Business Smarts: Establishing a Strong Lead Qualification Process - The Edge from the National Association of Landscape Professionals

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Business Smarts: Establishing a Strong Lead Qualification Process

Your time is precious and the last thing you want to do is spend it pursuing potential customers who are not a good fit for your landscape company.

Having a lead qualification process can help you manage the volume of requests you receive. It is better for your salespeople and your organization. Rebecca Snow, a landscape designer with Bella Terra Landscapes & Garden Center, based in Ellendale, Delaware, estimates they have cut at least 40 percent of their wasted lead time since they started qualifying prospects better over the phone in 2019.

Chad Diller, vice president of Landscape Leadership, a sales and marketing agency for lawn and landscape companies, suggests improving your marketing and messaging on your website to also weed out certain prospects. For instance, if you don’t do landscape design/build jobs under a certain price point, don’t be afraid to mention that on your website.  

Questions to Ask When Qualifying

When you receive the initial call from a potential client, Diller says you should clarify how much time the qualification process will take and let them know you want to assess if you are a mutual fit, which creates an abundance mentality.

“If you say, ‘Listen, I want to save you time, and I want to make sure this is good for both of us and it’s totally okay if it’s not,’ I think what it does is it disarms the conversation,” Diller says.   

Diller advises creating a qualification playbook with predefined questions where whoever takes these types of calls is always asking the same questions for consistency. These responses should be recorded in your CRM so anyone in your organization can access these answers. Your qualification process should touch on these five topics:

Need – This is where you determine what the client wants, whether it’s a patio or a solution for their drainage problem. While a fire pit may be the surface-level need, Diller advises digging deeper and determining the why behind their request. How does this project translate to the client’s motivations and everyday life?

Budget – You may not be able to provide a precise dollar amount for the client on the initial call, but you need to discuss price ranges. Quite often, most people are unaware of how much landscaping projects cost, so this can help determine a good fit early on. You can even have an interactive calculator on your website to help leads be more aware of project costs.

“The reason people don’t ask for the budget is because they’re afraid or, in my opinion, they don’t know how to sell well,” Diller says. “It is a waste of everyone’s time for you not to talk over budget.”

Authority – You need to assess the authority of the person you’re talking to to ensure they’re the true decision-maker. This is particularly important for commercial accounts as they may need approval from higher up.

“If there are other decision makers in a process, if you’re talking to Mrs. and Mr. is going to shoot down everything you do, it’s really important that you find out at least at this point who’s involved and try to get them in on the sales process,” Diller says.

Timeline – Finding out how soon a lead wants a project completed is another way to eliminate individuals with unrealistic expectations. Often if a potential client is particularly impressed with your company and feels there is a mutual fit, they are willing to wait to get what they need. Another option is to propose installing more urgent aspects of the project in phases.

Positioning – The last aspect is determining if they fit your company’s positioning and core competencies. Diller says you shouldn’t sway from your standards or agree to do something you aren’t the best at just because you’re dazzled by an opportunity. Consider if this lead fits your ideal customer profile and if they’re giving concerning signals like looking for something cheap as possible right away.

Snow says their most important question to ask is where the lead is located, as this quickly can rule out someone beyond their designated service area.

If at the end of the qualifying process, the lead doesn’t seem to be a good fit, you can let them know with phrases such as “Your budget is a little limited, I’m concerned we’re not going to be able to deliver everything you want” or “We won’t be able to finish your project in that amount of time.”

Snow says they have a few smaller landscape companies they have good relationships with that they will refer leads to that aren’t the best fit.

Qualification Process Considerations

One thing you have to decide with your qualification process is if you want to have the lead complete a form with these questions online or have a staff member ask these questions on the phone.

Diller says while having potential clients fill out an online form is easier for your team, the more you require the lead to answer, the more reluctant they will be to complete the entire process. He says if you want to stick with an online form, make sure it takes no longer than one minute to fill out.

If you do opt for a team member to conduct the qualification process over the phone, Diller says they should have a certain level of knowledge about aspects of the business, including your backlog and starting price points, so they can accurately disqualify or qualify a lead. He says you should also avoid having these employees in silos.

“The designers have to see that person’s an invaluable resource that is saving them the aggravation of dealing with unqualified prospects, and then they should also be able to share the excitement when they close those leads that they prequalified for them,” Diller says.  

At Bella Terra, their receptionist handles the lead qualification and sets up appointments for the design team to conduct after the lead has paid their consultation fee. Charging a consultation or design fee is another element of lead qualification you have to decide if you want to practice.

Snow says their consultation fee is non-refundable and required to secure an appointment with one of their designers. Leads also sign a consultation contract that lets them know a design fee is coming and what the minimums are.

“It has made a huge difference because most of the tire kickers and price shoppers will drop off at that point,” Snow says.

Diller says he often believes his clients aren’t charging enough for their design fees.

“We’re selling our industry short by not billing people for our expertise,” Diller says.

Jill Odom

Jill Odom is the senior content manager for NALP.