Political strategist James Carville is recognized for helping form the foundation of Bill Clinton’s presidential victory over George H. Bush. He focused the Clinton campaign message: “It’s the economy, stupid!” That was 1992 when the government first bailed out the banks with the formation of the Resolution Trust Company.
Almost 20 years later, in reference to the housing industry, the underlying powerful message that’s resounding in my ears and in my business is the same message “It’s the economy stupid!” Consider typical sales scenarios:
- Prospect A calls for a meeting with the builder to discuss a custom home.
- Prospect B calls for a meeting with the builder to discuss an addition to a family room.
- Prospect C calls for a meeting with the builder to discuss the renovation of a kitchen.
The builder’s ability to direct and control the design/build process — and budget — determines whether or not the builder builds or merely bids.
Fast forward to the conclusion of the initial sales meeting; the ball is in your court. The prospect describes to you the project and scope of work to the best of his ability. Invariably, he wants to know before you leave that meeting, “About how much will this cost.”
In the case of our Prospect A, this question probably arose during his first phone call to you: “What is price per square foot to build a custom home?” My stock answer to this query is an automobile analogy: “Mr. A, you can get from your house to Manhattan in a KIA or a Rolls Royce. They both have a steering wheel and four tires, one pragmatic and the other luxurious. I can only give you a price per square foot when I know all the details you expect in your home.”
Your first priority is to create a relationship based on trust. Make your prospect feel comfortable with your intent to give him maximum value, quality and service in exchange for his commitment to use your company. If you can persuade Prospect A, B and C the value of your professional service is worth paying for prior to giving them a proposal, your closing ratio will be as good as it can be, in this economy. You will need a professional services agreement that requests a design services fee. Prospects that commission this work are most likely to become clients for construction. Prospects that are unwilling to pay you to do an estimate, which is the objection you will need to be ready to handle, are prospects that you may never close, at worst, and at best, they are in a low closing ratio group.
Your second priority is to describe the benefits of the design/build process — with an emphasis on process. You have to make him understand he should retain you to guide him through each step of the process, so you can gather all the necessary information to answer his questions.
There are specific steps required to communicate what will be known before the job begins and what variables will not be identified until the job is underway. These steps include:
- Identification of project scope of work
- Client’s budget goals
- Concept, schematic and construction drawings
- Client’s design dream objectives
- Builder budgetary process
- Ballpark guestimating
- Phase-by-phase estimating
- Phase-by-phase bidding
- Builder client proposal, acceptance and agreement
Consumers are nervous, uncertain and hesitant. They need more work, attention, counseling and cajoling than what used to be typical for a builder. If you are experiencing frustration with working harder to close deals and if the roller coaster ride that you must endure to move forward with your prospect from initial sales call to design-budget-build is making you question your salesmanship, you should do two things: Re-examine your communication during the sales process, and remember, the reason for your frustration may be as simple as “It’s the economy, stupid.”
Jay Grant, president of Grant Homes, a residential design/build firm in Mendham, N.J., focuses on building luxury custom homes and renovations/additions. He is the recipient of more than 20 industry awards including best website for granthomesusa.com. Grant is available for business consulting. Send email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Read past columns at rdbmagazine.com.