How To Sell Landscape Lighting at A 90% Close Rate with Nate Mullen
Yes, 90% Close Rate -- on projects you want.
We all know landscape lighting is super high profit margin.
But customers never want to pay "extra" for it... because you're positioning it the wrong way!
Listen to this interview with Landscape Lighting Bible author and Lifetime Lighting Systems CEO Nate Mullen who shares:
- The key mistakes most contractors make when selling lighting that blows the deal
- How to plant the seed for a future lighting upsell during your initial installation
- And the proven sales process he’s perfected over the last 30 years that you can start implementing right away to sell more lights WITHOUT getting the “well how many lighting fixtures are in your bid” objection
Today I’m at the Nursery Landscape EXPO 2019 in San Antonio, Texas. I've got Nate Mullen here who's the author of The Landscape Lighting Bible and he's going to talk to us about how to sell more lighting projects and make a profit from it. So, Nate, thanks so much for being here. Tell us a little bit about your background in lighting and what led you to write your book?
Well, thanks for having me. So I've been doing full time lighting for 30 years. Working, you know, seven days a week, 60 hours a week type deal. So I started out as a lighting contractor in 1990, full time for six years. I developed a lot of processes. I developed a multi-tap transformer everybody uses and quite a few pictures. I started selling to contractors, which then led me to start a company called Unique Lighting Systems. So I founded and ran Unique Lighting Systems until I sold it to Toro in 2011 and then my non-compete ran up July, 2017 so I started a new company called Lifetime Lighting System. But through that whole process, I've installed upward of probably 70 to 80,000 fixtures, been on thousands of jobs and I've totally pissed off homeowners, made mistakes, which obviously, failures always lead to great successes. You know, we have great techniques and rules and methods and I do a lot of education. Obviously writing a couple books helps further people's career.
Great. What do you do when clients say to you, “Oh man, there's way too many lights on this bid.”
Well, there's a couple things and I think I'm going to start by saying this. I think the majority of the landscape lights get sold and installed by landscapers because it's a natural extension, right? You know, they do the irrigation, they put the sod in, they put the sprinklers in, and they'll put the lights in. So what happens is if you want to make a comparison between lighting and sprinklers (which I think we should)? A landscaper does not sell a sprinkler head. They sell an irrigation system, right? They don’t go and present, “Hey, I'm going to sell you 22 heads.” Then you come up as my competitor and you say, “Well, he's going to over sprinkler the job. You only need 12 sprinklers.” Everybody goes through a training process and it takes what it takes. If the job takes a hundred rotors, it takes a hundred rotors.
The competition can't come in and say, “Well I only need 50 rotors.” Because you would obviously underwater it, there's consequences for when grass dies or gets overwatered. Outdoor lighting is so different. For the most part, landscapers will sell fixtures. You don't sell a lighting portrait or a lighting system. So they sell lights and I teach them to sell lighting, right? And it takes what it takes. So a lot of times, you know, people will incorporate lights into their bid and as just as a number, right? And they don't really have the techniques and the method to install the proper lighting. So it's very difficult to sell the quantity of fixtures it takes because there's not enough evidence for the homeowner to make a decision. So what that really means is, nobody in the United States wants to have 50 lights in their front yard or a hundred lights in their backyard because that equates to Disneyland or Las Vegas.
If it’s over lighted, it's too bright. And my God, are you on crack? Nobody wants to do that. So they just go off 15 lights is all you need. Well that's not true. Maybe it is only 15 lights, but may take 60 lights to do a proper lighting job. So the way to sell outdoor lighting is you do a mockup. We have battery operated lights. It's very simple. You can make your own battery operated lights. It's an advantage of LEDs. You go out and you do a mock up. You put real lights in location and you don't talk about how it takes 15 or 30 and you say you do an unbelievable lighting job. Homeowners will walk out and you'll wow them. That's your job. You can't create a wow.
And then at some point they're going to ask, well how many lights is this? And you're like, well, I don't know. But when I was in your house, I was noticing you had some art on the wall. And I want to know, did you ask the artist how many tubes of paint it took to paint the painting? And of course they'll think that's the stupidest thing they ever heard of because they bought the painting, not the material.
So the idea here is to sell the effect of the lighting and not the quantity of fixtures.
The trick is to remove the amount of fixtures. So you ask the client, does it matter if it took 22 lights or 32 lights or 21 lights or 18 lights? No, it's the effect. Matter of fact, take this laser pointer and just point to any five or six, whatever you want, we'll turn the light over. If you've done your job properly, every single time they'll have turn the lights back over and then they'll even add some for over there. So that's how you sell outdoor lighting. Unlike selling a landscape design where you might do a 3-D rendering or you're going to really show people, in the sales process, can you show people what lighting is going to look like instead of just saying, Hey, here's a bid for a hundred lights. How do you give people that visual of what it's going to look like?
