When I first started out in this business I never thought I would have to be a salesman. I knew I wanted to grow the business, but the first few years it seemed as though we couldn’t keep up with all the business we already had. Getting the work done was the bigger challenge; sales on the other hand was the last thing I wanted to think about.

As the business grew and we began hiring more employees, I realized that I would have to sell more work to keep everybody busy. Being in the commercial maintenance business, I knew who my potential customers were, I just needed to get in front of them.

I needed a plan and, quite frankly, I didn’t have one. At the time I had just attended a sales seminar and one of the suggestions I heard and took to heart was to find a sales mentor to help out with the sales process. I got lucky and found someone who was, and still is, the number one salesman in his industry. I still meet with him frequently to talk about sales. Here are the top 5 things I have learned.

1.Be yourself.

People buy from people they like. This is a simple concept, but sometimes hard to grasp. We all have the vision of the slick salesman who says all the right things and has personality profiles memorized so they can move in and “close the sale” more quickly. You don’t have to be that person, just be who you are. No one knows your company better than you do, so just be honest and sincere in how you present yourself. Explain to prospects what sets you apart from your competition.

2.Be on time.

Don’t be late for a sales call and don’t be early – be on time. You should never be late. If for some reason you’re running behind, give the customer a phone call to let them know when you will be there. Being too early is also an issue. If you have made an appointment for 1 o’clock, don’t get there at 12:45. Most people are busy and they have tight schedules, so you’re not doing them any favors by arriving 15 minutes early.

3. Beware of the “whales”.

We all like to go after the big accounts, but there are a lot of smaller jobs that pay well and may present fewer headaches. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t go after the big jobs, but keep in mind there are other jobs out there as well. The competition may be a bit less intense on the smaller jobs, as well. I have several large customers and I can tell you that they know they’re big accounts and they expect more than some of our smaller jobs.

4.Listen. Listen. Listen.

This one is probably the hardest to master so I’ll make it very simple. Keep quiet and listen to the client. Don’t start barking about how great your company is and all the services you offer and blah, blah, blah. The customer already knows that; that’s why you’re there. It’s your job to listen and find out what the customer really wants, not tell them what you have. There’s a difference. A big difference. Once you find out what they want and value, then you can tell them how you can help them by hiring your company.

5.Be sharp.

You don’t have to wear a suit and tie to your appointments, but you should always look sharp. Wear a pressed shirt with your company logo on it. I don’t think jeans are appropriate for the commercial market so we wear business casual pants at my company. The bottom line is that I have never met a successful salesperson who looked like a slob. Having a clean vehicle is also important. Remember, people are judging you by their first impression; make it a good one.

I’ve learned so much about sales over the years that I could probably write a book on the subject, and maybe someday I will. For now though I hope these five tips can help you in your sales process. My final word of advice is to observe the sales professionals you come in contact with. You can learn a lot if you pay attention to how they conduct themselves and after a while you will be able to pick out the great ones. After you do that you might want to ask one of them to be your sales mentor.

The author is the owner of Southwest Landscape Management, Columbia Station, Ohio, and a partner with his brother, Jeff, in Rak Consulting. Contact him at steve@sw-landscape.com.