Whenever we are faced with rejection, the automatic reaction is sometimes to give up. In this episode, David Reed shares his origin story and the roadblocks he needed to overcome. David has a passion for entrepreneurship and wanting to control the outcomes in small businesses. After getting his MBA from UCLA, he ended up working for Pierre Landscape. Together with the owner, Harold Young, they grew the four-employee company to an $8 million-dollar enterprise. Interestingly enough, the company grew to $33 million after he left the management position to go back to being an employee. David talks about the importance of gratitude as a sales tool and celebrating wins with the entire team, not just a select group of people.
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Gratitude As A Sales Tool With David Reed
Our guest is David Reed, who’s known as a pre-construction guru. David has quite an impressive background starting from his education days. He went to the University of California in Berkeley and went on to get his UCLA Master’s MBA Program. He has been in the field of construction and working for Pierre Landscape for many years. He’s going to tell us that story of origin what it’s like to grow a company and his own personal passion for what he’s doing and also how he overcomes roadblocks. David, welcome to the show.
Thank you, John. I’m super happy to be here.
I wanted to ask most of my guests is the story of origin. Let’s talk about your days in college. Did you know when you were back getting your MBA and all that landscaping was for you?
Everything has been serendipitous to that degree. At UCLA, when I got my Master’s in Business, there were a number of people that went to interviews for accounting and consulting and finance projects. I felt at the time that small business and entrepreneurship was something that was going to be what I have more of a passion for. It came down to wanting to control the outcomes of things. Prior to going to UCLA, I’d work for manufacturers Hannibal Trust Company in their Latin America division. International banking was a great way to start my career. It felt like it’s a big organization. I wanted to feel like I could have an impact. Small business and entrepreneurship were what I was drawn to at UCLA. Landscaping was something I’ve been doing since I’ve been thirteen. Serendipitously, I ended up after business school doing a home remodel in the Palisades with a friend of mine. Harold Young, who’s the owner Pierre Landscape came in to put a bid on the sprinklers. That’s how he and I met in 1990. The company had four employees and after the house was built, we started Pierre Landscape. From 1990 to 2004, over those fourteen years we grew from four employees to an $8 million company.Being busy is a sales killer. Click To Tweet
What are some of those growing pains to go from small to $8 million?
It was certainly bootstrapping. We didn’t have any credit lines. It was all internally funded. It was getting new clients, getting new landscape architects and general contractors that would partner with us. I remember getting on the phone and going through the phone book and reaching out to landscape architects and introducing ourselves. Starting out in that way and spent a lot of time sort of driving through our core markets which were in Brentwood and Pacific Palisades and Santa Monica and Hancock Park. Stopping off on job sites and literally walking into the job trailer and introducing Pierre landscape to see what we could do.
It was feet on the ground kind of marketing where you would cold call in person as opposed to an email or phone call.
It was. You’ve talked about areas of genius, things that are walking on the job site with something that I do and did. It’s only in retrospect that I realized that a lot of people don’t have would never do that.
It’s the willingness to be rejected. An in-person person sometimes that fear of rejection is even stronger. Did you have any insights now that you’re looking back or any thoughts to yourself? For every person you would sort of drop in on and say, “Would you like to work with us?” How many of you have to talk to before one would say, “Yes?” One out of ten, one out of 100?
I wish it was as easy as yes or no. It ended up most of the time it was, “We’re in framing,” or, “We’re coming out of the ground,” or, “We’re about to stucco.” Landscaping is the last trade, it was a lot of, “Happy to talk with you but before we’re going to make a decision, it’s going to be something that’s going to be two, three, four or five months down the road.” Persistence was another one of those skills that honed that good follow-up. Having a sense of decadence in the sales process when it was time to follow-up. Making sure that we were there at the right time when they were ready to finally give us a set of drawings to get a proposal or proposals. I’ve been sitting out there and force the cadence of the process to when they’re going to make a decision. Not being afraid to walk on the job sites was definitely one of the big drivers. It is having the team organized and being persistent in following these projects. The sales cycle wasn’t a short one. In some cases, it would be a year or longer when it was finally time.
That’s where a lot of people give up. They’re like, “I don’t have the patience to wait a year. I’ve got cash flow problems now.” They don’t have a system in place to follow up on those leads. I know from my own sales career that organized follow-up at the right time. Doing what you say you’re going to do, “I’ll call you in a month,” and you do. That automatically builds some trust which is so important. They think to themselves, “If this guy, David says he’s going to call me a month and he does. When he tells me he’s going to have this landscaping done in three months, if we give him the bid, he probably will keep that word as well.” That’s how it sounds to me. You were building trust. My question for you is, were there any tools you used or recommended using to have this cadence you refer to so that things don’t fall between the cracks?
