detailing our agreement.” Review it with them, showing where you have modified it based on their concerns/ comments. Give them their copy, shake hands and get out.
Once you have a) the key, b) the contract and c) permission and a date to start, more time spent with the client can become a liability to you and an irritation to them.
Never stop selling. Many carpet cleaners make the big mistake of getting complacent. After signing up a few nice commercial accounts they slack off on their DSM routine and quit growing their commercial division. However, your goal should be to get at least enough business accounts to keep a full time commercial route crew busy. Remember, as soon as possible you want to move those bad commercial hours over to someone other than you.
Follow the steps detailed in this three-part “Beating the Wintertime Blues” series and you will no longer live in fear of ice, snow and sleet. Instead, the regular cash flow that your commercial contracts provide will have you looking forward to winter. All your newfound profits will let you jet off to Aspen to really get into the snow scene – or if you just naturally hate winter, off you go to Hawaii! Either choice is better than dreading the calendar.