Closing the Deal

Last fall, I wrote about the service economy's sorry state of customer service after a disappointing experience with a number of home improvement contractors. One year later, I've found that while little has changed, an updated analysis of their sales practices can offer insight and guidance that will benefit a station's sales department and its bottom line.

Recently, my wife and I made the decision to resurface the backyard patio area of our home. Note that I said "made the decision," not "…thought we'd investigate our options." There is a difference! Our only choice was whom we would hire to do the work.

I'm no expert on concrete surfaces, so we thought it would be a good idea to solicit three quotes for the job. This should be a familiar situation, since the construction and television industries operate in similar fashion. In the TV world, an avail request is sent to your sellers by a media buyer, who reviews the options for buying commercial airtime.

In both instances, it's possible for such a request to come through from someone who is just kicking the tires, but most of the time, there's a budget and the intent to purchase. If you are a seller, recognizing the difference between the two will save you time and effort. Ultimately, the greatest effort should be extended to those who clearly seek to buy. Do your sellers know what questions to ask to ensure they are talking to buyers versus information collectors?

After making multiple phone calls to schedule three on-site estimates, the evaluation process began. Floor Guy No. 1 arrived 20 minutes early, even though I clearly stated that I was not available until a specific time on that date. Clueless to my role in the buying process, he started the pitch without me. I arrived home at the moment I'd promised, but Floor Guy No. 1's time was so valuable, he neglected to recap what he'd already shared with my wife. Like many sellers, he must have assumed that someone else was best prepared to tell his company's story after he departed.

Floor Guy No. 2 arrived as scheduled the next evening. Armed with photos of a wide variety of surfaces and scenarios, we were presented with a dizzying array of options. In fact, there were so many choices, we had a hard time figuring out which ones applied to our situation.

While the pictures of this vendor's work for a big box retailer were impressive, they had little relevance to my home patio. In fact, I started to wonder which of his many crews would end up doing my job. In my mind, his "A Team" did the pricey and elaborate jobs… while his apprentices did backyard patios. Was that what I wanted?

Our final round of vendor visits concluded with Floor Guy No. 3 being late. While the call did not start out well (he had the wrong time written down, he later admitted), he rebounded from that awkward start. Similar to his peers, this concrete-coater had bricks, tiles, and photos. What separated him from the others was this—while his briefcase was full of samples, his head was filled with ideas. He explained the differences among our options, and made specific recommendations based upon our local climate, intended room usage, and other factors.

At the end of our time together, he told us that we would have a written estimate e-mailed to us within 24 hours, and that he could commence work the following week if all the terms and conditions were acceptable. Here's the best part—he actually did what he said he was going to do! Floor Guy No. 3 was the only vendor to provide a written proposal after seeing us. His quote arrived the next day, and the job was completed just over one week later.

So what's the lesson here? Let's recap all the missed opportunities to easily earn my business:

Not having the decision makers present: We've all been on calls where we thought each of the influencers and decision makers would be present. However, owners get distracted, and you're left pitching the assistant manager's assistant. I get it. It happens… so you reschedule, right? But to arrive early and start before one-half of the decision-making team is present? That's inexcusable! Sit in your car two blocks away for 15 minutes if you're ahead of schedule, OK?

Not asking about the buying criteria: It's not always about price. In my instance, the entire remodeling project du jour had dragged on for two months, and we wanted the job done as soon as possible. Did anyone bother to ask what our determining factors would be? Floor Guy No. 3 did.

Lack of a path that leads to a sale: "Show & Tell" is for kindergarten students, not professional salespeople. Even then, it's not about presentations (even though some form of a presentation would have helped Floor Guy No. 1). Early in my sales career, a wise general sales manager told me "We're the sales department, not the presentation department. I'm glad you're having good meetings—but where's the money?"

Counting on others to explain what you do: You can't outsource the most important parts of the sales process—satisfying needs, and asking for the order.

Failure to present an actionable proposal: How many times do sellers talk about their products, and even get into features and benefits, without giving the prospect something that they can buy? General terms and prices can give buyers a feel, but until there's a bottom line quote, there won't be a deal. I hate to admit it, but as a salesperson and as a sales manager, I've witnessed all of the above.

Is your station's sales department immune from each of these revenue-preventing traits? As we enter what is already being referred to as being a difficult, low-growth year, it's imperative that your sellers be polished, professional, and productive. Anything else will get you what Floor Guys Nos. 1 and 2 got: a "zero share" on the buy.

Jeffrey Ulrich is a 22-year veteran of the broadcast TV industry. His opinions are his own and do not necessarily reflect the position of his employer. He can be reached at