Grow Sales By Selling Solutions

For Memphis-based Michael Hatcher & Associates, the months following the financial meltdown of September 2008 stung as badly as they did for just about every design/build contractor across the country. Today, however, those anxious months are a distant memory as the company is back to growing residential d/b sales once again—thanks to a reinvention of both the company and its sales approach.

“Throughout the 26-year history of our company, we’ve faced all kinds of economic challenges,” says Michael Hatcher. “Reflecting on that experience, we also understand that with those challenges come opportunities. Now is a great time to look at the design/build business and reinvent yourself accordingly.”

Match Identity to Consumer Need

At the start of 2010, Michael Hatcher & Associates changed its marketing tagline to “Pools, Plants and Patios … Plus a Whole Lot More.” This statement crystallizes the company’s promise to deliver the complete landscaping experience through the design/build, installation and maintenance services it provides.

With respect to design/build, everything starts with a consumer need or desire, Hatcher reminds. “As I reflect on the 1980s and 90s, everyone in the Memphis market was looking to have a wooden deck installed,” Hatcher tells. “Today everything is about hardscapes and paver patios, along with other outdoor living amenities. This represents a great opportunity to replace some of those old worn-out decks that are out there.”

Two-Pronged Presentations

After identifying a consumer need, such as the desire to replace an old worn-out deck, Hatcher’s solutions-based selling approach focuses on features and benefits (see sidebar). “We were recently in a design/build situation where we bid competitively, but I can guarantee that the reason we got the job was because of our presentation,” Hatcher relates.

Meeting #1. For the initial client meeting, Hatcher & Associates typically sketches out two or three basic conceptual designs; the company employs five landscape architects and/or designers.

“This is important for that initial meeting because it allows the client to explore all of his or her opportunities,” Hatcher says. “We also talk about the client’s budget, along with what their needs and desires really are. We’re adding notes to the original sketch all the while we’re talking. These days, customers are looking for that type of interaction with their contractor. Seven or eight years ago, all we had to do was go in with a single plan and say, ‘Here it is.’”

Hatcher and his team return to the office with the concept the client selected, complete with all of the notes that were made during the meeting. From there the design is finessed a bit before being put into a full-color, hard-line drawing.

Meeting #2. This rendered drawing becomes the focal point of the second client meeting. “Depending on the size of the project, we may even create a 3-D model that we can show the customer on our laptop,” Hatcher relates. “I realize that not every contractor has access to this type of technology. But this is just one example of how you can be creative in your solutions-based selling approach.”

An itemized proposal is also introduced at this second client meeting. “This is where we sit down and start fine-tuning the project costs with the client,” Hatcher says.

While going over the final design and itemized proposal with the client, Hatcher is also sure to provide a compelling history of his company. “We want to show where our company has come from, and how we have thrived as an industry leader with visionary thinking,” Hatcher relates.

Telling the company’s story includes discussion of past projects that have been completed. Before it’s all said and done, this second client meeting, Hatcher points out, generally lasts at least one hour.

“Consumers want to do business with contractors who understand their needs and the opportunities that exist in the industry,” Hatcher concludes. “This is more important now than ever.”

Closing Sales by Selling Benefits

In the world of sales and marketing, features represent the attributes of a product whereas benefits represent the desirable outcome those features have in the eyes the consumer.

Michael Hatcher says that selling benefits must be central to a solutions-based sales approach.

To Hatcher, “green” is just a buzzword. But “sustainable landscaping” has real tangible benefits for just about any consumer. So that’s what Hatcher focuses on.

“I’m seeing more people interested in sustainable landscaping,” Hatcher relates. “Sustainable landscaping could mean things like capturing surface water run-off and recharging it back into the ground. Using Belgard’s permeable paver system allows us to do this.”

When talking to a client about the ET irrigation controllers his company uses, Hatcher is talking about the fact that ET controllers are high-tech devices that can help the consumer reduce water usage.

“We stay on top of manufacturer data,” Hatcher points out. “Understanding this information and presenting it to clients helps position us as a solutions provider. This is the one thing you can do, regardless of the size of your company, to help create some differentiation.”