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Cleanfax Insider / Advertising / Marketing & Advertising

Didn't you see the sign?

What to do — and not to do — when trying to sell carpet cleaning services.

January 11, 2013
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I stood there speechless!

It took a few seconds for the embarrassment to wear off. I looked sheepishly around and noticed that there were about 30 patients staring at me… just wondering what I was going to say. I looked across the counter at a very sweet lady whose expression changed into a determined receptionist whose only mission was to try to get me to leave. I had less than two seconds to say something profound to avoid being ejected in shame from their office.

How would you respond?

I have cold called thousands of businesses over the years and discoveredthat some businesses get upwards of 100 to 500 unwanted visits from salespeople every-month. Think about this for a moment. If you were getting upwards of 500 salespeople knocking at your home trying to sale cleaning products, it would absolutely drive you crazy. You might also consider the fact that if you were to purchase something from all of them, you would not be in the cleaning business very long. Here are a few insights that may assist you in navigating some of the minefields you could experience when cold calling.

The primary goal of cold calling is to create a nice portfolio of commercial business. Traditional cold calling is centered on selecting a targeted demographic and going door to door on a search for new customers. Most cleaning companies that have a business strategy designed to create a commercial market presence, will readily hire sales people to sell their cleaning services. Oftentimes, depending on the size of the company, the commissioned sales person needs to generate $500,000 to $1 million a year in revenue.

Approximately 1/3 of the businesses they contact will have a posted sign outside. The sign will be located on the walls or doors in open display and the sole purpose of the sign is to discourage you from entering their office. “No solicitation” signs dominate the landscape in prime commercial real-estate areas and come in different iterations:

  • No Solicitation, This Means YOU!
  • Absolutely NO Solicitation
  • Solicitation not allowed
  • No Solicitation allowed
  • Warning No Solicitation-Loitering-Trespassing
  • No Solicitation, No Exception 
  • STOP NO! Solicitation Allowed
  • NO Soliciting-Peddling of products
  • No Solicitation, No Trespassing! 

As you can see, there is an undeniable theme with the listed messages. If you take the “no solicitation” signs at face value, you could easily miss up to 33% of the business in your targeted area. Should you take them seriously? I will let you be the judge. I want to be the messenger here and my goal is to point out options for you to consider. Ultimately, only you can decide how to handle a sign that clearly tells you “to go away.”

Let’s pick up at the beginning of this story, where I am stupefied. I walked into an office without an appointment. I looked around and noticed that many of the patients had put their newspapers and magazine down to look up to see who the receptionist is yelling at. The spotlight was on me and I knew that I needed to say something profound. What would you say? Would you be mortified and apologize and leave promptly? I will share later how I handled it. The more important question is what is the objective for stopping in the first place?

Number one objective

The primary objective is to make a connection with the receptionist to explore the companies cleaning needs. The objective is not to try to bulldoze your way into seeing the decision maker. Why? There have been countless times when I have had customers call me after I left and asked me to come back to give then an estimate. This subtle cold calling technique works every time.

The secondary objective is to speak to the decision maker. If that is not possible the third objective is a must. You simply must get their business card. When you get past the verbal jousting of the receptionist you will discover something extraordinary.

  • The potential customer is actively taking estimates
  • The potential customer was about to call someone to get an estimate
  • The potential customer needs the cleaning done right away
  • The employees need their homes cleaned.

Once you enter an office, how do you seek information?

Card caddies

card caddieWhenever you walk into an office, always look for a card caddy on the countertop to locate the principals of the business. No matter how the receptionist is responding to the question, I will reach out and ask, “Who do I contact in these cards?” “I will not spam or bug them at all;” “Your company needs our services and I will send a professional e-mail to them;” “By the way here is a card for “YOU” to access our popular cleaning services.”