There are lots of great CRM programs out there. Over the years we’ve used Excel, we used Outlook. We’re settled in on Salesforce. There are other CRM tools out there. Having something that allows me to organize myself and to look at which opportunities are in need to be nudged along. That’s one of the strengths of the top performer in sales is being organized. There are the art and science of selling. The artful part is knowing when to push a deal along and reach out to somebody. As you were commenting on how to make and keep commitments on a small level, over time builds up to a sense of somebody having the confidence that you’re going to be able to perform at the end of the day. A lot of our clients now with Pierre landscape use it, these are people who have been with us for many years. These are people that we’ve got long relationships with. That’s different than working with somebody new. Especially when we started, we didn’t have that kind of history. Those are some thoughts. Having a good CRM and being organized is key to be successful as a relationship.
One of the keys to being successful when you’re launching any business is no matter what its size or growing it. You not only have to be organized to how often you’re reaching out to new clients, existing clients, keeping your word. How do you organize your own day, your own week and month? Especially as a startup, you’re wearing a lot of different hats. You’re selling it. You’re implementing it. You got to attract clients. You’ve got to work on the bids, the invoicing and then deliver it. How did you figure out, “From this hour to this hour I’m dropping in update these people. I’m following up on these people. I’m putting stuff into the CRM?” Did you have a cadence in your head of how you scheduled your day? Did you sort of find yourself reacting and saying, “I have to respond to this proposal and forget cold calling right now. I don’t have time?” How does that all work for you?
My planning process is to plan the week in its entirety either on a Saturday or Sunday before the week starts. Lockout the major things that need to get done and don’t get distracted by things that might come flying at the last minute. There’s always a little bit of margin that I try to leave for work. Great clients have urgent needs for them. For the most part, I feel best about my week in and week out when I got my priority goals the things that are going to move the needle that the things that are going to make my number. If I’m checking those boxes, that’s a good week.
If it doesn’t get scheduled, it doesn’t get done.
We were we’re talking a little bit about the busyness of life and being busy in some ways is a sales killer. Busy means running around. I’m focused and methodical. I’m not a person that likes a lot of drama. Being focused and methodical has generated stronger results than then being reactive.Don't be distracted by last minute requests. Click To Tweet
Let’s talk about your own story during this 28, 29-year journey. You, at one point, can tell us when that happened, you decide you’re going to sell your interest back to your partner. Tell us what motivated that? How did it go? What does that look like now?
I’ve been with Pierre Landscape for many years. When I go back to my business school reunions, I talked with my friends who may have had five, six or seven different companies that they’ve worked for since business school. I think to myself, “Are you the smartest guy in the world or the dumbest guy in the world?” I’m one of the two. Part of what your readers might find interesting about my journey is getting to a point in 2004. This is several years after the start of the company, after I partnered up with Harold. We went from four employees to about $8 million in sales. I sold my interest in the company back to Harold to become an employee. For several years, I’ve been an employee of PR Landscape. The company’s gone from $8 million to $33 million. There’s been a huge transformation over that time. Over that several years, I’ve been a salaried employee working as a business developer and pre-construction.
What I found out about myself over those first several years as the company went from four employees to $8 was that running and managing a business and the passion that it takes to run and manage a business. This sense of being consumed in a beautiful way of running and building the business wasn’t something that I had. I could do it but putting on a suit of clothes and arms were too short. If I pulled my arms up the sleeves would get down and sort of fit but at the end of the day, it wasn’t something that was making me happy. We have been working with a business consultant for many years. We had our consultant with us at the time as we were discussing what it would look like for Harold to buy me out. When our consultant first suggested, “Maybe this is the solution that you guys might want to think about.” We both shook our heads and said, “That isn’t that.” A few months later, a year later, we worked through the process of getting to a place where I could become an employee. The management side and the goal setting and vision setting and then driving to the vision, those weren’t my areas of genius. I’m a relationship builder, a business developer. I’m a technical reconstruction person, but vision and driving a vision are different.
Was there already difficulty in letting go of being involved with all the decision making? Did they have trouble stopping asking you to work all these incredible hours?
On one level it was hard, on another level it was easy. One level for me, it was a burden that wasn’t serving me to put that aside was refreshing. On the other side, not being looked to for leadership and guidance because I said, “You know what? That’s not what I want to be bringing to the table.” There’s a sense that there, “I’m not an owner anymore.”
It’s a separation of who I am is bigger than what I do for a living. Letting go of outside labels defining our self-worth. That’s my big takeaway from your story.
It’s accurate and you talked about it in your book. When you lost your job at Condé Nast and then got it back and won the salesman of the year. You’re sitting up there and you’re like, “I’m the same guy.” There is a sense of who we are is bigger than our professions. Sometimes it gets mixed together in a beautiful way that we don’t necessarily realize that. As I look back, I don’t know if it was me being the smartest guy in the room or the dumbest guy in the room. That was what we decided to do the best for both of us.
David, what do you do to keep your team morale up? How do you celebrate wins?
One of the things that I’ve taken on consciously is being a cheerleader inside PR Landscaping, how a good, “Atta boy,” goes such a long way. I think of it as internal salesmanship. I’ve got an internal client and an external client. Typically when I’m listening to a sales podcast or reading a book on sales, it tends to be about the external client who was selling too. Selling internally and making sure that the people on my team from estimating to our production people to our maintenance team. I make it a point of being the person that says, “Thank you,” more than anybody else to my team internally. The internal salesmanship in my mind is key to building a wonderful team and it’s key to being able to bring the best of what our company can offer to the client. When I say, “Thank you,” it makes me feel good too. I walk into somebody’s office and say, “You know what? The way that you handled that maintenance issue with them or the way you handled that warranty issue. Thank you, means a lot to me.”
