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(An excerpt from Profitable Sales, A Contractor’s Guide.)

A major mistake contractors make is to tell a client they can’t start the job for 3-4-5 months.

“We are backlogged six months, can’t possibly start your job before then.” Or, “Sorry, we have jobs lined up for seven months, you will just have to wait.”

Some think a backlog shows how good they are and how much in demand they are. They wear this like a gold medal they have won in a race. Nothing could be further from the truth in the minds of the potential client.

What the potential client hears is, “We are not important.” Or, “If they are that far behind, they must be terribly disorganized.”

You may have a backlog of work, but there’s a right way to talk about it. Done correctly, you can get them to agree to wait to have you do the work. But you won’t get them to wait using the “We are backed up six months” routine.

Here’s how to get your potential clients, who have the money and are willing to pay a fair price to get their job done, to wait for you.

Remember that every customer has their radio tuned to their favorite station, WIIFM: “What’s In It For Me.” They do not care about your problems. They want their job done, preferably yesterday.

When the salesperson gets to the customer’s home they should go about their business just as they normally would. The time schedule for the job will come up. Sometimes they will ask you in the first five minutes what your schedule is, sometimes it won’t come up for an hour or more.

Before you talk about the time schedule you need to have their confidence. You will know if they have bought you. You can tell by the physical and verbal responses they are giving you. If asked about the schedule before I had their confidence, I always made a habit of stalling this discussion.

“John, before we talk about your time schedule, there are a few more questions I would like to ask if that is OK with you. I need just a bit more information to be sure we can, in fact, help you with your job. I don’t want to make any commitments until we know for sure that we are right for each other. Is that fair enough?”

Then you continue to ask your questions, working on resolving the three fears that they have. When you are ready to talk about the time schedule, here is the approach you should take.

“John, Mary, we have talked about a lot of things here today. Let’s take a look at your job and how long it will take to put it together and of course how long it will take to complete.”

“The design phase of your job will normally take three to four weeks. I know that may sound like a long time, but with everything and everyone involved, getting ramped up and started, the meetings we will have, it is easy to spend those three to four weeks.”

“When the design is complete and you have approved it, I will get quotes from our specialty contractors and suppliers. Then I will write the specifications for the job and compile the agreement under which we will work.”

“When that is all complete, I will bring the design package back to you for final review. You will probably take three to five days to go through the entire package. Then we sit down and finalize everything.”

“When we have the agreement in place, we take it all down to the city (or county) and apply for the permits. This will take anywhere from three to five weeks more for approval.”

“While we are waiting, we can make tentative plans for a start date, order our materials, schedule our subs and get our ducks in a row so to speak. When the permits are issued, we will be ready to start your job.”

“Now, it’s July 15 and Mary, you asked earlier if we could have this job complete by the time the baby comes. I believe you said you are due in late September. As you can see, even with our best efforts and everything going perfectly with the plans and permit process, it will be very difficult for us to complete your job in the two or three weeks time left.”

“Additionally, we do have a large backlog of jobs right now. We are working through them as quickly as we can, but each job takes careful planning on a daily basis to be sure we do the job we agreed to, just as we will for you.”

“So at this point, I suggest we proceed with putting this job together, and plan the start of the job for shortly after the baby arrives. We will seal the rest of the home off from the work area, put up noise barriers, and make sure that you and the baby have a minimum of disturbance during the construction period. We will have the job complete before Thanksgiving, and you and your family will be able to spend the weekend together in your new addition with no disruptions. Is that fair enough?”

What you have done is bought yourself time to finish enough of your backlog that you can fit John and Mary’s job in and get it done on schedule.

I have used this approach a number of times and it always works. If you can show a reasonable approach and why it makes sense, they will agree almost every time.

If they don’t agree, then you will lose that job. If they tell you they are going to go to another company to do the work, remind them that the other company will have the same time constraints. If they don’t, why not? If they were any good, they would have a backlog of work also. And do you really want a contractor who would start the job without spending time in careful design and planning?

If they insist on going elsewhere, don’t burn any bridges. There is a good chance they won’t get a call back from other contractors. You want them to be able to come back to you without embarrassment or anger.

Put this scenario in your own words; adjust it for any number of different scenarios. You will find most people are willing to wait if you give them a good reason and you have sold yourself.

And make sure that everyone in your office knows they are not to discuss the company time schedule or any backlog with potential clients. That is a huge No-No. The client should be told that scheduling will be discussed by the company estimator or salesperson when they meet with the owner. The office staff do not know the client’s situation, so they should not comment on the time schedule. Ever.

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