Do you ever find yourself struggling to get an appointment on the calendar with a potential customer? Do you find yourself emailing back and forth or playing phone tag to find that weeks go by and you still haven't met with them, or worse, you have a sea of sticky notes to follow up with and now the leads are cold and people are frustrated? Well, in today's episode one of my clients presents a case study about what happened when they started using online scheduling for their first appointment and charging for it. Check out this episode to see what happened to their revenue, what happened to their morale, what happened to their efficiency and, ultimately, could you get away with charging for the first appointment? Let me know after you watch today's episode.
Hey, everyone. Jack Jostes here, and welcome to The Landscaper's Guide podcast. In this show, I share sales and marketing strategies that are going to make your life easier, that are going to help you get more of your Hell Yes customers in your pipeline with less stress. In today's episode, I'm super excited to share some of the footage from last year. It's from the 2022 Landscaper’s Summit. That's our annual virtual summit. We've done it three years in a row now and we're definitely doing it again this fall, and last year I had some of my clients present. What you're about to see is Kris Nylander. He's the sales manager at Alpine Gardens. They're a full-service landscape company in Fort Collins, Colorado. I've worked with them on their website and their SEO. They started getting a lot more leads and they said, "Jack, what do we do with this?" I said, "Now it's time to automate. Let's start doing online scheduling." That was working well, and then we moved on to charging for the appointment. This is different from charging for design. This is charging for the first appointment because you deliver value at that appointment and yes, you can charge for it. Let's hear directly from Kris about how it works, what they're doing and see if this could work for your landscape company.
Struggle To Qualify Leads
We're loving some of the changes we made. We're going to talk about how to charge for the appointment with online scheduling. When we started with this process, where we were at is, like many landscapers, you're always struggling to qualify your leads. We had an advantage that we felt like we were getting plenty of leads. We had a lot of referrals and our website was performing well from that respect, but we didn't feel like it was informing our customer how we operated and what kind of work we did. I'm the sales manager here at Alpine Gardens, been here since 1999. The company's been around since 1978. We do pretty much everything you can think of with landscaping. We have a nursery that's a separate company. That's confusing because it's a different name. We do maintenance, we do commercial, high-end and basic residential landscape as well as enhancements.
There's not a project that's too big or small for us, and so we really struggled to identify the leads that were coming in and who best to manage those projects. As we're talking today, we're kind of... We designed this really to handle the high-end custom residential work, and this has evolved. We're hoping that this can help in the other divisions as well down the road. But we had plenty of leads, just not a lot of really good ones. In our industry you take a lead and you got to call them back and you struggle with, one, getting a hold of them and then making sure that it's really a fit for your company by the time you do talk to them. We found that a lot of times you just rush to make an appointment and go visit them because you finally got a hold of them and you didn't spend as much time qualifying that lead and figuring out what they really needed and if they were a fit with the company.
We've always had a live person answer our phones during business hours, which we felt like was an advantage. We always tried to get back to folks within two business days, and with as busy as people were and not home, this was pre-COVID, it really became a challenge to schedule something that was meaningful. Then as salespeople, there's that fuzzy line of when do you start charging for your time. We felt like this is an industry-wide problem, this wasn't unique to Alpine Gardens and we wanted to sort of change this. I've been researching other businesses in other industries for years trying to find something that would work for us where we didn't give the impression that we were too good for the project or didn't want business because there's... Like I said, there's no project that's really too small for us. We just wanted them to be handled professionally and efficiently.
The other piece to that is everybody that would call... We use a software, Aspire, which I know they are involved in this today. There's a lot of information that we would gather just to get them entered into our system, and then if they didn't go further than the phone call, that was a lot of wasted time before it even got to a salesperson. That was sort of our struggle, and then not to mention pre-Aspire we were doing a lot of this with notepads and Excel spreadsheets. Where we wanted to be, we wanted to certainly waste less time for everybody involved, the customer as well as us, from our receptionist to our people answering the phones to the people actually taking the call.
