You Want Fries With That Plan? Tips on Landscape Design-Build Sales…
Believe it or not, one of the best things you can do for yourself and your client is to actually limit the amount of choices they have when it comes to the design of their landscape.
I know, at first glance, this sounds counter intuitive. In college I was taught to explore ideas and engage my clients in the design process to create a plan that fulfills their every dream. Unfortunately in the real world of landscape design/build you need to take charge of the design process quickly, keep your client’s focused and reduce the amount of choices they have, not increase them.
Now before you start throwing your crimson red AD markers and crying “foul”, let me explain why. As much as we would like to give our clients tons of ideas and information to help them make informed decisions, the fact of the matter is that the more options you give to someone, anyone, the harder it is for them to make a choice. In landscape design/build this is especially bad because our process needs momentum to succeed. Anything that slows it down, or causes the client to think too much, opens the door to not just competition, but frustration and confidence issues and can easily turn a motivated client into a canceled project.
Years ago I used to like to give my clients two or three concepts to choose from. It seemed like a good idea at the time and theoretically it made sense. The problem with this theory is that clients won’t just pick one of your designs, A, B or C – invariably they pick ideas from each plan and have you go back and come up with plan D. This would almost be acceptable if this was where it stopped. Unfortunately it didn’t.
You now return with plan “D”, and upon presenting this revised design to them they begin to realize what you already knew. It is a “bad design” The problem is that since you’ve opened the door to “client input”, they still will not choose from A, B, C or D. So together, all of you re-review plans A,B,C and D only to return with plans E,F, G and H. (When I first started out I actually had a client that made me do so many revisions that we made it through the entire alphabet!) By allowing so much flexibility and input into your process you’ve now taken the design process and turned it into a typical conversation usually encountered at the drive through window.
“I’ll have the paver walkway from plan “A”-non-tumbled with gray polymeric sand, the rectilinear blue stone patio from plan “B”, wet laid please, and the privacy plantings from plan “C” and, oh yeah, can I biggie size the evergreens? And, um, why don’t you hold the perennials and annuals I think we’re going over budget. Thanks! ” “That will be $18,500. Next window please.”
While this concept works great for fast food chains and places like Dunkin Donuts and Starbucks, it just doesn’t work that well for design/build. Ironically, after weeks and months of going through these revisions, what typically happens is that after all is said and done the clients return to your original design because they finally realized that it was truly the best layout. Unfortunately you have wasted so much of your own time in the process and most likely pushed the schedule of the job back by several weeks, if not months. Additionally, both you and your client have lost a lot of their initial excitement and enthusiasm for the project because of this back and forth.
Here is what you need to do.
I first understood this concept when I was watching the movie “Big” starring Tom Hanks. In this particular scene he worked for an advertising agency and was making a pitch to someone who could potentially be his biggest client, the President of a major airline. After the presentation, the President looked at him, paused and said, “Do you have any other ideas?”. Without missing a beat he responded, “Yes we do, but this is our best one and we’re sticking with it.”
These days I do the exact same thing. Although I may have developed several different concepts when creating the plan at my drafting table, I only present my best and favorite plan. When a client asks me if I have other concepts I just think of Tom Hanks and say, “yes but this is my best one”. Instead of leaving the meeting with a series of revisions to do, I leave with a signed contract and the confidence of my clients.
Jody Shilan is a former landscape contractor and award winning designer. He has sold tens of millions of dollars of installation work throughout his career and now uses his 30+ years of experience to teach other landscape design/build contractors how to dramatically increase their sales and standardize their landscape design/build/sales process. He does this through private consulting, public speaking, group workshops and his “exclusive” members only website www.FromDesign2Build.com.
Jody Shilan appears as a guest blogger for LMN Blog, Landscape Management Network’s resource hub for all things related to building a better landscape business. For more on the Landscape Management Network, check out the website at www.landscapemanagementnetwork.com.