Thrill of victory, agony of defeat

John, Ron and Glen won, and I lost. What did they win? They won the most valuable prize I have to give. They won my time, for free, and they won my advice, my sincere effort and my attention to their goal of improving their living conditions.

Phyllis, Jane, Lynn, Ken, Kevin, Tara and Sandi also won, but the difference is that these people (the smarter group) hired me to do their remodel or new home project, while those in group one left me with nothing in return except the opportunity to learn from my defeats, and ended up hiring someone else.

In this column, I examine the ones that got away ... those people from group one who selected the other guy, or gal. In this economy, the competition for custom clients has never been tougher. The supply of able builders willing to bid is at an all-time high, and demand for services, until recently, has been at an all-time low. Unfortunately, this brings into play an irrefutable law of capitalism and forces down the price and value of services of custom builders. So, what can you do to survive and prosper?


Every sales meeting is as unique as the individual or couple with whom you are speaking. Therefore, no one methodology will work for all situations. So, you have to be flexible but still have a game plan. When I count the number of meetings I had face-to-face with those in group one, I come up with an average of five meetings held at both their homes and my office. It irks me now to compute the time and effort I personally invested plus the time my paid staff spent reviewing their plans, understanding them, copying them, calling trades and suppliers on their behalf, creating reports for them, and hoping they become clients. The average time spent was 60 to 75 hours per prospect between my staff and me.

I know I am not alone investing energy in prospects. Last week I did some consulting for an architect/builder from Seattle who said he held 11 meetings with a prospect and then got the proverbial Dear John email letter that stated: “We have decided to go in another direction. Thank you for your time.” I received my Dear Jay letters from group one; it’s never a pleasant experience reading one. When the call or letter arrives, I suggest mustering all the patience and kindness you can and ask the prospect to please help you understand why he selected someone else. I have also had one of my staff make that call on my behalf so the feedback was as candid as possible. It is helpful feedback even if it is unpleasant to hear.


Essentially, you have three areas of expertise: design, budget and construction. You are accustomed to selling and getting paid only for construction. If you alter your mind-set, sell your abilities and go for the close sooner, you will be asking your prospect to sign and fund what I refer to as the PSA, or Professional Services Agreement. You will alienate a certain number of prospects and you will have your own learning curve with respect to overcoming objections and having the confidence to step up and ask to be paid sooner rather than later. You will also need to be adept at selling using an open-book construction management approach. What you gain, however, is the ability to eliminate or diminish the size of your group one and to save the hundreds of hours you may give away to those folks. The cost will include the loss of some of your prospects, but the gain will be the time and effort you do not expend on these same people.

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 Grant is available for business consulting. Send email to Read past columns at