Compete by connecting with clients

October 24, 2018 -  By
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Handshake (Photo: iStock.com/PeopleImages)

Photo: iStock.com/PeopleImages

When we talk about sales in the commercial landscape world we use the term business to business (B2B), which implies that we are businesses selling to businesses. B2B sales is a bit of a misnomer or sterile way to describe this category of sales. Over my years in the landscape industry, I have learned that businesses don’t make decisions. People do. The reality is that people do business with people. I call it P2P.

That’s right, while your business reputation or brand may help get you in the door, your greatest competitive advantage comes from the way you and your team interact with and form relationships with your prospects and customers.

In today’s competitive commercial landscape market, companies of all sizes are trying to leverage their resources to become more competitive. Questions concerning pricing, value engineering, scope, deploying more efficient equipment and productivity training all come into play. These are all important aspects of competitive positioning.

So how do we compete against the big guys in winning and retaining the work?

The most important step in winning and retaining business is to understand your customers, including how and why they make decisions. Second, it’s learning how to connect with them on a personal level. The roles of the commercial landscape buyer and property manager have changed dramatically since the Great Recession. Today’s property managers are doing more with less and are focused on taking care of their tenants and reporting financial performance up the ladder. They don’t have time to chase vendors around or follow up on work requests or issues. They are eager to connect with landscape partners they trust and who can help make their jobs easier.

Savvy business owners, sales leaders and account managers embrace this key concept and make it part of the way they sell and the way they do business.

Let me give you a couple of recent examples.

Ali is a 29-year-old senior property manager (yes, senior) in the Class A office market segment. She was recently in a position of putting her landscaping for a group of buildings out to bid and asked my thoughts on how to identify potential bidders. My suggestions were as follows:

  • Ask your peers who they use and why.
  • Use your connections in your trade organization to identify candidates.
  • Identify landscape companies on other properties that compare to yours.

After doing her due diligence, she chose three companies she felt were credible.

  • A regional player she had seen in the market but had not worked with.
  • A regional player she had worked with and had a good experience with.
  • A smaller local company she met through the Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA).

She ultimately awarded the portfolio to No. 3, the smaller company she met at BOMA, for the following reasons.

  • The owner took the time to meet with her on each site to understand her needs. In the process, he helped educate her about her properties and offered good suggestions about how to improve her asset value. The larger companies did not offer to meet with her to visit the properties.
  • The small business owner made her feel respected, even as a young property manager.
  • Due to the personal effort the smaller business owner exhibited through the sales process, she felt the smaller company would put more emphasis on serving her and her properties.

The smaller company was not the cheapest, but because of her desire to work with them, Ali coached them into an acceptable price range.

In her words, “They weren’t the cheapest but I was willing to negotiate price because I felt comfortable with the owner.” In this David and Goliath story, the small business owner trumped the larger regional players by demonstrating greater value through extra effort and in building a personal relationship.

While this example is a lesson on selling new work, the P2P concept is even more important in regard to our existing clients. In fact, in our industry, when we lose clients, it has less to do with landscaping and more to do with a personal relationship between an account manager and client. If businesses made decisions, this would not be an issue. People make decisions, and they do so on a personal level.

I recently helped a property manager in Atlanta who had become frustrated with her landscape service provider. She had two different account managers within the last year and had just found out that someone new had been assigned to her account. She was frustrated at having to “retrain” another account manager and had not heard from any company leader during any of the transitions. As we discussed options for prospective bidders, the conversation quickly turned from companies to people. The property manager recalled past relationships and people she trusted. Not surprisingly, the final bid list was centered around those relationships.

I don’t want to minimize the value of a great organization. Landscaping is a team sport. It takes a team of professionals to pull off great service in a consistent manner, but great companies understand the value of people and relationships and build a culture that will attract and retain the best talent. It is through our people that our clients and prospective clients develop their perceptions about our company. Too many times we get caught up in “business speak,” focusing on promoting our products and services rather than letting our prospects or customers know how we can really help them.

About the Author:

Thomas, founder of Envisor Consulting, has owned three of Atlanta’s most successful landscape companies. Reach him at kenthomas@envisorco.com.

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