Art of the Sale: Introduction and the First Steps

In this first installment of a series on achieving sales success for PRO painting contractors, Archie Bartel grabs a figurative brush and puts on his bibs to offer sales tips and guidelines for contractors trying to make the best first impression with their market. Bartel, Sherwin-Williams Director of Sales Force Effectiveness, is the former Marketing Director for Residential Repaint at Sherwin-Williams. This article will examine the listening skills necessary to build customer trust and the importance of optics in your first customer interactions.

If there’s a phrase you’ll hear Bartel use often, it’s “customer-focused.” Too often, he says, sellers approach the sale from their own point of view and in consideration of their own needs, rather than an approach driven by the point of view and needs of the customer.

“By doing that, sellers don’t connect with the customer as genuinely as possible, they don’t earn trust as fast, and they miss opportunities,” he says. “That approach is me-focused vs. customer-focused.”

So while every sale starts with a lead, whether from a referral or a social post that generates an introduction, the mindset of approaching the process as a listener prepared to understand the customer’s needs should be top of mind well before a contractor decides what shirt to wear for the introduction.

“There are certain soft skills that need to be present throughout every stage of the process,” says Bartel. “And the first is listening to understand. I think there are more people that fail to do that than do it well. Listening skills —not listening to get your answer but listening to truly understand the way that customer needs you to connect with them and the way you need to connect with them — will help turn more of your bids into actual jobs.”

But about that shirt during your introduction — it matters.

“Appearance is very important,” says Bartel. “The optics are critical. You’re clean, well dressed. The vehicle you’re driving should be clean and organized. Anything that they can see should have a professional optic. People will trust your level of professionalism more because it helps illustrate the standards you have set for your company.

“And that should align with your behavior in your first interactions with that customer. People expect you to respond promptly, even if it’s just a response that says, ‘Hey, I acknowledge you sent me an email or text, I can’t respond right now, but will respond when I get home.’ A response that says to the customer, ‘I see you,’ because as the consumer of a service, the unknown is unnerving. You want to add to the element of trust.”

Many of the standard pillars in the introductory phase of the sale remain. For example, be sure to refresh a prospect’s memory about who you are and why you’re calling. Provide a context for your outreach. Build a rapport, establish mutual interests, converse. The result will be a comfortable prospect who is more likely to discuss their needs and interests.

Your standard bring-alongs in a painting contractor’s world, such as that binder that shows off your greatest hits, might be playing a more secondary role in establishing a customer-focused dynamic that builds trust.

“As a consumer, that’s a turnoff for me when someone says, ‘Let me open up my binder and show you my work.’ That person is saying, ‘Let me tell you about me.’ Instead it should be, ‘Let’s talk about you. What do you want to accomplish? What’s most important to you in each of these facets of the project? I’ll tell you about me later on.’

“When you start to understand what’s important to a homeowner or prospect, then you can start talking about yourself later on and how you can address things most valuable to them, instead of just showing up and throwing up all the things you do.

“It’s when you listen to the customer, and learn to listen, that you’ll be able to understand what is important to them and address their needs. Your introduction and conversation become tailored to the customer and their needs. That lays the groundwork toward providing a valuable solution to that customer.”

Next: Upgrades, Project Bids, and the Close