Charging For Initial Appointments
We cover a pretty big territory. We're in Fort Collins, Colorado. We try to stay within about an hour of our home office in Fort Collins, which pushes us up to Southern Wyoming, Eastern Colorado. We do work up in the mountains and we work in North Denver. We found that we were spending an awful lot of time as Colorado has been growing... A lot of our designers and project managers were spending too much time on the road. Then again, if we weren't really charging for that appointment then that was a lot of wasted time and effort. We wanted to find better projects that were suited for us and get them to the right folks and then also try to get a commitment sooner in the process. Whether or not we or folks in the industry are charging for design work, when do you actually complete the design? When are you getting a commitment or an agreement from the customer that they're on board?
Because we're design/build, we don't really... Our business model is not to make money off of our designs, it's to build the project and so even if they paid us for a design there was a lot of wasted time and effort there because we needed work for the crews. We wanted some skin in the game from our customers a little sooner and that would help us better forecast and plan the workload for the upcoming season. Also, we wanted to explain the process a little better and let our customer know what to expect, a timeline, and we weren't doing that very well. You generate a bunch of leads, you have a bunch of people that are waiting on you now, and we didn't think that we were doing a good job of letting them know what's going to happen next and how long it's going to take.
Then we thought that a more professional approach might add some credibility to the industry. We felt like there was, at least in our area, there was a lot of companies just running around and giving away design and consults and we weren't sure that that really represented our industry very well. With this, we knew we wanted a new website and so we were really trying to modify and change how we presented our process to folks while rebuilding our website. In the background, while I'm the sales manager I also manage and design projects and it had taken me quite a while to figure out what we thought was going to be the best approach. Nate, one of our owners and general manager, stumbled across an article in a magazine that featured Ramblin Jackson, and that's the approach that Jack and his team took we felt like fit what we were looking to do. That's when we started chatting and that's when I first, I think, talked to Robert. So we came up with this. This really helped.
Automate Your Sales Process
My way of thinking always is circular. I looked at this like marketing. We try to... When we have a customer, we try to keep them within our system and whether that be construction to maintenance or even to a future buyer at our nursery when they buy fertilizer or more plants or flowers, we always felt like that was somebody that should stay a client forever. We developed a graphic for our sales process that a lot of this was already thought out, but we really utilized the team at Ramblin Jackson to think through what was best and what we were trying to accomplish. We wanted to make that first contact a lot easier, and with technology and a new website that's what the goal was in the beginning, and then also define, "How are we going to do this? How are we going to start to charge sooner?"
Include A Pricing Page on Your Website
We came up with a contact form that spelled this out along with... There's some notes here about our pricing page. We created a pricing page. A lot of them are very vague but at least it gives the customer some sort of idea of what a project might cost. That seemed to really help weed out some of the potential customers that were just looking for the cheapest company out there. This then leads to their ability to schedule a phone consult. They have access to a calendar. Once they fill out the form, they are then prompted to schedule an appointment and we can adjust that timeline. Currently we have it set to about a 48-hour window when they can schedule just so that we can make sure that it gets in the right hands, and then we call them at their scheduled time and we explain our process, we talk about their project and decide if it's a fit. That has eliminated a lot of the back and forth phone tag and then just trying to rush out whenever it makes sense.
At this point, we talk about what we're going to provide if we come out and what it costs. We tried to think about what was a fee that would attract people that were serious about a remodel or a professional landscape project but not such a high fee that would disqualify people that were really still shopping and just wanted to talk and give us an opportunity to sell a project. We came up with a number that was 325 and we want to then give them more value than that. If they give us the opportunity to come out and visit their site and we think it's a fit for our company and an attractive project then we want to show them our best, and at least that was a number that we really don't care if they ever pay that fee. We really just want to use that as a qualifying tool to make sure that they really understand what a professional landscape costs and design and all that.
