Meeting a Prospect for the First Time
Should a contractor be judged by what s/he wears to give an estimate? We all like to think that people judge us carefully and objectively on our merits. But the reality is that strangers try to stereotype us quickly. So, proper attire is an important part of a contractor’s success. A contractor’s core product is him/herself, and the product should be packaged professionally.
The following are some tips for professional contractor attire.
Know first who you are, and then adorn yourself accordingly.
- Never arrive to an appointment in dirty clothes. It’s fine for clothes to get dirty during the project because the customer expects this to happen.
- If the estimate will require you to get dirty, consider bringing coveralls or a Tyvek® suit.
- If you have more than one estimate appointment scheduled for the day, consider bringing a change of clothes, or at least a fresh shirt.
- Consider dressing up a bit (perhaps by wearing a tie) when working in more expensive neighborhoods, and dressing casually in more modest neighborhoods.
- Dress for the type of property. An estimate appointment at a horse farm may require boots. A dentist’s office may require shoe covers.
- Dress for the climate. Shorts are fine in southern and beach areas but are often not adequate in cooler, northern climates.
- Cut-off jeans and gym shorts are not appropriate. Nicer shorts with pockets to carry small tools are acceptable.
- Khakis or jeans can both be appropriate, depending on the client base.
- Tank tops or sleeveless tees are never appropriate on any appointment.
- T-shirts are generally not recommended unless they sport your company logo or your company’s name.
- Polo shirts and collared shirts are fine, as are sports jackets.
- T-shirts emblazoned with logos for sports teams or political or pop-culture references are never appropriate. Such messages and images can passively offend clients.
- A suit is not appropriate, as it implies that you’re not a real contractor, but only a salesman.
- Shoes should be lace-up and rugged.
- In warmer climates or on summer days, it’s acceptable to wear clean tennis shoes or boat shoes.
- Outside of beach towns, open-toed sandals are not appropriate, even in summer.
- Female contractors should not, of course, wear short dresses or high heels.
- Bring an extra pair of shoes. Boots or work shoes can be swapped for a nice pair of slippers, shoe covers or sneakers before entering living areas. Never track mud, roofing tar or pet droppings into a home. Also, some customs require the removal of shoes and hats upon entry.
Before an appointment to provide an estimate, make sure you have:
- brushed your teeth, flossed, and used mouthwash;
- trimmed your nails;
- shaved or trimmed your beard, if you have one;
- combed your hair; and
- applied deodorant. Also, go easy on the cologne/perfume.
Between appointments, freshen up with a travel bag that contains:
- a hand mirror (or a camping mirror);
- a comb or brush;
- a spare bag for dirtied clothing;
- chewing gum (preferably a minty flavor); and
- wet-naps or waterless hand cleanser to clean and sanitize your hands before meeting with the client.
What to Bring
Bring the following to the estimate appointment:
- your business card;
- your brochure;
- material and product samples;
- testimonials from local clients (if you have them);
- copies of your licenses; and
- a leave-behind packet that contains the items listed here and other more detailed marketing pieces.
For every pass I caught in a game, I caught a thousand in practice.
Don Hutson, legendary wide receiver for the Green Bay Packers
If you’re out of practice or under-tested, it’s a good idea to have a co-worker or friend pretend to be a new prospect in order to help you strengthen your sales skills and work on your soft skills of interpersonal communication. Instruct him or her to be as hard on you as possible as you attempt to close the sale. This is the safest kind of arena to prepare for all kinds of interactions so that, during the real thing, you can respond confidently, no matter how the meeting goes.
Meeting a Prospect for the First Time
Here are a few recommendations for what you should do on the day of a meeting before your appointment:
- Make sure that your company name is prominently displayed on your vehicle.
- Wash your vehicle in the morning before your first appointment of the day.
- Schedule enough time for lunch. Avoid eating in your vehicle, but if you do, check your clothes for drips of food and stains before arriving at the appointment.
