Of all the snow & ice sales and marketing questions that snow contractors across the country ask me each year, the top frustration expressed is that property managers seem unwilling to talk with them and don’t want to be bothered with snow & ice. While there are thousands of reasons why it can be difficult to discuss snow & ice with prospects during the “selling season,” the basic underlying factor is that there simply isn’t a pressing reason for property managers to have the conversation. Where snow & ice management falls on a client’s to-do list will vary, but in nearly all cases the day-to-day emergencies that fill their schedules will take priority unless there is a significant threat of snow. This simple fact is what makes midwinter snow sales so powerful.
Calling on prospects for new business midseason can be tricky. Unless a contractor has enough spare equipment and staff to take over an account for the duration of the winter, the goal is not necessarily to get a contract immediately. The prospect will probably want the contractor to step in and will try to force this action, but a smart contractor will not accept unless he is prepared to service the account above and beyond the expectations. Instead, midwinter sales should focus on gathering information to help make a sale later, managing expectations, and getting a plan in place for future sales.
If a prospect is looking to change snow contractors midwinter, there will be a list of issues and complaints to justify the change. Prospects will be very emotional when describing the problems they’ve experienced, and this is the most valuable time to learn about what is important when performing the job. Whether clearing handicapped spots, having loading docks ready by a certain time, or simply better communication, learning the past issues and preparing to not repeat them is key when taking over these accounts immediately or in the future.
Good salespeople will spend time asking detailed questions. Understanding how certain issues will affect the client’s operation and day-to-day workload will reveal the root cause of problems and clarify the issues. In many cases the initial complaint is not the real problem, but rather the symptom of something bigger. Without clearly understanding the underlying issue, contractors run the risk of repeating history.
When discussing problems with clients midwinter, they will often be more open than ever to share every detail of any issues. This venting can have a snowball effect, and it’s essential to discern between general complaints and real problems. In this sense, salespeople must be a consultant and manage the prospect if they intend to take on the account.
One of the challenges that occurs during midwinter sales is the tendency of prospects to create a laundry list of issues, nit-picking each detail and creating an unachievable expectation. This is simply human nature. Negative thinking about an experience leads to adding more details that support the feeling. If a contractor takes over an account, the client will hold them to the same unachievable standards.
It is the salesperson’s responsibility to manage the client’s expectations. Presenting a realistic picture of what the service will and will not be, and gaining mutual acceptance, is paramount to avoiding the same fate as the incumbent. This is especially true in midwinter, when equipment may be short and the time to plan before the next storm is unknown.
Of course, sometimes taking over an account midseason is simply out of the realm of possibility. When a contractor feels he cannot adequately provide the service level required, the best move is to politely decline the work and avoid creating a bad name for the company. A savvy salesperson will create a plan to sign up the prospect in the future.
Creating a plan
Explaining to a prospect who clearly needs a new contractor immediately that a company cannot help them is not easy to do. The client will try to convince the salesperson that it could work out, that not being fully staffed won’t be a problem, and that nothing could be worse than what they currently have. While it may feel good to try and help the client, it won’t if the snow company fails on the job and ruins their reputation.
Thinking ahead, a good salesperson will explain the amount of equipment, planning and staffing required to achieve the result the client wants. He will detail how he can be a solution in the future, but not now, and set plans to make that a reality. This involves client acceptance of when to meet and what the next steps will be. While no action may occur for months, following up with the prospect and keeping tabs on how the season progresses will help when selling down the road.
Midwinter can be a great time to discover and openly discuss the issues that customers face, even if no work is gained until next year. If the weather breaks, smart salespeople will seize the opportunity to invest in future growth.
- Midwinter sales efforts should focus on the future, not necessarily trying to secure in-season business.
- Ask detailed questions about the issues affecting the client’s operation and why they may be unhappy with their service.
- Be wary of accepting new work midseason unless you are confident your company has the resources to do the job properly.
Neal Glatt, CSP, is an account executive with Case Snow Management in North Attleboro, MA.