How To Get Better At Selling Garden Design To Clients

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It’s 2002.  Las Vegas.  The old Imperial Palace Hotel and Casino.

The most important internet marketing conference in the world.

I’m standing offstage as I see the MC lift the microphone to his mouth.

I heard my introduction over the speakers in the large ballroom. It’s time!

I took a deep inhalation of breath and climbed the 5 steps to the stage.  I waved vigorously to the crowd of 500 people as they applauded.  Smiling, I made the double arm gesture for them to please sit.  My heart pounded, racing at close to 160 beats per minute.  Ah, the sweet power of adrenaline!

afraid of selling

I began my talk as I usually do, with a joke about golf that I had swiped from a friend’s speech in 1995.  After the expected laugh, I shifted gears into what I called “The Relaxer”.  It was a carefully measured segment of my talk designed to get the crowd to stop looking at their watches, fidgeting and get them on my side.  The hypnotic sound of my melodic voice was having the desired effect.  I could see their eyes defocus and their heads gentle roll to the side.  It was a powerful image.  Imagine 500 people all tilted to the left, staring at you, hanging on every word.

Just 35 minutes later a small percentage of the room would be new clients.  I once heard platform selling described as the fastest way to make money without owning a gun.  Creating $15,000 a month in new clients in under an hour was as much fun as it sounds.

Here’s a question for you.

Why do you think so many professional garden designers are afraid of selling?

Listen.  We know that 20% of them enjoy 80% of the profits.  You probably know a few of them.  They’re the ones that turn away work, land huge profitable clients, and never seem to get blowback or resistance when quoting a job.  Is selling a genetic talent like being able to dunk a basketball or is it a skill set that can be learned, improved and mastered?

beautiful garden

Here’s what worked for me over the years.  Deliberate practice.

For nearly 20 years I went after every opportunity to practice that I could.  In May of 1991 I stood on a stage in the west end of Toronto in front of 30 people and nearly fainted.  The lavalier microphone was picking up the boom! boom! boom! of my thumping heart.  The surge in adrenaline made my mind go blank.  I forgot nearly the entire 8 minute presentation that my mentor had prepared for me.

But in the winter of 2010 I stood on stage in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia in front of 4000 people and rocked it.  Deliberate practice.  Repetition.  Mastery.

So how can you become better at selling your garden design services to clients?

You don’t have to become good at speaking to large crowds.  Most jobs are quoted face to face, person to person in the horticulture industry.  Most of my income the first decade of my working life was generated one to one, not one to many.

I realized by the 100th rejection that nearly every prospective customer had the same basic objections.  I instinctively knew that if I was going to ever get good at winning over a prospect I would need to figure out how to eliminate their excuses before we ever asked for the order.

But how do you eliminate the objection before they even get a chance to use it?

Let’s say you get the same excuses over and over again.  Maybe they say “Looks good, but we just don’t have the money right now”.  OK, great, the No Money one.

If the same objection keeps popping up in your presentation, YOU are creating it, not the client.

Let me repeat that.  If an objection keeps appearing over and over again, it’s because you’re planting it into the prospect’s subconscious.

Stop.  It’s not the end of the world.  In fact it’s simple to fix.  When I started in the strange and mysterious world of personally asking potential customers for money in exchange for service in 1988, I was young, broke and nervous.  My first few months I never saw a decent meal.  Finally I heard a nice grey-haired man named James Rohn speak at a training seminar.  He gave me the nudge to dedicate myself to becoming successful  in the world of working for myself.

He taught me the power of story-telling to eliminate objections.  I began experimenting with the way I gave my sales presentations.  To eliminate price resistance I started to tell the story of one of my customers, a young couple that wanted what I was offering, but had doubts on the price.  I disclosed the price about halfway through my pitch.  I told how they had argued and hummed and hawwed and how they eventually settled on a suitable price and had got on board.  Instead of dancing around the price at the end, I casually put it in the middle as part of the story.

Here’s what happened to me.  Remember at the beginning of this article I mentioned how the eyes of the 500 people defocused and their heads tilted to the left?  That’s what started to happen in my 1 on 1’s.  The prospects arms would unfold.  Their breathing became deep and rhythmic.  They stopped telling me that they couldn’t afford it.  The telling of the story in the third party was like magic.

As you’d imagine I learned so many powerful things about the human mind in those 2 decades.  I’m excited that I get to share them with you in these pages.  Using third party stories is just one example.  Remember that social proof is almost like magic.  Our brains seek out examples of people like us doing something we want to do.  And then one part of the brain, the emotional side, holds that example up to the logical side of our brain to get it to come on board.  Selling sure is a lot easier when you can get one half of the prospect’s brain working for us to persuade the other half.

I saw a real-life example at a Ford dealership about 11 years ago.  We had brought in my wife’s car for major service and had started walking around the complex looking at possible replacements.  We weren’t married to any brand, we were open and we were looking around.

What I saw at the Ford dealership make me stop, frozen in my tracks.  The cubicle of one of the sales reps was covered from knee-high on the floor to eye level with Polaroid pictures and letters.  He was the top rep for Ford in Toronto, and had the proof visible to everyone.  Picture after picture of happy people with their new cars.  Testimonial after testimonial of satisfaction.  I chatted with him about his wall.  He was incredibly proud of his near-30 year career solving transportation problems for people.

He told me he was now selling cars to the grown children of people he put in a Ford in the eighties.  He had pictures of him with 2 generations of happy customers.  His business was to the point where prospects called him daily out of the blue as referrals.  He was “the guy” for so many people.  As in, “you need a car?  call my guy.”

Here’s what I also noticed.  Not one other sales rep had photos or letters on their wall.  Not one.  Surely if you worked with the top guy in the city you’d copy him.  Nope.  There was his powerful secret out for everyone to see and copy and yet it was invisible to his competition.

Even though I’m not in the car business, I noticed.  And I ramped up my social proof through testimonials in a big way.  It was one of the easiest and most enjoyable profit-boosting things I did for my business.  Making mini-celebrities out of my happy clients made them happier and more willing to refer business to me.

So how can you become better at getting more clients for your garden design business?

I’d suggest adding way more social proof starting today.  How many past clients would be willing to give you a quick handwritten note of satisfaction?  If you’re too busy to ask for these, assign them to your ninja.  You have a ninja, don’t you?

Start using your social proof by telling third party stories with an emphasis in dismantling the most common objections.  If you keep getting price as an excuse, tell story after story of happy customers that argued over a $45,000 backyard makeover and how they came to make the smartest decision for the happiness of their family and the long term investment in their property value.  Show photo after photo and letter after letter.  

Instead of the next glossy 4-color boring brochure like every other landscape designer in the city, make a bound booklet of nothing but testimonial letters and photos that you can leave with the prospective client.  Think of it as a late-nite propaganda piece.  Imagine your prospect laying in bed reading page after page selling themselves on why they need you, then calling YOU the next day to book a follow-up.  I’ll be dedicating an entire post next week just to the Propaganda File idea, watch for it.

So let me ask you a question, Are you willing to commit to mastering the selling aspect of the design profession?”.

Your family is counting on you.  Your staff are counting on you.  Your clients are counting on you.

You can do it.  I believe in you.

Watch for the head tilt in your next presentation.  

Let me know how it goes.


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