If you spend enough time talking shop with other small business owners, you’re almost assuredly going to hear someone mention the importance of using scope as a tool to help close more projects and increase sales. So what is scope exactly, and why do you sell it?

Scope encompasses all the project details you’re selling to your prospective client. In other words, the scope of all the integral components of your prospect’s wants and needs. It usually takes some digging and lengthy discussions to truly understand what your prospective client desires, and many times, the client is not thinking of brands and equipment. Instead, the client’s thinking about how this ‘smart stuff’ will make his smart home life easier, more comfortable, and enjoyable.

Here are a few quick tips to help you make the most of your project proposals:

#1: Making a Good First Impression Really Does Matter

We’ve all heard it: You only get one chance to make a great first impression. It’s the reason we use a little mouthwash before a first date; we’d rather not let something as obvious as bad breath derail us before the conversation even starts. So how does this relate to closing sales? The“scope” we’re referring to isn’t a brand of mouthwash, but the nature of the project we discuss with our prospect. It’s really about maximizing client impact in that crucial first meeting.

But how? By NOT talking about specifics. Instead, focus on the client’s vision: their desires, their expectations – his or her “scope” – for the project. Start by asking lifestyle questions on how they hope to live and experience their smart home. And how smart do they really want it to be?

Now if you close more than 75% of your proposals, stop here. That’s right, if the majority of the ultra-detailed, 100-page tree killers you present after that first client meeting turn into jobs, you can go spend your time playing golf. But if that’s not you, you may be saying something like, “I do talk about client desires and expectations, but my closing rate certainly isn’t 75%.” This is where Scope/Budget Selling really kicks in. The first impression relates to your prospect’s reaction to your first proposal. It’d be great to get there more quickly too… and with fewer surprises!

Here are a few strategies you can use:

#2: Stop Selling Equipment

Historically, the majority of proposals generated by our industry are basically a very detailed bill-of-materials. Integrators spend so much thought to the brand/model of TV, remote, speakers and such, but this usually means little to clients.

Think about how this relates to the simultaneous purchase your client may be making – the new house. If you’re building a house, the builder likely didn’t begin with the brand of concrete needed for the foundation. Rather, he walked you through his model home and said “this is what I can create for you.” At which point, you began discussing scope: how many bedrooms and bathrooms, how about the outdoor living space, dedicated theater and more. This is not the time to discuss details. This is the time to define desires – identify the scope for your dream home. Then provide solutions to make those dreams come to life.

As you begin the conversation with your prospect, keep this in mind: Don’t let your enthusiasm for projector X or control system Y interfere with really listening to your client and leading them to discuss their ideas, expectations and dreams for their new system – as well as any frustrations they’ve experienced with prior systems they’ve owned. You may not have a model home, so it’s important to build a mental picture in this first meeting. In other words, focus on the vision, get them to talk, sell your brand, and ask those lifestyle questions.

#3: Ask Lifestyle Questions

Speaking of which, being sure to ask lifestyle questions is pivotal to your success at this stage of the game. How do they want to actually experience and live in their home? For example, don’t ask “what brand of TV do you want?” Instead, ask things like: “where do you want to watch TV?” or “Are you considering a dedicated theater?” Brands and models are immaterial to this conversation and should be actively avoided. The only brand that matters is your company.

Here are a few quick tips to get you started:

  • Ask questions
  • Listen
  • Repeat back what you think you heard – these are all techniques that build rapport. This client will begin to feel heard, that you actually understand their needs and can do a goodjob fulfilling them.
  • Talk Budget. Talk pricing. It’s all great up to the point when you ask the budget – right? Wrong! The quickest way to ruin a good first impression is to return a proposal that completely misses the budget. If you don’t address it up front, there’s no way to know what the client is willing to invest in their system.

#4: Price Should Not Be a Taboo Subject

Looking back at our new home analogy, armed with info from roaming the model home, this builder can quickly qualify you by offering a rough budget to construct your dream home: $150 /square foot or $1000 / square foot? Your answer to the question of budget tells him exactly what kind of home he needs to propose. If clients are evasive or unwilling to discuss their budget it might not be for the reasons you think. It’s fairly easy to determine home prices in a given market, but that’s not the case for the AV systems industry. Mostly, the client is evasive because they truly have no idea what this stuff costs!

If the scope exceeds an acceptable overall budget, make adjustments at the system or room level before work on a formal proposal has even started.

So, integrators should get in the habit of discussing budget & prices early and often, but not on specific equipment. Instead, talk systems or rooms. For example, your client may have expressed an interest in watching movies – so talk about the price ranges of a dedicated theater room. All snobbery aside, a theater can be built for $10–15k. Conversely, that budget can easily reach the high 6 or 7 figures.

If your client wants music “throughout the whole house” that’s the time to start discussing typical price ranges for a distributed audio system. You may quickly find that the client who “only wants the best” begins to back track when 20 rooms at $5,000 per room comes to $100,000! Talk about price as you get answers to your questions, and the budget will begin to build itself.

The benefit is that if you come to an agreement system by system and room by room, then the client realizes how the price tag for his dream system became a half million bucks! If the scope exceeds an acceptable overall budget, make adjustments at the system or room level before work on a formal proposal has even started.

I’ll admit, finding the right “tool” for this job hasn’t been easy. Voices around the industry have advocated the concept, and a few companies have developed software applications intended to sell packages but the pickings have been pretty slim, leaving dealers to come up with solutions on their own.

Fundamentally, selling scope starts by simply creating and defining a list of “solution systems” that you sell and support (e.g. theater, audio/video distribution, integrated control, lighting, security). In other words, the client’s ‘wants list’ (broken into systems) and how much the ‘wants list’ costs.

Armed with a systems list and corresponding price ranges, you can lead your client through each, but only after you determine if they have an interest in a particular system. This easily develops the scope of the project. Don’t forget to also address their desired levels of capability and quality.

The ‘wants list’ really helps develop the budget. It may be a manual approach, but with a printed list of systems in front of you and the client – and an agreed upon budget next to each – a baseline number can be easily generated at the bottom. If the client accepts that figure, it’s far more likely that the proposal you create will be accepted. Then asking a small design retainer (I recommend 2% as a minimum) to create this detailed quote, solidifies your chances of closing the sale.

If you’re looking for help, BlueDog Group has released an app purpose-built to support scope and budget selling(and collecting a design retainer) to shorten the sales cycle and improve close rates. BlueDog also has a Scope & Budget Sales System to help with designs and documentation and provides a scope and budget selling platform that walks integrators and clients through the qualifying process — moving them from the client’s ‘wants list’ to an accurate and successful proposal.

Years ago, I sat across the table with a prospective client determined to sell a design agreement based on a percentage of the job. When the time came—and with some serious trepidation—I pulled out my single-page agreement, filled in the amount, and collected a deposit on a $500,000 budget. It worked! 

You can do the same, all while saving time and money in the process. So go ahead, sell scope, ask lifestyle questions, establish a realistic budget – and close those clients! 

Curt Hayes is the CEO of BlueDog Group LLC.