Recently I decided to buy a big-screen television. I’d done some product research but I hadn’t decided on a particular brand or model. Instead, I decided to turn my shopping experience into a sales evaluation. I wanted to see if any of the salespeople I spoke with could take me through the selling process.

Over the years, this process has been very well-defined. It consists of three simple steps: getting an appointment, creating interest and closing the sale. In my case, all the salesperson needed to do was close the sale. I was already interested in buying and, since I was standing in the showroom, an appointment was unnecessary.

I visited several stores and, much to my dismay, none of the salespeople I spoke with made any attempt to close the sale. Nobody asked for the order. I would have given an extra $100 to the sales professional who knew how to close the deal, but no one did! Ultimately, I sold myself my new TV. I have no reason to return to any of the stores, shop for a specific brand or tell any of my acquaintances about the experience.

Building service contractors are a lot like those electronics salespeople. Many have gotten into the habit of just getting by without having an active selling process. In fact, many large BSCs are remarkably casual about their growth strategies.

The active selling process for cleaning contractors is a bit similar to that of electronics stores. There are two common ways both BSCs and retail stores grow:

The first is to grow with your customers. You work with a client who at first asks you to do one or two projects. The client is pleased with your work and as they grow they take you along with them. (This is similar to a repeat shopper in a retail store.) This is the easiest way to grow your business — assuming your customers are growing.

The second-best way to grow is to have your customers sell for you. They are so satisfied with your service they tell everyone. These referrals in turn become valuable clients and the process repeats itself.

There is a third growth strategy that is more commonly used by BSCs than by electronics stores: cold calling. Cold calling is labor-intensive and can be rejection-intensive, too. But it’s an important part of a successful marketing strategy and can yield tremendous benefits.

Call reluctance
A few years ago I read a fascinating book on call reluctance. The author stated that, over the years, sales professions build an aversion to making sales calls. It’s a little like the reaction you get from a dog every time you pick up a rolled newspaper. The pup knows the paper is an instrument for punishment and will often cringe at the sight.

Sales professionals (and these are professionals) have taken such an ego-bruising over the years from cold calling that they are reluctant to do it. It’s important to realize that most sales professionals suffer from some form of sales-call reluctance.

You can tell the extent of the aversion by how long it takes a sales person to actually make the call. We have a client who decided to become more involved in direct sales. This client hired a salesperson to spearhead the effort. The new salesperson had to have everything in precise order before a call could be made. Then sales materials had to be customized for each call. The salesperson was spending so much time getting ready to call that few calls were ever made.
Some other call-reluctance clues include resistance to talking about new services and always asking for something more, such as new literature, lower prices or better references, before calling can begin.

Sales professionals with call reluctance will almost always take the path of least resistance — simply writing up repeat business. However, the lifeblood of your business depends on new customers.

Salespeople with call reluctance are like a surgeon who can’t stand the sight of blood. It’s professional suicide. But there is a cure. First, recognize that it’s a problem – even among professionals. Second, talk with the individual, but expect a fair amount of denial. Finally, make sure your sales team has needed materials, but don’t let requests for “stuff” cripple calling.

We represent a client who is bringing some remarkable new cleaning tools to the market. We advised the company’s management regarding developing literature, videos, packaging, public relations and educational materials.

Despite an arsenal of effective sales tools, some staffers spent weeks requesting meaningless revisions. A color change here, a deleted word there, and still no sales calls.

I pulled the global marketing director aside and asked if he was familiar with the concept of call reluctance. I explained the endless request for revisions was a symptom of this problem and outlined a potential sales approach.

Within days my friend called to report his success. He had followed my recommendations and a new customer had signed on. All of the items his staff was convinced needed changing before they could sell turned out to be of little or no consequence in the actual sales process.

Making the sale
When it comes to actually making the sales presentation, there are three aspects to consider. They are probing, dealing with objections and closing the sale.

Probing allows you to learn more about the customer and tell more about your product or service. You do this with open- and closed-ended questions. Closed-end questions (such as yes-or-no questions) are good to help you break the ice. They’re most important at the beginning and end of a sales call.

Open-ended questions (such as “what” and “why” questions) broaden the conversation. If you already have some kind of rapport with the client, open-ended questions can help you get more information.

In almost every presentation, you’ll have the opportunity to deal with objections. When a potential customer gives you an objection, they’re really opening a door for you to answer that objection. That’s the beginning of closing the sale.

An effective sales kit can help you overcome objections. This kit should always contain leave-behind items that are hard for your customer to throw away. I’ve been on sales calls where the person I spoke with a year ago may have left the company but the literature I left that individual remains behind. He or she felt compelled to leave this information with a successor.

The sales kit should contain information about your company and services you offer. It should also contain recommendations from customers who can help you sell. Seeing is more powerful than reading, so make your referrals more than just a list. Include photographs that illustrate the results. These photographs can be part of print materials, videos or even a CD.

Compile a “proof book” — a collection of successful ways you’ve dealt with objections in the past. It should contain articles, studies or reports you may quote. Even more important, it should contain actual problem-and-solution types of case studies.

For example, you may have called on a client who refused your services because he felt your price was too high. Three months later, this client calls you back and wants to hire you. The client has received many complaints about the cheaper service. He now realizes complaints are costing him more than hiring your company to begin with. Write up this account and place it in your proof book.

Closing the sale
The final step in your sales presentation is the most difficult. Ask for the business. Remember my shopping experience? No one ever closed the sale. No one asked, “May I have this delivered?” I bought the TV in spite of my sales person, not because of him. Twenty sales people lost a big sale because they didn’t ask for the order.

You can profit from my experience. Good salesmanship requires you to move outside your comfort zone. But once you do, you can grow your business in ways you never may have thought possible.

John Walker is a regular Contracting Profits columnist. He is a veteran building service contractor; owner of ManageMen consulting services, Salt Lake City; and founder of Janitor University, a hands-on cleaning management training program.