In the old days, salesmen traveled from town to town, hawking the miracles of their wares and making sales with over-the-top gimmicks. Later on, they did the same thing, going from neighborhood to neighborhood hoping to get a foot in the door, often literally.

Any pool builder knows the art of selling has changed. Heavy-handed pitches are out; nuanced approaches are in. Sales is about building relationships and two people, in our case builder and customer, meeting each other’s needs.

Cue Brett Abbott, president of MYM Austin, a consulting firm that specifically caters to pool builders looking to improve their sales efforts. His advice hinges on one thing: Confidence, in your product, your price and yourself. Here, he offers tactics that can help win business in the highly competitive pool building market.

Know your stats.

Before you do anything, you and your sales team need to track what you do — how many leads you get, how many sales calls you make and how many of those calls turn into face-to-face meetings. “That’ll tell you how good you are on the phone,” Abbott says.

A general rule: Of your face-to-face sales meetings, shoot for 1:5 closing rate. However, if you get a lot of leads from the Yellow Pages, you’re likely to be dealing with price-focused shoppers, which will reduce your closing rate.

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“Typically, out of five people that say ‘I’m interested in a pool,’ at least two of them are going to say, ‘Wow, I had no idea pools were so expensive. I don’t think we’re going to do a pool this year.’ So two are going to fall off and not buy from anyone, and now you’re down to three. On average, you should be getting one of those three,” Abbott says.

Be upfront.

Abbott is a proponent of the “upfront contract,” a technique designed to keep your sales meetings low-pressure. Before meeting your next potential client, practice following script:

“I appreciate you having me out, I understand you’re interested in an aboveground pool. So here’s what I’m going to do this morning: I want to find out what you’re really looking for. We should probably take a look at your yard. And you may have some questions about me and my company; I’d be happy to answer those. This whole thing will probably take about 45 minutes to an hour. And when we’re done, you may decide we might not be the right company for you — and I want you to know that’s okay. And if for some reason, I don’t think we can help you, do you mind if I just tell you right up front? (Client says yes.)

“So at the end of the meeting, we’ll decide if we’re going to do anything else together or if we’re done. Sound good?”

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Abbott is the first to admit that might sound a little weird to say. However, this language helps put the customer at ease while also communicating that finding a good client/builder fit is more important to you than making a buck.

“I think what you’ll experience the first time you do this is they instantly have a newfound respect for you as a professional, because most salespeople won’t do that,” he says.

Don’t allow yourself to get pigeonholed.

Any pool builder can expect potential clients to talk to several builders before committing to anyone in particular. By doing this, Abbott says customers turn pools into a commodity with a generally consistent value — so when they finally turn to you, they think they have an idea of what their pool should cost.

“Hint at the vast range,” Abbott says. “When they ask, ‘How much would it cost to put a 10,000 gallon pool in my backyard?’ Say, ‘It depends! It can go from $300 to $300,000. And in fact, I’ve seen people do it for $3 million. We have no idea what it’s going to cost to give you what you want in your backyard because there’s too many variables.’

“They’re trying to shove you into a little hole. You’ve got to expand their brain, because once they’ve got you in a range, you’re stuck.”

Another bit of advice: Don’t just tell them pools come in a wide range of prices. Show them.

“Take the biggest, most beautiful thing you’ve ever done and put it in your portfolio. In fact, if it were me, I would have a half million to $2 million dollar job, and I would have an inflatable pool. And I would say, “We can do whatever you want.

“You’re just helping them recognize that they really have no clue.”

Price for your company, not your client.

Again, it only takes a couple bids from other builders for a client to think they can know what kind of price to expect from you. And again, they really have no idea. If you specialize in higher-end projects, don’t knock down your price to keep your name in consideration — briefly explain the difference in value. Abbott offers an analogy:

“Here’s the concept that homeowners don’t understand. I have a four-door Mercedes Benz with electric windows, CD player, GPS, leather seats and V8 engine — and it’s $80,000. And I can have a Kia with all the same features, and it’s going to be about $30,000. Why on earth would anyone buy a Mercedes when you can just get a Kia? Does anyone still buy Mercedes? Yeah, they do, because they appreciate the quality and the value of the higher-priced product.

“Whenever a person says, ‘How come your pool costs $20,000 more than this other company?’ You have to just tell them, ‘Look, you may think all pools cost the same, but look at those two cars. That’s actually a Kia and a Mercedes. They look identical, don’t they? But one is four times as much. That’s a fact of life. People will pay four times as much for the exact same functionality in a car. And the same is true with a pool. You explain that and say, ‘We’ve chosen not to build a Kia kind of swimming pool — we’re more of a Mercedes company.’”

Don’t be afraid to go outside their budget, either.

Say you meet with a customer, and they want it all: in-floor cleaning, tile everywhere, an infinity edge — and they want it all for $60,000. Not gonna happen, right?

Abbott says too many builders would respond by removing costlier elements and presenting a design that meets the budget, yet waters down the original vision. Instead, start by offering a proposal that does give them everything they want, and price it accordingly.

“You’ll come in with that $330,000 number because it contains everything you talked about with the customer, it has all the possibilities. And they’re shocked. ‘I said 60K!’

“You say, ‘Well don’t panic. I’ve got your 60K pool here. We just need to take out the all-tile and take out the vanishing edge, and take out, and take out, and there’s your $60,000 pool.”

By starting from the top and explaining to the customer how they can meet their budget, you’re showing them a spectrum of possibilities, which is something few builders do, Abbott says.

“You should definitely talk about money, but don’t take them at their word about their budget,” Abbott says. “They might say, ‘I had no idea I was going to spend so much, but man, I’m excited now. Sold.’”

Comments or thoughts on this article? Please e-mail cailley@aquamagazine.com.

Want more marketing advice from Brett? Check out his blog posts! 

Cailley Hammel is Managing Editor of AQUA Magazine.