Specialty contractors today face an increasing number of prospects who insist upon getting three estimates before they make a decision. More and more, the public has been brainwashed by often well-intentioned organizations that tell them the smart consumer always gets at least three bids. If you're the first or second contractor in the door, your challenge in closing the sale can be tough. For contractors who work hard at being professional, this is extremely frustrating, especially for a company with a 10-, 20-, or 30-year reputation for outstanding customer service.

Why Three? Why are so many consumers demanding three estimates? I have some theories. One, it's the Wal-Mart shopping attitude — that is, looking for and expecting to get the “everyday low price.” Add to that the tendency of people today to want to “see what's out there” and their unabashed willingness to waste someone's time in order to find out. Another factor, and a big one, is the re-emergence of bait advertising in our industry, which creates confusion and a false sense of urgency and causes prospects to lack confidence in anything told to them.

Every prospect is unique, so these days I do a lot more questioning and qualifying. When I encounter the “three estimates” objection, I fish for whatever information I can get. I determine at that point whether I want to complete the call and quote a price right there or make it a two-step process and return. On a second call, I can find out if someone's quoted them a price and whether or not it's a high price. By rescheduling, I can at least discuss it with them and perhaps change the proposal or offer a different solution.

People will tell you a lot of things if you deal with them gently and with a smile on your face. I will say, for instance, “I'm not asking for an exact budget, but could you give me a rough idea, or range, of what you're prepared to invest in your home?”

Everybody knows that enthusiasm sells but confidence in knowing what you're doing sells too. I can say, with confidence, to customers, “I can create this project for you in the best professional manner and give you exactly the result you're seeking.”

Take Advantage of Training As company owners, there are many things we can't control. But what about the lack of proper sales training? What about presentation materials and other sales tools? And don't forget the laziness on our part, or on the part of our salespeople, in failing to do a knockout presentation every time. Those are all areas we can control.

For owners, it's more important than ever to study and develop excellent selling skills and be certain to create or acquire the finest presentation materials. These will supply the edge in overcoming the three estimates objection.

There are many fine sales trainers in our industry who claim to be able to train you to answer every prospect question and close on the first call. They teach many excellent methods and techniques. Why not spend the time and money to attend seminars and conferences? Not only can you acquire and upgrade skills but you also have the opportunity to network with like-minded contractors. (I've noticed it's always the successful contractors who attend.)

Failing to take advantage of this industry's many educational opportunities could lead many of us right out of business. —Ed Jones is chairman of Contractors Network of America, an organization of specialty contractors that holds seminars and conferences for member and guest training. CNA also produces training and sales aids for the in-home use of members. CNA is headquartered in Raleigh, N.C., where Jones also runs his own 52-year-old specialty contracting business. 800.992.7047, www.contractorsnet.com.

Does your company have a business practice or installation technique to share with the industry? Call Jim Cory at 215.923.9810 or e-mail jcory@hanleywood.com.