So you do it onsite, you do it with real lights. Real lights on a battery. Those real lights I was talking about are battery operated, but they're real. The real light bulb, the real fixture. So the people walk out of their back door, front door and they see the visual world that you've just lit up and it really is mind blowing and your close ratio gets up to be probably 90, 95%. As long as you pre qualify them. They don't have dirt and they had a nice car and they got the money. Right. It's the way to go. It does take effort. You have to go out there at night, but it's interacting with the homeowner and being charged for that.
I don't personally think whether when you got to a close ratio of 95%, you don't need to charge and add more value. As long as you're qualifying hard enough on that first call or before you go out and spend, you know, how much time would it take for you to set up someone's backyard with a display like that with the battery operated demos, which has only been about the last year, we've came up with it before, it used to be extension cords, wired lights. It was a big process. Now, you can set up 50 lights in 30 minutes. But still, the process takes two hours. You've got to get there before it gets dark. You've got to set the fixtures up. You’ve got to wait until it gets dark, and you have to talk with the homeowner.
So you know your time, you leave your house or your office and you go back, you know it's three, four hours, right? So you want to make sure that your close ratio is high. Now, if your close ratio wasn't high, you wouldn't do it. It'd be a lot of work for nothing. But when you think about it, it's not uncommon to take three, four hours in formulating a bid on paper. Right? And then presenting it. So this is just a better way to present real lights in a real location to get the quantity of fixtures up that the property demands. Whether it's 15 lights or 50 lights.
We were doing a demo last week and the homeowner, as usual, had some number they picked out of the air and it wasn’t very many lights. They said 25, and well, we ended up putting 120 lights in and it's going to turn into 200, another 80 because the homeowners understand now. So when you think about what happens is, I always believe that we have an obligation to do what's right for the homeowner and what's right for the homeowner isn't putting 15 lights in when it takes 50. We have an obligation to at least have them make an educated choice on whether they can afford 50 or 15. Let them decide. And I'm telling you, if they, if they have the money to afford the 50, not 15, it's 100% every time. That's great. No, a landscaper is going to tell you that's all fine and dandy, but he's done a good job and he's extracted all the money out of the homeowner. They can't afford 50 lights.
Now I understand that because it's not in budget, but you can still come back a year later or two years later, upsell. Right? And they can upsell later and they can plant the seed, they can put the infrastructure in, they can put the wire in, they can put the transformers in, they can come back a year later and do that. I mean if you already have a client, maybe you do either landscape design and installation one year, calling them up a year later and say, Hey listen, we've got this new LED lighting program and I'd love to come and do a free display for you. I'm going to light up your backyard and I'm going to bring wine or bigger, whatever. Right? I think that that could be an excellent way to get that appointment and make that upsell. So I call that permission-based selling, it's like a slot machine or bar blackjack system.
If I'm sitting there, I've been in business 10 years and I do 30 jobs a year, my clients trust me and I've done a good job. I might have a Rolodex of two, three, four hundred people. Right? And I can pick up the phone and say, Hey, I just got certified being a lighting guy and went to a class. You got an unbelievable job. I'd like to come over and do a no obligation mock-up demo for you. It's a slot machine. So yeah, I can help anybody out there. You know, we do advanced classes all the time. I know the process is I can help anybody that wants to go out and go back into that permission-based selling technique. I think it’s an excellent value add for a lot of our audience here.
Well, Nate, for people who want to learn more, maybe they want to do some of your training or they want to read your book. How can people connect with you to learn more, even more about how to increase their profit with landscape lighting?
So our website is lifetimelightingsystems.com You can reach out to our office. We do advanced trainings. We've got an advanced training coming up September 26th, 27th, it's a day and a half. Sometimes we do four or five day seminars. In a day and a half we can teach you the design, the philosophy, the sales, the technique, install trick things. Sure. But, you know, reaching out to the website or calling us, (760) 304-8183. We can keep you up to date. We do a lot of blogging and posting and things like that, and we're there to help.
And what is the Landscape Lighting Bible about? Tell us a little bit in a nutshell, what's that book about?
The Landscape Lighting Bible, it doesn't go into sales and marketing. There's a Sales and Marketing Bible too. But it just has a ton of photos in there. And it goes through the process of the fundamentals of lighting, like how the eye works and why you need to put fixtures and how to be cohesive and the techniques of really developing a very cohesive lighting job.
Thanks so much checking out this interview with Nate Mullen from Lifetime Lighting Systems. What I love about the sales process he shared is that you literally show people the value. So often, sales people get bogged down in the technical details of what they’re offering… but when you help people experience the VALUE of what you’re offering, and in this case by literally lighting up their yard, they’ll be way more likely to buy.