Prepare, present and close

During sales presentations, focus on the big picture and don’t get bogged down with details.
During sales presentations, focus on the big picture and don’t get bogged down with details.

Master the tricks of a perfect kitchen-table presentation.

Public speaking or giving presentations is a nerve-wracking experience for most people. It requires confidence, concentration and knowledge of your subject matter. It also requires experience. If you’re not comfortable making a presentation to a customer, don’t worry, you’re not alone.

Over the years I’ve literally given thousands of presentations to homeowners to sell landscape design/build services. I’ve also made thousands of mistakes. Fortunately, I’ve learned from my experiences and want to share some trade secrets that will help you succeed.

Most landscape designers/salespeople present our plans and proposals at our clients’ kitchen tables. The perfect kitchen-table presentation includes three parts: preparation, presentation and closing. Each part consists of several steps you need to follow if you want to develop, improve and be successful. If you’re too nervous, too cocky or don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s an excellent chance that you’ll have a difficult time selling.


One thing most salespeople overlook is preparing for their presentations. Believe it or not, you’re not supposed to just show up and wing it. Although, I suspect that’s what many of you do.

A simple act like calling to confirm your appointment gives clients confidence that they’re working with a professional, and it takes less than 30 seconds to do. Plus, it gives them the opportunity to reschedule need be and saves you from making a wasted trip if they forgot.

Take 10 to 15 minutes to review the plan and proposal at the office (not in the truck). It allows you to refresh your memory while also checking for mistakes. Not knowing what’s in the design or proposal can make you look foolish and be very costly. Too many “umm, umm, umms” and you’re done, done, done. Regardless of how experienced you are, take this time to practice your presentation. Lastly, check the schedule so you know when their project could begin.


There are many reasons a presentation may succeed or fail. Some are more obvious than others.

There’s nothing like a great big smile and hearty handshake to set the tone for your meeting. Take off your shoes whether or not they’re muddy. Even if the client says not to worry about it, do it. It shows you care and are respectful.

Before you begin your presentation, start off with some light conversation. As far as seating goes, make sure your clients sit across from you and not to your left and right. You want to be able to look at them while you’re presenting and quickly glance from one to the other to keep eye contact. If one is on your left and the other is on your right, you have to keep turning your head back and forth, which literally can make you dizzy. It’s easy to lose track of your presentation when you’re constantly swinging your head around.

Also, use a drawing tube to protect your plan and to present a professional image. Make sure to roll your plan backward in the tube so it will lay flat on the table when you unroll it.

For the presentation of the drawing itself, I like to work in a clockwise motion starting in the front yard and working my way around the property. I also recommend you present the big ideas and not bog down your prospects with details, which can be confusing (see sidebar, “Details, details.”).

Keep your proposal in your bag and not on the table; it’s too distracting. Once you’ve presented the drawing, then you can take it out and present it, as well. Make sure they understand what they’re paying for along with the payment schedule, including the initial deposit.


If you’ve done everything correctly, closing should just be another step in the sales process, not some battle of wits to see who flinches first. After you’ve reviewed the plan and proposal, simply ask your clients if they have any questions (about anything). Keep asking until they don’t have any left. Now you can simply say, “OK, since you don’t have any more questions, all I need is a signature and a deposit and we can get you scheduled.”

Assuming this goes according to plan, don’t make this your last interaction. Leave the signed check and proposal on the table, and tell them how excited you are about the project as opposed to taking the money and running. Let them know what the next steps are and who’s their point person. Remind them of the tentative start date and explain how the utility companies will be doing a mark-out. Ask them again if they have any questions. If they do, answer them. If not, thank them and say goodbye.

Details, details

Many landscape salespeople think details are important and help them stand out from the competition. In reality, they bog down your sales presentation and clients get caught up in the minutiae that doesn’t matter to them anyway. For example:

Say this:
“In the corner is your beautiful raised patio, seating wall and evergreen privacy screen, which is perfect for when you host barbecues or entertain friends out here.”

Not this:
“In the corner is an EP Henry Dakota Blend, Coventry Brickstone paver laid in a herringbone pattern on 4-in. of Q.P. and 1-in. of sand, with a matching Dakota Blend Coventry Wall, which is 22-in. high with universal caps attached with construction adhesive. The evergreens are 7- to 8-ft. Arborvitae ‘Green Giants’ planted 36-in. on center.”

What if they’re not ready to sign?

If you get through the presentation and ask for a signature and deposit, only to have the homeowners hesitate, don’t panic. But do consider where you went wrong.

Did you screen the candidates properly on the phone before creating a plan and getting to the presentation meeting? Did you make an error in creating a plan that met their goals and objectives? Did you design something outside their budget range?

If they say they need to think it over, don’t just give up immediately. Ask them what they’re unsure or uncomfortable about. If it’s the design, that can easily be modified. If it’s the money, offer solutions such as changing to a less expensive hardscape product, smaller plant material, removing the lighting for now or substituting specimen trees for something similar at a lower price point. They may not have known changes were possible and that’s all they needed to feel better. Whatever you do, don’t just drop your price.

If they still resist, don’t push it. Just ask them if it would be OK if you followed up with a phone call in a few days. And make sure you do.

Shilan is editor of FromDesign2Build.com. Reach him at jshilan@gmail.com.

Photo: Jody Shilan

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Jody Shilan

Jody Shilan is a landscape design/build sales consultant, editor of FromDesign2Build.com and former executive director of the New Jersey Landscape Contractors Association. Reach him at 201-783-2844 or jshilan@gmail.com

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