Dealing with Time Issues for Out-of-Town Clients

Living and working in the Charleston, SC area – a place where resort/retirement/transfer types of demographics are prevalent – creates a unique type of sales situation. Whether these potential clients are building a new vacation home, investing in a resort/beach rental home, remodeling a final home to retire to or simply moving from another part of the country, they typically travel to the area only occasionally to complete the decision phases needed for the project.

There is a larger influx of these clients between Labor Day and the new year, which leaves only a small window of time to see them. That makes for a complicated juggling act when it’s time for them to come to the showroom and begin the product and specification choices.

I liken the experience we try to provide to our clients to a stay in a fine hotel with a competent concierge. We ask: “What can we do or get done for the clients to maximize their experience during their stay?” By understanding how to work with and for these clients while they have limited time, you can galvanize the sale.

Your goal is to not only make the sale, but to try to get a commitment prior to them leaving. This is not always possible, but working with that goal in mind will only help differentiate your services.

Here are a few thoughts on best utilizing their (and your) time and effectively reinforcing that you are their best choice.

Get Organized

First and foremost, understand the schedule the client is working with. Most likely their stop to your showroom is one of many. They will be visiting other companies, too, probably some you have worked with and some of your competitors. It could be tile stores, flooring suppliers, plumbing fixtures or appliance showrooms or any of the myriad vendors with whom they will visit and make buying decisions. Whether organized and scheduled by the architect, interior designer, builder or client, it is good to get a grasp on the entire schedule.

Keeping your schedule open during the time they are in town will allow you to best service them. Try to schedule your meetings first thing in the morning. This will allow you the greatest flexibility to manage your time working for the client. Let your company or support staff know that you have clients in from out of town and may need their help at the last minute. Regarding the appointment, understand when your time slot is and how much time you will have to work with.

Inquire about what other companies and designer/sales associates they will be meeting. If they’re meeting with any companies or individuals with whom you have a working relationship, reach out to them and let them know you will be meeting with them as well. A cross referral between the companies they are going to be visiting is powerful.

Asking these other companies what the clients will be coming in to look at can give you valuable insight on the project as a whole. You may be able to determine information such as budget, trim levels and overall scope; by being more fully aware of their wants and needs for the overall project, you can set yourself apart from the competition.

With that said, if they are meeting with your competition, and the person scheduling the appointment is willing to share this with you, you know what you are up against.

Make sure you’re prepared for your appointment. Bring design ideas and all of the necessary drawings and sketches. Be positive that all of the samples you will need to show them are available and out for them when they arrive.

Have any necessary documents or other presentation materials preprinted and ready to go.

When you meet the clients, let them know how much time you will need and spell out your agenda. Ask them if there’s anything on their agenda that you haven’t already mentioned. Make sure all of your points, along with the clients’ points, are addressed in the predetermined amount of time. Talk to them about your process and assure them you are well versed in working with out-of-town clients. Working with someone remotely can be a daunting task for some, but with a little reassurance from you, it can be very easy.

Talk to them about the technologies you are using. E-mailing pdfs for drawing reviews, teleconferencing and online conferencing Web sites are just a few tools at your disposal that will make the client’s experience a smooth and rewarding one.

Lastly, be sure to gather all of the information you need from the client to keep the ball moving. Carefully record revisions, drawing changes and pricing requests so you can accurately and expeditiously get back to them.

The Need for Speed

After the first meeting you’ll probably need to make changes and update the work you’ve prepared from your initial meeting. These initial meetings generally trigger revisions to drawings, pricing and material selections, but if you’ve left your schedule open and have already talked to your support staff, hopefully you can get the work done fast and get back to the client.

During your initial meeting, assess the amount of time it will take and what needs to happen to get the work done. Ask the client to meet again later that day or the following morning, if possible. Responding to them as quickly as possible will increase your chances of getting their business. Putting the most comprehensive total package together, including the updates and changes, gives the client no reason not to buy.

This level of service gives them a sense of how dedicated you are to their project. Do this as many times as necessary and meet with them as often as needed to get the decisions made. Make sure every selection is accounted for and documented.

If applicable and it fits into the clients’ schedule, offer to take them to make their countertop selections. Involve yourself as much as you can in the other relevant selections and be integral in their decision-making process.

Having a commitment from the clients prior to them leaving is the reward for a job well done. If this is not offered to you, don’t be afraid to ask for the sale before the end of your last meeting. You outlined your next step in your first meeting and should reiterate this to them. Entice them to take the next step with you and try to get them to commit prior to returning home. Ask them what else you need to do to get them to do business with you.

Some clients won’t commit right away, but remember that the service you provide now will only make it easier for them to choose you when they have all of the information needed to finalize that decision. Make such an impression that the client won’t and can’t forget the time you spent with them, so if they don’t sign on the dotted line before they leave, they will down the road!