How To Save Time On Your Sales Process
So we meet with them on site, we then spend a little more time with them on site and evaluate more than what maybe they called about. We feel like now we have an opportunity with our experience and the staff that we have to identify other problems, maybe on site or other potential projects that they didn't realize we might be able to handle for them, drainage concerns or the health of their trees, potentially maintenance type issues. We feel like we're able to come and spend a little more time at that point with them. Then we ask them to come back to our office for the second meeting and then we present the plan, present the budget and discuss what happens next. When they schedule, I kind of skipped ahead, but when they schedule then they get a video that thanks them for visiting the site. It's about a five-minute video that explains what's going to happen on site at that visit. This sort of walks them through without having to have a bunch of email correspondence or phone calls back and forth, and they have confidence that somebody's going to contact them and move forward with the promise.
To wrap up where we're at now, so this has certainly led to better leads. We are wasting a lot less time trying to contact our customers and schedule appointments. One little struggle I'll say is if they don't schedule, there is a little delay, about a ten-second delay, in loading that scheduling page and some people don't give it enough time to see that. There has been less and less as we've done this and tweaked this where we have to actually respond to them and ask them to schedule a time. It's also led to us being more consistent within our team, so all the project managers and designers that are talking to our customers and visiting their site have a more consistent approach to the sales process and to what we're looking for and how we can help them. We are getting a commitment sooner.
We think that this helps them collaborate without the pressure of feeling like they have to rush through a design to get on a schedule. But we are finding that they like the design process so much that then there can be some challenges with getting decisions made because they feel like they're on the schedule already. That's just something we're working through as a team. We're able to forecast our sales better. Sales are up 23% from last year so we think it's working well, that's in the residential division, and we think we are adding some value and credibility. Now we get the question of, "Why don't the other companies do this?" We're continuing to build on this and hoping that we can pull this across to the maintenance and commercial divisions as well and see if this is something that will work well there as well.
I absolutely see this strategy working for residential sales. I don't know that charging for the appointment makes sense quite yet with commercial sales. I think you're going to need to do more outbound marketing, but as a business-to-business salesperson, your account people, your salespeople or if you're the owner doing it, I do see online scheduling working maybe even just to schedule a phone call with you or to schedule an onsite consultation. The key here is being easy to work with, and the thing about being easy to work with is that you as the professional, as the salesperson and as the business owner, your life then becomes easier. I'm a big advocate of online scheduling. It's a great way, especially when combined with charging for the appointment, to filter out people who don't really take you seriously, they're not quite ready to move forward, and, most importantly, just relieve the stress of your staff.
The people who are answering the phones at your company, they get stressed out and this works well for them if they talk with someone or if you offer a variety of services but have different people on your team leading it. For instance, if you do design, build, installation, construction and a client asks you about maintenance and then they need to meet with your maintenance manager, you just pull up your phone, pull up their schedule, book an appointment for your client with that person instead of saying, "Oh, well, you got to call Terry or, well, I'll give Terry a sticky note or I'm going to text Terry." Now Terry's busy, Terry drops the ball and you look bad. Instead, you're all rock stars with your calendars. This can be used in so many different ways.
At Ramblin Jackson, one of the reasons landscapers trust us is because we brand your sales process to help get the owner out of sales. What I loved about this presentation is it wasn't even the owner of Alpine Gardens, it was Kris Nylander, their sales manager. This tool helps Kris do sales. It alleviates everybody. I was talking with Kris one time about some of my own landscaping needs and he looked at his phone and he said, "Jack, I have an appointment with someone after this and I'm so excited because they booked it while I was on vacation." Kris had just gotten back from vacation and because they have this system set up, boom, he comes back from vacation with an appointment on the calendar. What's more, they're watching a video ahead of that appointment where they're learning about the pricing, they're learning about all these different things.
If you'd like to learn more about how to design your sales process, how to automate things, how to use video in your sales process, we'd love to talk with you. Reach out to us at ramblinjackson.com and you can learn more and book a call with us right on there, ramblinjackson.com. We look forward to talking to you soon. My name's Jack Jostes and I hope you enjoyed this episode of The Landscaper's Guide. I look forward to talking with you next week.