We’d decided we were going to reach past our customer base, which at that time consisted of city people, mostly African Americans. A mailing went out to homes in rural areas, beyond the D.C. Beltway. Response via Business Reply Mail was good. As owner, I wanted to test one of these leads myself. The call was 50 miles from our office, and when I arrived at the house, my enthusiasm waned somewhat. It didn’t look promising. An 18-wheeler with a Confederate flag in the rear window of the cab took up the greater portion of the driveway. I knocked on the front door.
“Are you the siding boy?” the homeowner asked, upon opening the door.
He wore cowboy boots, jeans with a Confederate flag belt buckle, and a button-down shirt that was half unbuttoned.
I said that I was and asked if his wife would be joining us.
“She don’t need to. I make the decisions,” was the reply.
He directed me down a hallway past bedrooms to the living room, where a large Confederate flag hung on the wall. I put down my pitch book and samples. He looked at his watch.
“Boy, there ain’t much time. Show me what you got.”
Right then and there I made a decision: Since there was just about no possibility for making an emotional connection with this prospect, I’d go for the quality connection. I’d put all my energy into making the logical case for this product on this house at this time.
By now his wife, the one excluded from decision-making, had joined us. She looked to be about half his age. She said she was a nurse. She sat down. Immediately I noticed that she was paying a lot more attention than he was.
I got started by explaining how the siding was made. What it did. How it went on. I got technical. I showed them the color palette. I talked about thickness and gauge.
She leaned forward, nodding. He glanced out the window.
I talked a little more. She pored over colors and textures. She flipped through pages in the trim catalog.
I left them with before-and-after pictures and went outside to measure. I figured I could do the job for between $5,000 and $6,000. Normally I would have doubled that to get my margin, but I decided to go for $14,900. I figured, first off, he’s insulting. Second, he’s probably not going to buy, but if he actually does buy, I have to put some sparkles on this job. If I mess it up, it will be my ass.
“I’ve come up with a price for the siding on your house,” I said. I told them the price and asked if they intended to make a decision today.
“Boy, I don’t make no decisions like this today,” said the owner.
We — the wife and I — talked some more about colors and accents. She finalized a color decision. She decided on white trim.
“Mr. and Mrs. ______, if I can come to a price that will make this work within your budget, can we agree to do business today?” I asked.
“Boy, I just told you, I’m not going to make no damn decisions today!” was his response.
Actually, what he wanted was for me to call him back on Wednesday, almost a week later. When does that ever work out well? I thought.
I packed up my samples and pitch book, thinking he would either go with me or not. It didn’t matter. And as I shook his hand and thanked him for the pleasure of allowing me to give him an estimate, I thought: If we do this, I’m not moving off my price.
Wednesday I picked up the phone and dialed his number.
“Boy, where you at?” I hear on the other end of the line.
I told him I was at the office. He still had no idea that I owned the company.
“How long will it take you to get out here?” he asked.
An hour later, we once again settled in on his sofa under the Confederate flag. Right away he wanted to know if there was anything I could do on the price.
“Not really, sir,” was my response.
“Well,” he said, clearing his throat, “I decided to go with you, boy.” He paused, face hardening. “Now I don’t like liars and I don’t like thieves. You mess this up and I got something for you.” He tipped his head toward the bedroom down the hall, where, visible through the open door, a Glock lay on the nightstand.
I was halfway down the road and I still didn’t believe it. When I believed it was when I put my best Spanish crew on the job and the crew leader said: How the hell did you ever sell this guy?
I told him to make this the best house on the block. Cut no corners. Spare no expense.
The finished job looked good. No, actually, it looked great. I walked around with the couple, pointing out details. Mr. _____ was all smiles.
“Grant, you did a good job,” he said.
I realized then that there’s an emotional way to sell and a professional way to sell. This homeowner kept me right on edge through the whole process. But even though I doubted myself, I kept it moving forward instead of retreating into fear. That’s where a lot of salespeople get sidetracked. They get in the house and they don’t think they can connect on any level.
Oh, and did I mention their testimonial letter? She wrote it.
—Grant Winstead operates the Success Sales System That Never Fails, designed to help home improvement owners and salespeople close at higher rates and “put more profits in your pocket.” Reach him at email@example.com or 703.728.4966.