Do you double back when you win a bid? Do you go back to the people who put the estimate together to let them know that in fact, it came into fruition and to thank them for their part?
We do. It’s always an email to the estimator, the chief estimator, the sales manager and the president. It’s like the chief cheerleader for Pierre Landscape. In those moments, bringing a sense of celebration to a sales big or small is important.
Let everybody feel part of the wind as opposed to the sales team getting all the credit.There’s an art and science in selling. The artful part is knowing when to push a deal along and reach out to somebody. Click To Tweet
It’s hardly about the sales team. It’s about our estimating team to put together a good estimate. It’s about our production team that does a good job in the field so that we’re able to go out and get repeat business from people. In a lot of ways as we celebrate, it’s the sales team is the tip of the iceberg and everybody else is doing the heavy lifting.
What do you do to keep morale up when you don’t win a sale?
I was going to comment that we’re happy if we’re closing 20% of what we put out. For every ten bids, eight bids we are not going to get. People are going to either go with another company or maybe the job won’t go at all. As an internal salesperson, I try and be super candid with everybody on what I see with certain deals, if they’re going well if they aren’t going well. I’ll be candid about things that are positive about a certain opportunity.
It sounds like you keep people informed so they’re not shocked when it doesn’t happen.
The Reed family gave out Christmas cards to our friends and family. I brought Christmas cards into the estimating team. I wrote down on for each estimator that deals that I wanted to close in 2019. What’s been fantastic is that the Christmas card has been up on their bulletin board.
They have a shared goal and vision.
We go through it and we’ll highlight the ones we got and go, “We didn’t get that one. We didn’t get that one.” The communication piece is, “Good, bad, beautiful or ugly.” That’s been a good recipe for building trust. I’m going to be honest. I’m not going to tell somebody that this deal is for sure win. I’ve got some signs that know it’s heading the wrong way.
I had John Ruhlin who’s the author of Giftology on the show and he’s an expert at coming up with unique thoughtful gifts both for big clients and internally. Is there anything that you do internally or to your big clients to celebrate or thank them for their business? That’s a little out of the norm.
I am not a creative gift giver. My wife Susan Reed has that beautiful creative side to her. I have started deals over $1 million. I have started bringing in either a bottle of whiskey or a bottle of tequila when we do our turnover meeting making a big deal of presenting it to our estimator. At one point we went out and did a craft brew we called it the Pierre Pale Ale.
You’re onto something there because that’s what I learned from John Ruhlin. When you customize a gift and give people an experience. As well as something that they can remember that experience by. You have the wow factor because for people reading, “If my goals are to close 20% of the bids I put out. What else can I do to increase that?” In my experience, it’s creative gift-giving to grow current business. The second part is, what are we doing in our proposals or in the conversations that we could improve to get to 22% or 25%? I’m a big proponent of telling the story. I have had conversations about what’s the story of your personal passion. What’s the story of Pierre Landscaping? How did it start? What’s the culture that it stands for? If gratitude and appreciation are part of your culture that might attract some people. If you’re not telling that story out externally then people don’t know it. If you can find other companies that have that same value suddenly people have a connection to you. If it’s between you and someone else and everything else is fairly even, then they might go that way.
You’ve prompted me to remember something that I use in most of my conversations with my clients. It’s thanking them in some way the phrase that I use is, “Thank you so much for all the heavy lifting. All the heavy lifting that you’re doing out there as general contractors to get these projects to a place where Pierre Landscape is one of your subcontractors.
It’s a little more customized, “Thank you.” That has a little tongue in cheek there. David, is there something you want to leave the audience with? Maybe a book you like, a quote, a philosophy, advice, anything you want to leave people with?Bringing a sense of celebration to a sale, big or small, is important. Click To Tweet
The main thing is how powerful it is to say, “Thank you,” for things that others might take for granted. Be a big cheerleader out there. This abundance mentality is something that has served me well when I’m thanking people. There’s a sense of coming in at this whole thing from a better place. Sales is a game. Sales has its ups and downs. Some days are wonderful. When it is wonderful to be sure to celebrate and not on your own. Be sure to celebrate with the team. A team win is more gratifying than an individual win.
If people want to reach out to you? How else can people follow you or reach out to you?
Through LinkedIn. I’m happy to share any insights. I’ve been taken with better selling through storytelling and you are using good open-ended questions and storytelling to engage with my clients. In that way, I’ve connected a lot more people and that’s been a joy to connect with clients in a deeper way over the course of a sales process.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom and your fascinating story of making sure that you’re happy. In turn how that allows you to come from a place of happiness and gratitude and how that continues to create a place of abundance for your company and your life.
- John Ruhlin – past episode
- LinkedIn – David Reed
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