– Curt Hayes, President of Audio Design, Inc.


To close more sales, it’s important to make a great first impression

Start selling scope…

We have all heard the expression “you only get one chance to make a great first impression.”  It’s the reason we use a little mouthwash before a first date, or put on a tie for a first interview.  We’d rather not let something as obvious as bad breath or unprofessional attire derail our efforts before the conversation even gets started. So how does this relate to closing more sales? In this case, the “scope” we’re referring to isn’t a brand of mouthwash, but the nature of the project we’re about to discuss.

In this context, Webster’s dictionary defines scope as “the range of view, intent or action.” For our purposes, it has to do with making the maximum impact with your client in that crucial first meeting.  How?  By consciously avoiding talking about specific details and instead discussing the client’s vision, desires, and expectations – his or her “scope” – for the project.

Now before we go any farther, let me say this – if you currently close more than 75% of your proposals, you can stop reading right now. That’s right, if the vast majority of the ultra-detailed, 100-page tree killers you prepare following that first client meeting actually turn into jobs, you can go spend your time playing golf or doing whatever you do – for you are the exception, not the rule. If that’s not you, then I encourage you to read on.

OK, for those still with me, you may counter, “I DO talk about client desires and expectations, but my closing rate certainly isn’t 75%.” This is where our paths begin to diverge. The “first impression” we’re going to discuss has to do with your new prospect’s reaction to your first “proposal”, and getting there much more quickly…with far fewer surprises!  To start, you have to learn to stop selling equipment.

Stop selling equipment…

You read that correctly – stop selling equipment.  Historically, the vast majority of proposals generated by our industry are really very detailed bill-of-materials.  Great thought is given to the brand and model of TV, remote, speaker, etc. – which oftentimes mean next to nothing to the client. Let’s explore this relative to another purchase your client may be making in conjunction with your coveted new project – a house.

If you have ever built a new house, the builder likely didn’t meet with you and begin discussing the brand of concrete he felt you needed for your foundation, or model of shingle he intended to use for the roof.  Rather, he likely walked you through his model home and told you “this is what I can create for you.” At which point, you began discussing scope – how many bedrooms and bathrooms you need, and how you would really like an outdoor living space and dedicated theater.  This is not the time for discussion of details; this is the time for defining desires – identifying the scope for the home of your dreams.

Likewise, when you buy a car it’s not likely the salesperson will sit down with you and start talking about the brand of tires they use. Rather, they will walk you through the showroom talking about your needs (2-door or 4-door, sedan or SUV) and showing you the various models available. In both cases, home and car, the salesperson was selling their brand.  They are making a case for Brand X Homes or Brand Y automobile – and you as a prospective client will be discussing the scope of your needs and determining if the solutions offered will meet them.

Now, as you begin the conversation with your new prospect, keep this in mind.  Don’t let your enthusiasm for projector X or control system Y interfere with listening to your client and leading them to discuss their ideas, expectations and dreams for their new system – not to mention potential frustrations they’ve experienced with prior systems they’ve owned.  You may not have a model home, or new car showroom, to demonstrate your work – so building a mental picture in this first meeting is essential.  In other words, focus on the big picture, sell your brand (i.e. your company) – and ask the right questions.

Ask the right questions…

Asking the right questions is pivotal to your success at this stage of the game. Use leading questions that the client can answer.  For example, don’t ask “what brand of TV do you want?” Instead, ask “where do you want to watch TV, and what do you like to watch?”  “Where do you want to listen to music, and what do you like to listen to?”  “Are you a movie enthusiast; if so, have you considered a dedicated theater?”  “How important are aesthetics; is it okay to see the equipment or do you prefer to have it all hidden?”

Brand and model are largely immaterial to this conversation, and thus should be actively avoided.  The only brand that matters right now is you – your company.  Ask questions, listen, and repeat back what you think you heard – these are all techniques that will begin to build rapport.  This client will begin to feel that she is being heard, that this guy or gal might actually understand her needs and might just be able to fulfill them.  That is, up to the point you start to discuss budget – right?  Wrong!  The fastest, most effective way to ruin a first impression is to return a proposal that completely misses the budget.  If you don’t discuss it up front, there is no way to divine what the client is willing to invest in their system.  So yes, you need to talk about price.

