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New Ways to Sell Decorative Concrete

Chris Sullivan photo When all three of my children were learning to speak, I can remember telling them to "use your words" when they would grunt and moan and point at something they wanted. As adults we have learned to communicate using our words when we want and need something. The thing I find interesting is how the use of certain words can change the entire meaning and intention of what someone is trying to say. For those who sell and install decorative concrete, when was the last time you thought about how the words you use influence your client's thought process regarding their decision to buy your products or services?

For many installers, the first mistake occurs before concrete even shows up at the job site. Using the wrong words or not understanding their client's needs is a common mistake in our industry. Have you ever wondered why you did not get a certain job? Maybe it was the words you used, or, maybe, the words you did not use.

The decorative concrete industry has come a long way in a relatively short period of time, and I have found the advancements in the products have far outpaced our ability to sell or compete against other hardscape surfaces. Most anyone who is close to the industry knows the benefits of decorative concrete, but step outside that relatively small industry circle and the decorative market is still known only for stamped and stained concrete - a small portion of what the decorative industry really offers. Manufacturers can only do so much in regard to advertising and marketing. In fact, most manufacturers spend their advertising dollars selling their products to the contractor, not the end-user. This is where the modern and articulate contractor can rise above his or her competition. Contractors need to understand as much about who they are selling to as what they are trying to sell.

What I call modern selling is the ability to identify and sell what people want to buy versus what you are selling. You have to tailor your sales spiel to meet what they want, not what you do. It all starts with understanding that everyone is busy. Time is a rare commodity in people's lives and needs to be taken into serious consideration. Be on time and don't keep people waiting. Also, realize that whatever you can do to explain how your products or services allow more time and relaxation will go a long way.

Consider what telecommunications companies have done. They are masters at combining, bundling and packaging services into one lump deal. They focus on how these deals will make your life easier, simpler and will save you time. Consider doing the same thing with your decorative services and products. Instead of the client having to deal with multiple installers for a backyard renovation, you can offer to do it all - stamped patio, backyard kitchen, concrete countertops, precast furniture, fireplace, etc. Take a lesson from the fast-food chains and do the upsell - "Do you want fries and a drink with that?" If you're talking about a stained concrete floor, offer to do a microtopping on the walls or a concrete countertop that will match. You won't always be successful, but for the few extra words it takes to make the offer, I think the potential is worth it.

In today's poor economic climate, people are concerned about their financial future. It has become less about staying ahead of their neighbors and more about just staying ahead of the mortgage. The new economic world we live in needs to be at the forefront when you go to sell a job, as well as when you identify who you are selling to.

In the recent bestseller "What Americans Really Want.... Really," Dr. Frank Luntz outlines five key lifestyle attributes that he says matter to Americans when they live their lives and make buying decisions. These lifestyle attributes and desires need to be part of any and all sales presentations made in today's economic climate.

1. More money. People are looking for deals and ways to keep more money in their pockets than ever before. For women, money is said to be about having personal security for family and future, while for men money is said to mean more freedom and more stuff. Incorporating the idea of a bargain combined with a "cool concrete driveway" may be the way to go.

2. Fewer hassles. Make it easy, make it simple, and make it hassle-free. Price and quality being equal, the contractor that disrupts the family routine the least will get the job. This starts with having an online showroom so people can start their search on your Web site while drinking coffee on Sunday morning (on their time), and it ends with you providing products and services without turning the clients' lives upside down.

3. More time. It's pretty simple - everyone is chasing the clock. Keep time and its importance in mind when you're in the process of selling, and consider how your products and services may offer more family time. Here's a sample pitch: "A patio is more than concrete. It's the foundation where family and friends can come together for years to come. While stone, wood or even gray concrete might do the job, textured concrete provides warmth, class and economy that will be there for a lifetime." A bit cheesy? Absolutely. But consider that it sells economy, time and a hassle-free product - priceless!

4. More choices. Americans demand choice. It's just part of what we have all grown up with. Keep the word "choice" in mind when selling. Offer choice, but beware that too much choice becomes chaos.

5. No worries. Clients are looking for an expression of confidence that things will turn out OK. The contractor that can convey the "no worries" attitude with sincerity has a better chance of landing the job. The "no worries" attitude also comes into play if and when a problem does arise. It is important that the client feels he or she has nothing to worry about, even in a crisis situation.

I encourage all contractors to do some work before giving a sales presentation to potential clients. Here are a few ideas that can be used to help close the deal - some are common sense, others not so common:

Use technology to your advantage. Set up a Web site with lots of pictures, references and recommendations.

Look for the emotional connection that your product or service has with the client. No sale will be easier than the one that connects with your client's heart.

Make the product or service you offer individual to the client's specific needs. I have often sold stain jobs as "one-of-a-kind works of art" and "floors that will never be reproduced." Let your customers see themselves in or on your product or service - humanize and personalize projects to their needs.

Lastly, appeal to all the senses. The best way to do this is to have a showroom where clients can feel, touch and smell the products. Nothing closes a deal better then physically seeing how a decorative product looks and feels in a realistic and natural setting.

With products as distinct and specialized as decorative concrete, selling needs to be just as specialized. Take the time to understand how the words you use affect whether clients recognize the importance of your products and services. Choosing the right words and doing a little research on whom you're selling to can help close more deals and increase sales.

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