There may be work you do not want to pursue—especially in those instances where price clearly is king and quality has seemingly gone out the window. For Doug Robbins of Robbins Landscaping in Richmond, VA, a narrow focus has been key to his maintenance division’s growth.
“We work mainly in high-end residential,” tells Robbins, a 2008 Pros in Excellence Award winner. “We install a homeowner’s landscape, then handle the ongoing property management. We’re strong in certain neighborhoods where our trucks are seen all the time. Sure, we’ve had some customers who’ve lost their jobs and subsequently cancelled or cut back on their service, but it hasn’t been too bad.”
Offering options has also been key for Robbins Landscaping. “We don’t separate our property management services and allow customers to choose one by one,” Robbins points out. “But we do offer three different options. That said, we typically shy away from customers who just want basic mowing. We take a holistic approach to property management—and most of our clients want the full-service package, which includes mowing, leaf cleanup, irrigation service and turf care.”
Become a Star Salesman
Targeting the right customers, offering options, listening to client needs and wants … all marks of a great salesman. And that’s exactly what landscape contractors need to be in the new economy.
“We’ve invested heavily in business development,” Horn says. “You have to in order to set yourself apart and grow. Five years ago we didn’t have any business development personnel; our supervisors and account managers did all the selling.
“We create sophisticated presentations tailored to the individual client’s specific needs,” Horn continues. “Large corporate clients definitely need a good PowerPoint presentation and glossy brochure. A $300/month client probably doesn’t need all that, but still needs a professional presentation, and certainly the time to sit down and talk about their expectations.”
“Listening to what the client is saying and turning it into what they want is key,” Robbins reminds. “After that initial meeting and presentation, if we can come back with what they asked for, and give them a few options, we’re almost there.”
Be Honest, Remain Patient
Honesty is still more important than anything—even in today’s cutthroat marketplace.
“We simply try to be genuine in our presentations,” Collinsworth relates. “We don’t want to promise something we can’t deliver, and we want to be honest about our own imperfections. This approach is difficult; it takes a great deal of belief in your own body of work. But when done well, this approach can inspire clients to really think about what they’re looking for in a long-term vendor.”
It’s also important to remain patient. “Our clients are getting smarter every year, and are tired of the over-promising and under-delivering that is rampant in our commercial industry,” Collinsworth tells. “Anyone can promise something, but only a few can actually deliver. Our clients are seeing through those promising the world by checking references, driving properties of similar scope, and having conversations with existing clients to see if the company can really do what it says it’s going to do.”
When the economy comes back, customer expectations likely will, too. “Contractors who’ve been blowing below the cost of quality work to make up for lost revenue are creating a recipe for disaster,” Collinsworth says. “Many of these same contracts will be up for bid again soon. I don’t think these contractors stand much of a chance in the renewal process when clients value experience and quality work over minor increases in service fees.”
Robbins sees things the same way, which is why he’s toying with the idea of pursuing more commercial maintenance business in coming years. “We’re looking at smaller commercial properties that are closely held, such as doctor’s offices and apartment buildings,” Robbins explains. “We’re hearing customers talk about how tired they are of the poor work their current contractor has been providing. They’re willing to pay a little bit more for better service again.”