- Do not pull into your prospect’s driveway with your radio or CD player blaring, whether it’s music, commercials or talk radio. Anything loud is annoying and disrupts the environment, and shows a lack of respect for the neighbors.
- If you’re on your cell phone when you pull up, quickly conclude your call before exiting your vehicle. You want your client to feel that s/he is your only priority.
- Don’t embarrass yourself by allowing empty cans or other trash to fall out of your truck when you open the door.
- Don’t arrive at the appointment smoking or chewing tobacco.
- Don’t spit.
- Don’t slam the door of your vehicle.
- Don’t arrive carrying a cup of coffee or other beverage. Keep at least one hand free so that you can greet your client with a handshake.
- At all times, particularly when meeting a client for the first time, you ought to have a calm—rather than a rushed—demeanor, even if you’re running late.
- If you’re running late, call your prospect to let them know. When you arrive, acknowledge your tardiness and thank your prospect for their patience.
- Have your business card ready as you approach the property.
- Wear a nice watch. It shows that you respect your client’s time.
A firm, hearty handshake gives a good first impression, and you’ll never be forgiven if you don’t live up to it.
P.J. O’Rourke, American writer and humorist
People tend to unconsciously judge another person by their handshake. There are ways to shake hands properly that leave a positive impression.
Grasp the other person’s hand so that your palms touch. Provide a firm grip. Give an intentional shake—two or three actions, at most. Do not hold the other person’s hand tightly or test his or her strength. While shaking, make eye contact to show that you’re interested in the other person, and also to pick up on the other person’s mood and non-verbal clues. Then release. That’s it.
If you avoid shaking hands with either gender, the person may consider it a sign of disrespect. Also, a limp handshake expresses discomfort, or a lack of strength or self-confidence. These are non-verbal impressions that you may accidentally convey based on your handshake, whether or not such attributes are true.
You can greatly control the impression you give using non-verbal cues and body language, starting first with your smile, and then with your handshake.
I speak two languages: body and English.
Mae West, American actress
Research says that people tend to respond less to what you say and more to your body language. Your tone of voice is the second most important factor in face-to-face communication. What you actually say is third. Therefore, be aware of what you are physically doing and how your clients may perceive your body language and actions.
When you’re simply in the presence of another person, you are communicating. What is mostly being communicated is what you’re not saying. One UCLA study suggests that 93% of our most effective communication comes through non-verbal communication.
We speak with our body—our actions and our face. We speak with smiles, frowns, and raised eyebrows. We even communicate with the distance we put between ourselves and another person.
Some tips for conveying a positive attitude include the following:
- Maintain good posture—don’t slouch.
- Keep your head up and maintain eye contact with the other person.
- Keep your hands in a natural position by placing them on your hips, by holding something (such as clipboard or a pen), or by gently clasping your hands together in front of you or behind your back.
- While engaged in face-to-face conversation, nod your head occasionally to indicate to the other person that you’re listening.
Maintaining the appropriate personal space is important, too. The convention is to keep about a 3-foot space between yourself and the person you’re talking to. If you are male, you should afford your female prospect greater personal space. This space should be increased even further if you are alone with her.
Also, you can sometimes convey a defensive or even hostile demeanor without even realizing it, and this can plant the subliminal message in your prospect’s mind that you’ll be difficult to work with. For example, facing someone with your arms crossed can project the idea that you don’t believe what the other person is saying, or that you’re angry. This posture can be perceived as aggressive and can create an imaginary wall between yourself and your client.
It’s important that you understand that you can say the right words but send the wrong message. Always be aware of your body language.
Your First Words
If you’re naturally shy or haven’t had much experience interacting with prospects in person, remember to be yourself and just act natural. It’s as easy as saying, “Hello, I’m Jim. It’s great to meet you.”
Now, start establishing rapport with your prospect by exchanging pleasantries, asking general questions, and perhaps talking about something you have in common.
Try any of the following:
- “How are you doing today?”
