During the sales presentation, the client mentions that the work must be completed by a certain date. Now what? Since we rely on a manufactured product and don't control delivery times, there's a chance that we won't be able to meet that deadline.

Deadlines come in two forms. One centers on an event: “I have to have these windows in before the wedding reception in five weeks.” The other is a trust and credibility deadline demanded as a sure-fire way of guaranteeing performance and timely completion.

The first is very real. Timing is everything here, and if you can get those windows in before the wedding reception, this can be an effective closing tool. The second is the customer's way of trying to assure performance and maintain control over the project. It could be for many reasons, including past experience.

MANAGE IT

If the customer suggests a deadline, find out if it's tied to an event or if it's actually a trust issue. If it is an event, and the deadline is fairly far down the road from a production standpoint, indicate that it shouldn't pose a major challenge. Then move on with your presentation. It's important to acknowledge and then postpone the deadline issue to the end of your presentation, regardless if it appears real or not, even after price and terms have been discussed.

If the deadline is not about an event, or if the customer is vague about why time is important, understand that they have real reasons for insisting on a deadline. Treat their concern as valid, and you gain a negotiating advantage. Pay attention to the clues they give out on trust and credibility and what they're searching for. Most likely, by the end of the presentation, the deadline issue won't pose a problem.

TRIAL CLOSE

At the end of your presentation, use the deadline to offer a trial close. Say something like: “Of course, I'll need to confirm our production schedule so we can meet your deadline. Aside from that, is there anything else that would prevent us from proceeding with the order at this time?”

This should smoke out any remaining objections. If there are none, proceed: “Since everything else looks in order, I'd like to call the production department and lock in the dates we can install your windows. May I take a moment to call our production department?”

Make that call with the client within earshot. Mention that there's a deadline, and give the exact date required for completion. (Note: Never give the client an install date more than a day or two prior to their deadline. Tight timing instills urgency.)

If your company has a pre-construction meeting to confirm appointments, now's the time to set up that appointment. This combination — calling the production department, booking an install date, and setting up a pre-construction meeting — moves you toward closing the deal.

CONSEQUENCES

If you're setting a deadline, ask the client if they're expecting a concession for failing to meet it. If yes, what's a fair amount? Respond as an advocate by saying that you'll try to convince your boss to accept that, but that you'll need some upside if you are successful and deliver the project earlier. Would they would be willing to pay for beating the deadline? This almost always eliminates deadline demands from those clients who have trust and credibility issues.

Be careful what you promise. If you agree to their deadline without reviewing consequences, you put the client in charge of their own “pain relief” should anything happen to delay the job. Nothing — big discounts, refunds, extras, even a free job — is out of the question if they feel that their event was “ruined.” —Clark Adams is the owner of Clark Adams Co., in Redondo Beach, Calif.

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.