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Is This Customer Worth Your Time?

Interior photo of a sunroom addition

Often, discussing budget will help weed out tire-kickers in favor of serious clients. Then the fun of designing a project can begin. Photo courtesy of Red House Remodeling.

Tips on processes and approaches that help you target serious customers.

Distinguishing a serious buyer from a tire-kicker is one of the most important issues sales professionals face. Time is money. Wasting it can take away from important goals — and paying clients.

We talked with successful sales pros about how to evaluate potential clients. They say spending time upfront, determining a budget and discussing values tells them whether it’s real or no deal.

Time spent on the front end is invaluable

Roger Zierman, showroom manager for high-end kitchen cabinet brand Poggenpohl, faces challenges with walk-ins at his busy New York City showroom. Some visitors are out for a stroll and wander in; others are there for business. How do you know who’s buying?

After an introduction to himself and the brand, "If they say something like 'It looks just like Ikea'’ I immediately know this is not my client," Zierman says. "But if they ask about our organizational features, our price points and finishes, they might be a buyer. I ask what kind of appliances they are thinking of. If they don’t bring up luxury products, I know they are not a good fit," Zierman says.

Design Director Carrie Rodman of Martha O'Hara Interiors always asks if a customer has worked with an interior designer before and, if so, what that experience was like. Then she knows that she can spend less time upfront and the client understands budget and next steps.

When Ben Trannel, owner of design-build firm Red House Remodeling started his business, he let his office set his appointments. He says he was wasting valuable time on people who were looking for a free estimate or trying to gauge project costs.

To counter that, he now does all first contact with clients himself, over the phone. "It's the best business decision I ever made," he says. "Spending 15 to 20 minutes saves me one or two hours that I used to spend with them and I know whether I have a real fit or not."

Use budget to weed out tire-kickers

Budget discussions are where the rubber meets the road for businesses and customers. Experts advise to get to it quickly.

Zierman hits budget in the initial encounter by referencing his brand’s quality, history, reputation and service. "We are definitely one of the more expensive options out there. If the customer is listening and getting that talk, then I segue into examples. An 8x10-foot galley kitchen in this city will cost at least 60 to 80,000 dollars. I watch their reaction to that. If it's accepted, I will continue and suggest a next-step appointment," he says.

Trannel says some people don’t know or don’t want to tell him their budget. "If they don't know what they want to spend, I send them to the cost versus value reports and they need to research that and determine what their budget will be," he says.

Rodman finds people often look at her carefully curated online portfolio and want a turnkey project but have an unrealistic budget. She tells them what she can do for the amount they want to spend. That often ends the inquiry, she says.

Setting a budget quickly and getting a retainer in hand helps with client satisfaction, Rodman says. "Once that happens, the client can have fun with the process. Then we all have the same expectations and that is the best way to get the best results," she says.

Does the customer fit your values?

Trannel has adopted a unique sales position. "We only take jobs for residential clients who are going to stay in their homes. They must be doing it for themselves," he says. No flips, instant makeovers for quick sales or commercial work.

"I explain early on that we charge an upfront design fee. If they are not willing to pay that, they are not good clients. I can’t give my time and work away," Trannel says. Otherwise, "I have hours invested in the process and they have committed nothing.

"Until I had the confidence to tell people that, I got a lot of pushback. Now I hardly get any. We lose money on design fees, but I believe in charging for them with my whole heart. If they don’t want to pay them, then they are not the right fit for us," he says.