Sales “Secret”: Ask Good Questions (and Listen to the Answers!)

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Iceberg consultative salesContractors,

How do you know what your customers really want?

There are a lot of very smart people in the home performance and HVAC industries. We know how homes work. Unfortunately, we’re often too quick to jump up on the soap box and start preaching to potential customers rather than listening to what they have to say.

This hurts us. We sell fewer projects. And we sell smaller projects.

There is a better way.

Let’s say Kate, an home improvement Advisor, walks into a room. She suspects a comfort issue based on what she’s seen in the house so far, poorly installed insulation and a lot of air-leakage.

KATE (the Advisor): Wow, nice space. Gwen, how is this room in the winter? 

GWEN (Homeowner): We really like this room. But it is absolutely freezing in the winter. On windy days, it’s almost unbearable.

KATE: That’s too bad. What do you do about that?

GWEN: Well, I put plastic on the windows, but that blocks our views. We use one of those plug in radiators on each side of the room, and that helps. I sometimes have to wear my jacket to stay warm enough.

KATE: That sounds like a lot of work. What if we could fix a few things to keep this room as warm as the rest of the house?

GWEN: That would be awesome!”

Kate could have jumped right in and said, “you don’t have enough insulation in the attic and your house is leaky. We need to insulate to R-60 and reduce your leakage by 2,000 cfm50.” Most people, though, don’t get very excited about insulation (and they don’t understand the jargon). They don’t do backflips out of joy when pondering the caulk, foam, and labor to air-seal. Thus, insulation and air-sealing (and fixing ducts, and high-efficiency equipment, ventilation systems, and…) are harder to sell. “Awesome” though, you can sell “awesome”.

How did Kate find out what was awesome? By asking questions:

  • “How is this room in the winter?” This problem-focused question helps identify whether there is a pain point that needs to be addressed. A lot of contractors get this far. Great starting point, but don’t stop!
  • “What do you do about that?” This implication question gets to how big a deal is the problem. In this example, the cold room is a big deal. And now you know. Just as importantly, the homeowner is now thinking about it, and may be more primed to connect her problem to the solutions you’ll present later (especially if you explicitly make that connection in your report/proposal!). The homeowner may have called about a cracked heat exchanger flagged by the gas company, but now she’s thinking about other problems, too.
  • “What if we could fix a few things to keep this room as warm as the rest of the house?” In other words, what would it be worth to you to make this problem go away? Not in terms of dollars or cents (we’ll get to that in our proposal!) but how much would your life be better? If you ask a value question, and the answer is “awesome”, you’ve got something you can sell! And the homeowner understands how valuable your solution is because they just told you.

Now if the homeowner doesn’t recognize the issue is a problem, it’s not. If they see the problem, but it doesn’t really bother them, you can’t hang your hat there, either.

It’s your job to find out what’s important, what the homeowner cares about, what they are willing to pay for. And help them understand that, too!

Ask good questions…and listen to the answers.

P.S. I like to recommend a book that does a great job exploring these types of questions, SPIN Selling by Neil Rackham. “SPIN”, isn’t a the dodgy concept of political spin from the Sunday morning talk shows. Rather it is an acronym for the different kinds of questions that you can use to help build understanding of the customers needs. Rackham names the questions differently, and I don’t particularly like the forced acronym, but I love underlying questions and his discussion of them. There is also a companion “Field book” with great practice exercises. Unfortunately, this isn’t tailored for the home improvement industry, and you’ll have to mold the concepts into something that makes more practical sense for your in-home sales situation. Great place to start, though.

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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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