Curb your enthusiasm, it's new-customer season

Columns - From the Landscape Distributor's Perspective

This year, Skinner Nurseries has given me one primary duty.

April 21, 2010

Todd Davis This year, Skinner Nurseries has given me one primary duty.
Oh, they also asked me to refrain from making the coffee in the morning, but that’s a totally different story. I can’t help it if everybody else doesn’t like their Joe as robust as I do.
In 2010, my main objective is to get new customers: Landscapers who have never purchased from Skinner, or haven’t bought from us in a long, long time.
Three months into the year, so far so good. By the end of the first quarter I will have brought in about 20 new customers, who will have spent more than $125,000.
That’s not bad, considering North Texas has had one of the coldest, rainiest, snowiest January/February/March periods in history.
But I don’t want to mislead you that finding and bringing in new customers is easy. It’s not. I’ve had to really concentrate on how I approach these people (either over the phone or in person). If I don’t watch it, there are three unwanted personality traits that come out.

Three faces of Todd
Over the years I’ve learned that, despite my best intentions, I can deliver a bad first impression. This happens when I let any of these alter egos slip out.
Used car salesman. I’m naturally an enthusiastic guy. Some might say borderline “spaz.” Who knows, maybe it’s the coffee.
When meeting a new customer I get tend to get excited. If I don’t tone it down, I’ll greet them with, “HI! HOW ARE YOU DOING?”  Then I’ll drag them around the nursery eagerly telling them about all the neat stuff we can do for them.
This is intimidating, and I come off as an insincere used car salesman. After all, who really has that much natural enthusiasm?
I’ve learned to tone myself down and — here’s the big thing — listen to the customer. What a concept.
Some sales classes have taught me to spend 90 percent of my time listening to customers during the approach phase of sales. This sounds about right. If I’m talking more than 10 percent of the time, I’m not really listening at all.
Cliff Clavin. Remember the know-it-all mailman from “Cheers”? There are times I really have to suppress Cliff from coming out.
A customer will ask if we have any ‘Natchez’ crape myrtles, and I have to fight from responding, “You know, ‘Natchez’ is a hybrid that was developed by Don Egolf at the U.S. National Arboretum. The parent species are Lagerstroemia indica and L. fauriei. In fact, the L. fauriei parent was actually one of the initial seedlings brought back from Japan by John Creech back in the 1950s.”
Who cares? Shut up and listen.
The bad neighbor. Have you ever loaned tools to your neighbor and never received them back? Have you ever heard, “I’ll return those to you tomorrow. I promise.”
With new customers, it’s critical to follow up. If they ask you for numbers by Thursday, deliver them on Wednesday. Even with simple requests, beat expectations rather than just meet them. If you don’t deliver what you’ve promised, kiss these new customers goodbye.

Get out there
If your goal is to develop new customers in 2010, then be smart about it. It really takes the right type of salesperson to go after new business.
They can’t be shy, afraid to make cold calls or meet new people. If you have a staff member with the right personality, knowledge and ambition, you could achieve great things.
And it doesn’t hurt if they’re jacked up on high-octane go-go juice.