Selling Hardscapes: Connecting Concrete to Homeowners’ Emotions
The hardscape industry has undergone major growth over the last few years, with purchases shifting from being mostly utilitarian to luxury in nature. For those landscape contractors that have been selling hardscapes for over a decade, the days of installing 10’x10′ patios featuring a single-size, 4″x8″ Hollandstone paver might not feel so far away. This kind of purchase was made for simpler reasons, such as needing a flat surface on which to set patio furniture. Today’s hardscape customer has more extensive plans in mind. They may be planning on expanding the livable square footage of their home by building a multi-level, outdoor living room, for example.
In terms of growth, times have changed for the better when it comes to selling hardscapes.
But along with growth comes a new set of challenges. Landscape contractors must quickly adapt to the modern consumer’s way of thinking, using a sales process that builds an emotional connection between the buyer and the hardscape. While there will always be investment-savvy homeowners looking to increase the resale value of their homes with a hardscape project, the vast-majority of sales will be driven by an emotional connection to the product. For example, a homeowner may consider how a new patio will allow her to spend time with her children during the summer. Using that “story” in the initial stages of the sale will allow her to envision the hardscape in a more meaningful way.
The “new” first impression
When envisioning the hardscape sales process, many contractors will imagine that the first point of contact takes place sitting at a kitchen table in the prospect’s home. For many years, this was where hardscape sales were won and lost. The homeowner would call the landscaping company and schedule a time for the owner or salesman to come out to their home and discuss the project.
That tried and true process of yesteryear is a thing of the past. Today, the first impression – or the first sales appointment – occurs before the first meeting even takes place. Even if referrals drive the majority of your leads, your website is still the first place those referrals go to learn more about you. Therefore, your website is the source of the all-important first impression.
Learn more about creating a website that will successfully drive your company forward here
Optimizing the lead generation process
Understanding that today’s hardscape sales begin online creates the opportunity for businesses to take advantage of this change. Regardless of company size, geographical service area, or niche focus, most contractors agree that a closed sale generally starts with a prequalified lead.
Conversely, most contractors understand the incredible cost burden of sorting through numerous low quality leads to find the preferred ones.
This is where the shift to online sales can help optimize the process of getting worth-while leads. It begins with building an online presence that attracts the right kind of lead, from the beginning. If your company builds luxury outdoor living projects running upwards of $50k in cost, make sure your brand image, as well as your on and offline marketing, speaks to that financial bracket of consumers. Ensuring your company’s website works to prequalify leads with helpful, engaging content such as videos and articles increases close rates, speeds up the sales cycle, and ultimately reduces your customer acquisition cost (CAC).
Set yourself apart from the new competition
The growth of the hardscape industry means that you are likely facing increased competition within your service area. One of the biggest opportunities to set yourself apart from these new competitors lies in claiming a niche or specialty within the industry. Whether this means specializing in a particular design style (such as contemporary or traditional) or being the expert for those looking to build an elaborate outdoor kitchen, it is important to send a clear message to your audience about the quality and specificity of your work. Trying to be everything to everyone often means that your brand will lack identity and authority in the consumer’s eyes. Choose a niche based on your team’s skillset, and become the recognized local expert in it.
Another method for separating yourself from the competition is to use products that create a unique and curated look. While there may be many companies that can install a front paver walkway in the traditional concrete paver style, there are far fewer that can design and install a combination of products like those offered in the Unilock EnduraColor Plus product line. There is a clear difference in a finished product in which Courtstone, Copthorne, and Umbriano pavers are used together. By aligning your company with a manufacturer like Unilock, you can associate your work with a high level of quality.
Pro Tip: Cataloging your company’s landscape design/build work can provide a noticeable return on your investment. The outdoor living industry is a visual one. Great images sell great projects, plain and simple. With the sales process beginning on your website and social media sites like Pinterest, or the rapidly growing Houzz, having professional-quality project photos is key to closing sales today.
The in-person meeting
Despite the changes brought about by new technology, the hardscape sales process still involves important in-person sales meetings. This typically begins with the prospect reaching out to the company via email or a phone call. Herein lies another opportunity to impress the prospect and increase your chances of closing the sale down the road: offer sales and customer service training to your receptionist or office manager. The employees in these roles are often the first live interaction with your company that the prospect will have. In many ways, they are the face and voice of your company. Train them to be your brand’s ambassador and from day one, your customer will experience a customer service experience that they’ll never forget.
Map your approach to the product
It is important to remember that the sheer price of what you are selling has dramatically increased as the projects have become more elaborate. It is not out of the ordinary for an outdoor living project to be priced at over $30k. To ensure that the promised sales experience is up to your prospects’ expectations, think about the last time you purchased a car or truck. Was the salesperson clean and well-dressed? What was the sales brochure like? Chances are that the brochure was large-format and magazine-quality, far more elaborate than the flimsy tri-folds of yesterday. Now that hardscapes are more grandiose and expensive, it is crucial to rethink the effort and investment that goes into selling them.
Ask questions and listen
One of the most challenging facets of the sales process is being patient and listening to the needs of the homeowner. Slowing down and taking the time to learn what motivates the modern homeowner is crucial to delivering a product and experience that meets and surpasses their expectations. Learn from the prospect how they intend to use the space and what they hope will change in their daily life from the purchase of an outdoor living area. Gather all this information and use it when pitching ideas and designs in the next meeting.
Even though hardscape purchases are largely emotionally driven today, we still need to communicate the utilitarian value of a properly installed hardscape. It is likely you have competitors that will be willing to undercut your price by compromising the installation. It will be necessary to explain to your customers why they should pay more money for what may seem to them like the same end product. Put the time and effort into developing a pitch emphasizing the quality of your installation. By using common vocabulary that the prospect can understand, rather than industry jargon, you can connect quality installation to things that matter to the contemporary homeowner such as maintenance, longevity, and the memories they will make after the installation is complete.
Many of today’s hardscape projects involve complex and detailed installations. While you, as a trained professional, can envision a project using a basic drawing, it is unlikely that your prospects can do the same. Homeowners will not sign off on a project without fully understanding what they are investing in. Luckily, technology has opened up a valuable opportunity for those contractors willing to make an investment in the training. Few things have revolutionized the hardscape sales process as much as 3D landscape design software. Uvision by Unilock is leading the way in 3D hardscape technology. Those hardscape contractors that add 3D design presentations to their sales process see a marked increase in their sales and projects. In order to stay competitive, more and more contractors will need to begin offering this service.
Ask for a review and start again
The process of selling, designing, and installing hardscape projects is intensive. One of the most impactful things that you can do to grow your business is to ask every happy customer to review your business online. During the walkthrough at the completion of a project, take a moment to express your appreciation to the customer and explain how reviews are important to your business. Then, ask them to go online to Facebook, Houzz, Google, Angie’s List, etc. to write a review about their experience with your company. Encourage this step by providing them direct links to these review sites or bring a tablet onsite to offer them the opportunity to do it in the moment. Over time, these increased customer reviews will create more leads and referrals, and your hardscape sales process will begin to support itself.