Perhaps the most important qualifying question to be asked when interviewing a client is the "budget question". Along with asking for the sale, it is the hardest question to get sales people to ask. Determining a budget during the interview process can be the difference between closing a sale and hours of wasted time for you and your client. Nothing is worse than presenting a bid to have the client say "Oh my! I only wanted so spend half that"! When training my sales staff, I consistently reiterate that they continually ask themselves, "What is the worst that can happen if I ask this question?" The answer is simply the worst that can happen is that the client won't answer, doesn't have an answer, or says no. In addition, I present scenarios to consider, and responses to those scenarios. Here are the two most common answers and responses to the question "What is the budget for your project?"
Client: I have one, but I am not going to tell you. My follow up is always simply "Why Not?" The response is most always, "If I tell you, you will do everything you can to hit that number". My answer to that statement is always, "Yes, that is exactly what I am going to do! My goal is to give you the best value for your budget." I like to use analogies of cars. This is something everyone relates to. I tell my clients, "If you came to me seeking a Mercedes and I showed you a Chevy Malibu, or if you came to me for a Chevy Malibu and I showed you a Mercedes, you would think I didn't listen. You also wouldn't go to a Chevy dealer if you were in the market for a Mercedes. We offer a complimentary design and estimating service. We have something for every budget. In order for me to give you the best service and value I must know what that budget is.
Client: I don't know what my budget should be. This is an easy one. An educated sales person should know the average cost of the remodeling service they provide. Tell the client what that average is. Explain that this means some projects are more, and some are less, but the number is a good gauge of what their budget should be. Then ask them, "How do you feel about that number?" and listen to their response. This will tell you immediately if your client is qualified.
There will occasionally be the client who will not give you a budget. My advice for this scenario is to walk away. If after reasonable explanation they still will not give you the information you require, they are not a serious buyer. If you are not charging by the hour for your design and estimating time, the chances of closing this sale without hours of lost time are slim to none. I have no problem telling a client simply seeking a free estimate that I am not in the estimating business; I am in the remodeling business. In most cases a skilled remodeling sales person should be able to provide an estimate to a client by simply evaluating the nature of the project based on company average sales for like projects, or by using national averages.
Mark Gandy, CGR, CGP, CAPS, is sales and project Manager, Bath Kitchen and Tile Center, Harbeson, Del., bathkitchenandtilesouth.com, firstname.lastname@example.org