What Are You Worth? The Talk, Telling and Selling of Tree Care

Editor’s Note: This post is based on a January 2015 TCI Magazine article authored by TCI EXPO 2015 speaker Jeffery Ling, Registered Consulting Arborist (RCA).

The Talk, Telling and Selling of Tree CareShould tree care estimates generate revenue? While many arborists desire to charge for sales calls and site visits, most tree care companies are in the habit of providing “free” estimates.

This practice can be costly. Many tree care professionals will invest an hour or more on a potential jobsite, identifying problems, detailing specifications, even making informal risk-tree assessment – and not charge a fee. This “free” time is wasted when it doesn’t result in a sale.

Why does this happen? The skill of selling fee-based property visits and then implementing them as a “closing tool” is unexplored. The utilization of fee-driven engagements to precipitate higher dollar volumes within a contract, and the disciplines to achieve these ends, are even less considered or utilized.

Let’s look at the issues, risks and rewards of “free” versus “for-fee” estimates. There are three important points to consider:

#1 There are three different groups in the sales arena. Radical differences exist in our context, expectations and interactions with three distinct groups: Clients, Customers, and Casuals.

Clients, customers and casuals all require different approaches. Clients, for example, can be regarded as individuals with a minimum threshold yearly income level, or possibly a multi-year service history. Customers can be classified as anyone who does repeat business, but doesn’t necessarily offer the same long-term value as a client. And then there are the casuals, who are people potentially seeking tree care services.

For each of these groups, one must have clear visit criteria and limits; and clear expectations for time to be invested. Ask yourself: When should a client, customer or casual be presented with a fee-based visit (understanding that most property visits will produce work contracts)? When is a free visit appropriate, outside of it being the path of least resistance? And what uniform procedures exist for codifying the value of new contacts?

Answering these questions is the first step to quantifying your expertise, and deciding how much you should share before charging a fee.

#2 Every exchange must have values transferred. For-fee selling is no different.

In classic economics, “marketplace” is defined as “the arena where values are exchanged.” Do you want the client’s/customer’s tangible value (money)? What do you have to exchange? Is it tangible?

What is your opinion worth? And, more importantly, how is your expertise valued? Do you assess yourself accurately? Confidently? Are you resolute in your level of technical knowledge? Can you face a potential sale and say, “I can bid the specific tree care you requests, but you are now requesting for more. I charge a fee for that”?

#3 Most commercial arborists should not “consult.” However, providing “Client Guidance” and “Expert Sales” are reasonable, valuable and desired actions.

Commercial arborists should recognize that some contracts are better suited for independent tree care consultants. In these situations, retain or refer a Registered Consulting Arborist (RCA), then benefit from a follow-up sale.

Think of your services as “client guidance” and “expert sales,” rather than comprehensive consulting services. Provide tangible value with a written report; this is the product that proves professionalism. In both client guidance and expert sales, it is also permissible to consider the fee as pre-payment for future arbor care service.

When recognized, planned and engaged, when professionally presented and delivered, both of these services can (and should) produce compensation.

In the end, it is important to remember that one universal axiom applies to our craft: “You get what you pay for.” And too: “You get what you ask for.” Are you creating opportunities for casuals, customers and clients to fund the transfer of your expertise? Are you worth a fee? If so, prove it!

About the Author

Jeff LingJeff Ling is a Registered Consulting Arborist operating as Arborwise, Ltd., and co-owner of TreeMasters, Inc., a six-year TCIA member tree care company based in Fort Wayne, Indiana. He has 35 years of commercial arboriculture experience.

To learn more about selling your tree care expertise, attend Jeff’s presentation “What Are You Worth? The Talk, Telling and Selling of Tree Care” at TCI EXPO 2015, November 12-14 in Pittsburgh, PA.