Finding new business in commercial landscaping comes down to the relationships you form with property managers, speaker Kelly Ann Vickers says.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Ann Vickers

When Kelly Ann Vickers presents at LANDSCAPES 2019, she’ll do what she does every day – tell landscapers how to land new commercial clients.

At Landscape Maintenance Professionals, which has six locations scattered across Florida, Vickers serves as the corporate communications and strategies manager. She has also spent the last decade as a licensed property manager in Florida, so she understands both sides of the story when it comes to selling and buying landscaping services. Vickers says landscapers need to sell the idea of a good relationship, not just a good service. Of all property managers, Vickers is certainly one who understands this: She liked the landscaping company she hired so much that she eventually started working for them.

More than five years ago, the vice president at Landscape Maintenance Professionals was her point of contact and would check in every few months, occasionally pointing out that he read an article that made him think of her property. She was so impressed with this philosophy of genuine connection that she later agreed to help consult the company on a property manager’s mindset.

“One of the most difficult things as a property manager is trying to get vendors to understand how to have a relationship with us,” Vickers says. “Everybody wants our business, and what we really need is somebody who’s an expert in their industry and who wants to be our partner and our educator.”

Building a relationship.

Vickers says property managers already know about the problems on their property – they don’t need a landscaper to point them out again during a sales pitch. Instead, she wants to hear about what opportunities a company can create on a property.

“What do you see you could help me do with my landscaping immediately? In a year? Five years?” Vickers says. “It’s being patient, understanding that as a property manager, I know you mow the lawn and I know you weed and all those things, but I don’t know plant materials, soil conditions, the aspects of sun exposure.”

Vickers clarifies that landscapers don’t need to teach her about all those elements of the industry – property managers have little time as it is, often putting out small fires like taking care of emergency repairs or collecting late resident fees. She just needs the person selling their business to show that they know the answers to landscaping specifics like which annuals to plant or how to proactively approach pest control.

Sharing that information with a property manager does help sometimes when he or she needs to speak intelligently to a board or community about the landscaping, but it can be overkill to constantly explain the nuances of the industry. Besides, it might help further that relationship anyway to attend those meetings as well. LMP did this for Vickers before she started working with the company and she still references that as a reason she continued to do business with the company.

“It wasn’t a defense strategy, it was a support strategy,” Vickers says. “They wanted to make sure that they as the expert, were there to answer those questions.”

Mapping it out.

Vickers says all managers want “A” properties and will settle for a “B” property if necessary, but a vast majority of them still end up with a “C.” Most boards and property managers have a vision for what they want the property to look like, but they simply need somebody to help them steer those ambitions. Once you’ve got a possible client interest, Vickers recommends landscapers specifically map out what it would cost to implement that vision. Property managers will take it from there, finding ways to plan and save.

Vickers points to that LMP vice president who used to serve as her landscaping expert. He itched to show Vickers that he could make her worst properties better, not that he could maintain the status quo on her best properties. He guided her particular visions and helped turn around the value on properties that weren’t looking so good.

“Give me a C – give me an opportunity to show you what we can do,” Vickers says. “If my property looks like Disney World, don’t ask me to do my property. That means I have a really good landscape provider. I don’t want you to come in and attempt to lowball me. But if my property looks like a Motel 8 behind a Chinese restaurant on the Vegas strip, talk to me.”

Not wasting time.

Vickers say each property manager is obviously different, but for her, meeting at a community organization or event is best. At that time, you know it’s okay to walk up, introduce yourself and pass out your business card. She’s there for the networking at those events anyway, so she welcomes the opportunity to talk then. Following up by email or asking when a good time to swing by and walk through the property is also helpful.

However, surprise visits and cold calls are not usually successful plans, Vickers says. She says some property owners have anywhere from 50 to 1,000 people to take care of on a daily basis, so arranging a meeting might be beneficial only when it’s not going to disrupt the property manager’s schedule.

“It’s not wining and dining me, which everybody thinks it is,” Vickers says. “It’s asking for my time in such a manner that it’s not intrusive to my day. Property managers live in a very stressful, fast-paced dynamic.”

Vickers says developing a plan of action is critical before the conversation even starts – identify the possibilities and disseminate that information clearly and concisely. For example, show how planting certain annuals might thrive over current flower choices because of the type of soil and sun exposure in those locations.

Meanwhile, bad sales pitches she often receives feel like the salesman is just throwing paper at a wall and hoping that it sticks. Those who are pressuring for a sale aren’t readily interested in establishing a relationship, and Vickers says that shows.

“(Approach) me as though you respect what I go through on a day-to-day basis,” Vickers says. “You want to give me a service, you don’t want to sell me. We want to do business with people that we have rapport with and trust in. We’ve all been burnt by the guy who promises to fix everything.”