I get interesting reaction by observant customers in the waiting rooms who ask for my cards as well. I would hand one out to everyone in the office in order to maximize my visit. This works 99.9 percent of the time because I am not insisting on seeing the decision maker and I have previously outlined my intentions to act in an acceptable manner in e-mail before they have a chance to boot up their auto-defense against me. The card caddies reveal more information than you will ever need. Most have e-mail addresses of the chief executive officer (CEO), chief financial officer (CFO) and office managers that appear like low hanging fruit for the picking.

The experienced gatekeeper will recognize your level of experience by the swagger you display as you walk into their office. Since some sales people routinely walk past “no solicitation” signs it is important that you make a connection quickly before you are challenged.

Instant connection

Receptionists have a lot of power to sway the decision makers in choosing a cleaning company. I always treat them like the very important people that they are. Although they can be the lowest ranking employees in the company’s hierarchy, they may have greater influence. Some also appreciate the validation they receive from you when you show them respect and courtesy. Medical offices have doctors, nurses and office managers. These individuals will not be the main employee answering calls and handling the patients who walk into the office. The receptionist is the sole authority, who will most certainly exert that power at the front counter.

It is a must that you make an immediate connection or you will be doomed. One way I keep fresh is to change my look depending on the offices I am cold calling on. If I am going into an office where professionals carry brief cases, I will carry one to blend in. However, when you carry a brief case into the door of a doctor’s office you will stand out like a salesperson. Try your best to fit into the environment as much as possible. You don’t want to send a red flag to everyone that you are a salesperson who is walking into an office trying to hawk services. You must have a strategy before entering an office.

Doctor’s office

The moment of truth! When I am confronted openly about the purpose of my visit, I needed to take control of the situation. One thing you need to do is lower your voice to “Humble pie level” and avoid pouring fuel on the situation. In my experience, the receptionists always modulate their voice when I behaved this way. If I am walking into a doctor’s office I am aware that the sign is to stop pharmaceutical sales from interrupting their business.

I politely say:

“I am sorry about the misunderstanding; I am not a pharmaceutical sales rep” (Pause)

“We are cleaning your neighbor’s carpeting down the street (neighbors are your customers) and I wanted to reach out to you to make sure that you don’t miss the opportunity to keep your office looking lovely.” “Who can I speak to about becoming your preferred vendor?”

This question is to zero in on whether they are looking right now or in the near future. Most of the gatekeepers will say out of habit that the decision maker is in a meeting.  This response is a clear indication that they have set up a “force field” wall to keep me out. If I see that their auto-defense triggered a force field, I zero in on the card caddy on the counter. I use the business cards, with their assistance, to identify the prime contact. I always get the card with the name and email address of the company’s decisions maker. This is done to get around the gatekeeper’s auto-defense response. Once I get around their defenses, I circle back my conversation and try to make a connection with the receptionist again.

As I have shared, the receptionist is generally the employee without “real authority,” who will exert their “perceived authority” at the counter. They indeed carry real power to influence the decision maker. You want to be gracious with them at all times.

I offer an irresistible last statement:

“Here are some extra cards, I will give everyone in your office 10 percent off any service of their choice if they need their carpet cleaned and for “YOU!,” “Only YOU,” “I will give you 15 percent off if you make sure my card gets in the hands of decision maker. Fair enough?” I wait until they agree and it seals our verbal agreement.

The receptionist agrees and I have the pertinent information I need to follow up in email with the official decision maker.

Always close with, “Thank you for your kind assistance, I hope to hear from you.”

Many receptionists have given me the name and the email addresses of the decision maker. There are things you should do to get a decision maker to respond to an email. That is another article. I hope this information will add value to your day.                            

Michael Morrow is a freelance writer and author of the groundbreaking self-publish book, “If you don’t believe it, you can’t upsell it.” Morrow is one of top sales representatives for Stanley Steemer. He lives in Scottsdale, AZ, with his wife Leslie. He can be reach at (480) 388-4742 or e-mail RelatationshipBuildingAcademy@Gmail.com

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