- “This is a really nice neighborhood!”
- “I’m looking forward to helping you out today.”
A conversation is a like a tennis match, with each person having a turn. You may be more concerned with what you’re going to say so that you can close the sale, but active listening is 50% of any conversation. Remember to let the other person speak. When you’re actively listening, you’re focusing on the other person. So, remember to pay attention. Don’t allow your mind—or your eyes—to wander. When you’re face to face, don’t look over the speaker’s shoulder to see who else is around. Try to stay interested and in the moment. Smile. Make eye contact. Nod occasionally. Say things such as, “Yes, I see,” or “Hmmm.” These are called “prompts” because they indicate to the speaker that you’re listening and they prompt him or her to continue talking.
It’s good practice to wait a second—literally—after someone has finished speaking before you begin talking. Take a moment. Allow a moment of pause or silence to exist after someone finishes his or her sentence. It will help prevent you from talking while the other person is still making their point.
One way to demonstrate that you’re listening is to repeat back what your prospect says. For example, you may respond, “From what I understand, you’re concerned with… Is that correct?” Summarizing your understanding of what your prospect says shows that you’ve been listening and are interested in helping.
Also, don’t interrupt. Avoid entering the conversation while someone is speaking even if s/he has left a short pause in the conversation. Allow your prospect to pause and think about what he or she is saying. A pause in the conversation does not necessarily mean you need to jump in and say something. Filling every void of conversation demonstrates either that you’re nervous or that you haven’t really listened to your prospect. So, refrain from injecting something simply because there is an opportunity to do so.
Leave Behind Custom-Labeled Material and Product Samples
If you bring material or product samples to a prospect meeting, make sure you have a custom label on it. The label should explain the quality of the material, the benefits of the product, and, of course, your company’s logo and contact information.
Bring a Treat for the Kids If the Prospect Has Children
Depending on how much you’re willing to invest (or whether you can make a trade with a toy supplier), one effective marketing idea is to bring a toy truck for your prospect’s children. You can label it with your company’s logo so that matches your work vehicle. It demonstrates to your prospect that you’re family-oriented (even if you don’t have kids of your own), and that you respect that they may have a hectic lifestyle that you’re prepared to help accommodate during their project.
Another low-cost option is to hire an art student to create a custom coloring book that you can make multiple copies of for distribution. The coloring book can have a construction theme and include pictures of your trucks and equipment in action. Don’t forget to bring the crayons! Again, put your name and logo on everything. You never know who will see these items besides the kids.
Believe it or not, there are some consumers that you don’t want as clients. You don’t have to accept work from everyone who wants to hire you. If a client starts off being difficult or unreasonable, it usually gets worse, not better. While it may be hard to not bid a job, it’s sometimes cheaper in the long run.
You can’t really put a price on sanity and a smooth-running project. Money by itself is rarely adequate compensation if your client is high-stress, rude, abusive, indecisive, has a complicated story regarding your payment, or is generally drama-driven. You can’t always see these kinds of prospects coming, but when you do, trust your instincts and pass. Another upside of passing on a questionable prospect is that you won’t have to deal with their unhappiness or poor review after the project is completed.
Furthermore, an added bonus of refusing to allow these consumers to become clients is that they become your competitors’ clients. Pity those competitors.
This is another good reason to stay in contact with other contractors. These other contractors may be people you came up with in the trades, or they’re friends, or they may be subs you use occasionally. They’ll be grateful that you passed on the word about a bad client. They’ll appreciate it and often return the favor.
The same is true if you’re a sub. There are bad contractors, builders and developers out there. Avoid marketing to these people. Even if they have negative reputations, they may still have influence locally, so it’s better to not deal with them at all than to have to turn them down based on their response to your marketing. If you don’t court them, they won’t call.
Leave a door hanger that lets the prospect know you were there. It can read: “Sorry we missed you.” Make sure it provides your contact information and asks the prospect to call you to reschedule their appointment.