Selling Beyond the Competition

The landscaping business has always been tough with plenty of competition. Over the past few years, it has become even more competitive. Construction contractors playing in the maintenance arena. Maintenance contractors playing in the lawn care arena. Large contractors now bidding—often under-bidding—on smaller jobs. Smaller and mid-size contractors under-bidding on just about everything. Let's face it: It's just flat-out competitive.

But guess what? Sometimes a landscape contractor's biggest competitor is himself. "It might sound cliché, but Pogo the old cartoon character said it best: 'We have found the competition, and it is us,'" says business trainer Jim Paluch. "We as salespeople and/or company owners need to take a step back in order to get ourselves into a better position to be successful in sales."

What are you choosing to focus on?

As of late, it's very hard not to think about the absurd things some contractors are doing when it comes to pricing. "But selling is such a mental game," Paluch reminds. "If you are allowing yourself to focus on how cheap a competitor is selling services for, that becomes a very convenient excuse for not hitting your own sales goals." In other words, it becomes easier to just throw in the towel and stop pushing forward to try and earn more business.

All salespeople can focus on one of two things: succeeding or failing. If you are focused on succeeding, Paluch says, you will dig deep to find the energy to keep going. You'll want to find the answers you need in order to improve your product/service and sales pitch, and to increase your value in the eyes of the consumer.

How are you looking at change?

"Change can either free you to a freer future or chain you to the past," Paluch says. Your attitude is going to dictate which way you go.

"Remember, changing doesn't have to mean completely re-tooling or overhauling," Paluch points out. "Maybe it's just stepping back a bit to figure out the simplest ways you can improve your company's approach to sales. For instance, many contractors could do a better job of paying attention to sales goals on a weekly, monthly or even quarterly basis. There is just something magical about goals. So start thinking about setting some goals around sales."

Another simple way to change your company's approach to sales is to do what many successful landscape companies have already done over the past few years: become more proactive. "Are you out there looking for business or just sitting there waiting for the phone to ring?" Paluch asks. Contractors who are thriving today, Paluch says, have what he refers to as "dirt disease." These contractors can't drive past a pile of dirt (worksite) without stopping to see what's going on and find out who's in charge. Likewise, these diseased contractors can't drive past an apartment complex or office community without stopping to see who is managing it.

"It doesn't matter if it's a huge market like Chicago or a smaller one like Erie, PA, contractors who are willing to make a change and start going after leads are finding success," Paluch says.

Are you able to sustain?

The final piece in selling against yourself is the question of whether or not you're able to sustain the change you implement. It might take time to start making some progress. You must have patience and persistence. And if you do realize some successes, you can't revert back to old habits. Today's most successful landscape contractors have fully committed to change, and doing so has changed their companies for the better.

Speaking of successes, it's OK to celebrate them once in a while. In fact, it's recommended that you do. "If you are now setting sales goals in your company, don't hide them," Paluch recommends. Make sure everybody knows what they are. Hang them on the wall. Then challenge your team a little bit. "If we hit X dollars in sales this month, we're buying pizza for everybody or going to a ball game," Paluch cites as an example. "Many contractors will say, 'Yeah, we already do that type of thing.' But so many don't—and those that do probably don't do it enough. When you can create an atmosphere of celebrating wins, even the smallest ones, you'll keep getting win after win—and that's when you can really sell beyond the competition."