Opportunity with a First Call Close

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Many home performance contractors, and even a surprising (to me anyway) number of HVAC contractors, have a multi-visit sales approach, or its evil cousin where a proposal is sent to the potential client some time, some long time, after the first visit, but without any further homeowner contact.

Opportunity

It doesn’t have to be that way. Even for contractors with average project sizes of $40,000, first-time closes are possible for as many as one-third of the sales. This is a big deal. Getting to agreement on the first visit is more efficient and less costly for you. The time you save going back and forth and chasing down clients, can be huge.

It can be a better value for homeowners, too. As you are able to get more efficient delivery across your operation, you costs can be significantly lowered, and while boosting margins you may eventually be able to past some savings back to the client raising value even more. Their time is valuable, too. They don’t want to wait for you, they often don’t want to see you several times just to get the estimate. And if they trust you to honor their time, and see that your company has acted professionally and credibly throughout, the may decide not to spend even more time getting additional bids.

In part because of this, another neat thing happens—your close rates will also go up. You can not only strike while the iron is hot, but also I’ll suggest having the tools in place that allow you to deliver a contract on the fist visit add to your professional credibility. Plus, all the time you save with each client can be redirected to others, allowing you to go a bit further and win sales you otherwise would have missed. With the ability to close on the first can, I might reasonably expect a 10-point increase in close rates—that’s a big deal.

How can I do this?

Not every company is ready to start doing this today. But almost everyone can start putting together the pieces.

For starters, you need an efficient and accurate estimating system. For most straightforward projects, you should be able to both create the specifications for and price out the project in a matter of minutes at the kitchen table (or sitting out in the front seat of your truck, next to your portable printer if you like paper).

I’m still amazed at how many sales people are responsible for calculating and specifying the number of bags of insulation, and the number of tubes of caulk, and the number of labor hours to install it. On routine projects, that should not be the norm. Instead, the elements of a project should be broken down to simple unit pricing wherever possible. Maybe for routine attic and air-sealing you’re looking at $3.50/square foot. You can have adders for recessed lighting treatments, whether you need to build attic hatches and dams, etc., and multipliers for how difficult the attic is to access (a 12/12 pitch with a 12’ peak is a lot easier to move around in that a 2/12 pitch with 2’ peak). You can determine that the standard installation of your 15,000 BTU mini split is $6,100. And so on and so on.1

Contractors find as much as 90% of the time, the standard unit pricing is all they need, and that they can build the project spec in minutes, not hours or days. It’s simple enough that you can do this by hand—but it’s better if you have a computerized system to make sure pricing stays current, to speed up the math, and hopefully, to feed right into you reports and proposals.

Speaking of those reports, you’ve really got to work to streamline them. I’ll suggest simple and easy-to-understand is better than 100-page research papers. The best combined audit reports and proposals I’ve seen are tightly constructed, focus on communicating the most important information to the homeowners without overwhelming them. As a bonus, it might be faster and easier to prepare a 10-page report/proposal/contract than a 100-page proposal. (Although it’s probably a lot harder to prepare that great10-page template then the 100-page dump-it-all-in template.)

You also have to prepare a homeowner for this from the initial intake conversation and throughout the sales process, so they are expecting, ready for, and excited about your proposal.

Financing

You’ve got to be able to bring financing into the conversation, especially for those larger projects. Most people, even if the have the cash, are going to be much more hesitant to commit to a $30,000 check than they will be to a stream of $165 monthly payments.

Getting There

What’s nice is that even if you’re not ready to move to presenting offers on the first visit today, working on any of the above elements can help improve your sales today, while preparing you to adding a first-call ability down the road. It worth walking down that road.

1Work scopes need to be accurately communicated to the production team–part of streamlining includes a across-the-board understanding of the process so that sales and production are aligned. If “air-seal the attic” means the production crew knows that it’s supposed to seal at every penetration, partition wall, etc., then each of those items doesn’t need to be spelled out. If everyone understands that each recessed light also needs to be sealed, and that each is an additional item on the pricing sheet, the crew doesn’t guess whether it’s supposed to treat the fixture, they treat it. If there is something off with the estimate, the crew makes a note of it, and it’s both a feedback opportunity–and a commission adjustment opportunity–for the sales person. Clear process make estimating AND quality installation a lot easier!

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About the Author:

Mike Rogers is the President of OmStout Consulting. A nationally recognized expert in residential energy-efficiency, he works with contractors and programs to scale sustainable market approaches to improving homes. More on Google+

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