Talk about price…

Looking back at our new home analogy, armed with the information you provided, this prospective builder could quickly qualify you by offering a rough budget required to construct this new home of your dreams.  $150 / square foot, $250 / square foot, $1000 / square foot?  Your answer to the question of budget tells him exactly what kind of home he needs to propose.  Are you a semi-custom tract client or one-of-kind custom buyer?  Given your budget, our car salesperson can quickly determine which models to show you.

Again, you may counter “I TRY to discuss budget, but the client is evasive and won’t tell me how much he’s willing to spend”.  This is generally true, but not necessarily for the reasons you think.  There are many resources to help determine home prices in a given market, and car manufacturers spend millions producing ads that inform clients of the price range for their vehicles.  Such is not the case for the AV systems industry.  In most cases, the client isn’t evasive because he’s trying to be coy.  Rather, in most cases this prospective client simply has no idea what this stuff costs!

Given this fact, begin discussing budget early and often.  Again, avoid price in the context of specific equipment and build your discussion around systems or rooms.  For example, your client may have expressed an interest in watching movies in a dedicated theater – so talk about the price ranges of a dedicated theater room.  With all prejudice and “snobbery” aside, a theater can be built for $10 – 15k.  Conversely, that budget can easily reach into the high 6 or even 7 figures.  If you avoid establishing a budget, when it comes time to present your proposal you could easily miss the mark by proposing a BMW 7-Series to a Camry client, and this will lead to a very bad first impression!  If your prospect wants to listen to music “throughout the whole house” first discuss typical price ranges for a distributed audio system.  You may quickly find that the client who “only wants the best” begins to back off a bit when 20 rooms @ $5k per room becomes $100,000!

Talk about price as you get answers to your questions, and the budget will begin to build itself.  The benefit to this approach is that as you get these “small yes’s”, system by system and room by room, it’s a lot easier for the client to understand how the price tag for his dream system became a half million bucks!  If the scope exceeds an acceptable overall budget, make adjustments now at the system or room level – before work on a formal proposal has even been started.  As with most tasks, the process of establishing a budget can be made easier if you can find the right tools.

Find the right tools…

I will admit, finding the right “tool” for this job hasn’t been easy in the past.  There have been individual voices around the industry who have advocated the concept, and a few companies have developed software applications intended to sell “packages”, but the pickings have been pretty slim and dealers have largely been left to come up with solutions on their own.  And that can be done.  Fundamentally, selling “scope” starts by simply creating and defining a list of “systems” that you sell and support (e.g. theater, audio/video distribution, integrated control, lighting, security, etc.).

Armed with a systems list with corresponding price ranges you can lead your client through each, first determining if there is an interest in a particular system – this develops the scope of the project – and second what level of quality and capability is desired – this develops the budget.  It may be a manual approach, but with a printed list of systems in front of you and the client – and an agreed upon budget to the side of each – a baseline number can be easily generated at the bottom.  If the client accepts that figure it’s far more likely that the proposal you create next will be accepted.  Taking a small design retainer (I recommend 2% as a minimum) for creation of this detailed quote further solidifies your chances of closing the sale.

Mobile Quote AppFortunately, the software landscape is beginning to improve and several offerings for applications to support this selling approach are now available.  In fact, D-Tools, the industry leader in system design and documentation software, has recently announced Mobile Quote iPad App— its own companion application for use with the latest version of System Integrator SIX. This allows SIX users a new way to leverage their investment in the D-Tools platform and introduces a new workflow that makes it easy for sales people to quickly get to the scope and budgeting aspects of any project. This process enables sales people to get an agreement in place without having to specifically engineer the system, while efficiently maintaining an organized process for the rest of the team.

Give it a try…

However you go about doing it, I encourage you to try a system or package-based sales approach.  Years ago I sat across the table with a prospective design client, determined to attempt to sell a design agreement based on a percentage of the job.  When the time came—and with some serious trepidation—I pulled out my single page agreement, filled in the amount…and collected a deposit on a $500,000 budget.  It worked!

You can do the same, saving time & money in the process.  So go ahead, sell scope – and make your first impression a great impression!

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