How I Take the Pitch Out of Sales

There are over 100 “Architecture and Building Design” firms offering home design services in my same zip code, just on alone. Even though most of the people walking through my door have been referred to me by someone, who knows I’m great, it still requires sales to get clients to sign up on the spot.

I use a consistent process that involves more than just telling the customer about how great my ideas are and how fast my plans scream through the building department. I focus on the client’s needs and not the “features and benefits” of hiring me. I use consultative selling.

I’ve learned the consultative selling approach from business coach Matt Burkinshaw, who I have known for several years through my BNI network. He has taught me to engage my clients in a way that shows them I’m committed to helping solve problems they care about, not what I think are their problems. Such as how detailed my plans are compared to others.

Not only that, Matt says “The basics of consultative selling will help bring in more revenue, and if you document your actions and results, you will see positive growth in your company’s sales performance.”

He’s been right, too.

In fact, from our very first contact with a potential client, the initial meeting is referred to as a consultation.

My business model is to offer the first hour or two of consultation away for free. I know other professionals who charge for every client meeting, even the first. I guess in my mind, I’m still thinking of it as a “sales meeting,” (A personal thing I have to work on) and with my high closing rate, I have no problem building in those few hours into my overall fees.

Here’s an example of how to utilize consultative selling. Jon R. Rentfrow, a building designer in Colorado, whom I met through the American Institute of Building Design (AIBD), opens his book Experiencing Home by writing, “I venture into people’s lives to learn how they live and how they want to live, what they enjoy and what they dislike.”

His book goes on to provide a vast laundry list of prodding questions to ask clients about themselves, their family, their lifestyles, and their dreams.

One of the simplest and most overlooked questions I like to open with is, “Why did you [or are you] selling your existing home?” Quickly you’ll be able to start a list of what they like and what they don’t like about their existing home, which is precious information.

Change is scary, especially when you have to imagine it (at first). Find out what experiences they find pleasant and use those to create an image in their mind’s eye of how beautiful their new home can be.

I’ve had to develop this talent over time, but those who can throw together a 3D hand sketch of their ideas have an advantage in the consultative selling process.

A very talented architect I’ve met through AIBD, Wayne Visbeen in Michigan, shared in one of his educational seminars that he provides as many sketches as time allows in that first meeting but only lets the client take them with them if they sign a contract on the spot.

Some other examples of consultative questions in Jon’s book are:

  • How do you want your front porch to feel? Is it a place you want to escape to and be alone or somewhere to gather with friends?
  • What is the most joyful goodbye you’ve had at your front door?
  • Who uses the study in your home? Is it for the entire family or just for one specific person?
  • What things do you have on your walls? Would you consider these things to be private or public?

The list goes on.

Real estate agent showing detail of lease agreement to interracial couple. Estate broker explaining lease agreement or purchase contract to couple in a new house.

Matt tells me that only 2% of sales are made at the first sales meeting to proactive customers who have already researched the product or service and come to that meeting ready to buy. Because home design firms depend so heavily on word-of-mouth advertising, our industry may be slightly higher.

However, his point is, many clients need to be convinced, to some extent, to hire you.

Consultative selling focuses on identifying the prospect’s concerns and needs and then working with the customer to determine whether your service is the right fit for them both regarding the ability to address those concerns but also from a budget and timing standpoint.

To quote a recent blog post written by Matt,

“While you do want to teach the customer about your services, you aren’t just educating the client based on your favorite accomplishments or features and benefits. Learning what the customer needs and wants is key to starting the process.

When the customer relates their problem, listen to and engage them. With this interaction, it’s not just a one-way pitch with a yes-or-no outcome, but a conversation that creates value for your product or service by showing the client how what you sell addresses their needs.

When you continue the conversation, you build a relationship that you can’t obtain when you use a sales pitch.”

Once you start practicing consultative selling, document your activity and track your results. Keep a log of when you contact your customers with dates, the discussion, and if they conveyed any needs or wants.

Remember, your primary goal is to solve their problem with your service. When you get a yes and go to contract, you want to be sure that the client’s concerns are all addressed in your scope of work and the terms of the agreement.

A consultative sales process, especially when supported by excellent customer relationship management systems, will lead to more extended and stronger relationships for your company. Not to mention, more referrals!

Kevin Holdridge headshot.Contributed by Kevin Holdridge, AIBD, CGP, CAPS, CPBD

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