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Changes in the Way We Bid Jobs10/18
Things have changed in the way we bid jobs. I rarely go to a house unless it's a bigger job. Most people send photos, dimensions, maybe a sketch through email. I bid this way regularly, but I'm getting a smaller percentage of jobs bid. On the other hand I just can't justify driving around town to look at bath vanities, bookcases, etc. I know if I did the ratio would go up, but I it's a time thing. Another change is more customers are coming to us direct, and not using their contractors recommendation. If I can get people into my (state of the art) shop I have a good chance of getting them to buy. I guess what I'm struggling with is how to convert those 'email bids' into paying customers.
That dilemma will never really resolve itself with your current organizational structure. The only real solution is to hire a salesperson / designer so that you're spending all your time in the shop, not driving around town. Or become the salesman yourself and hire a foreman who can run the shop.
Like Pat Gilbert always says, you need 1 person to drive jobs into the shop, and 1 person to drive jobs out of the shop. A single person can't do a good job at both.
The ability to empathize is a powerful negotiation tool. Empathy doesn't mean sympathy. You don't really need to care about what the other person cares about. All that is necessary is to to understand what they care about.
If I interpret your post correctly, you are okay with traveling to customer's houses if the project is going to turn into a real deal. In fact you probably will be able to charge more if you can glean more information about the customer's expectations and desires. In this sense the trip out will help you make even more money.
You want, however, to only focus on the real jobs.
The customer's perspective is actually quite close to yours. They too are focused on money. It's the same coin. They are just focused on the other side of the coin.
What is obviously needed is some way for the customer to self-qualify before they even contact you. The customer needs to know what similar projects to theirs might cost. If you can find a way to do this you will likely get more opportunities to bid and win more bids at higher prices. This is because your competition also has their head in the sand and does not want to show the kind of enthusiasm a customer would hope for.
Think of the whole experience like shopping for a winter coat. You know you need one. You've even actually made it out to the Mall and you're standing in the coat department. The coats you pay attention to are the ones that have price tags displayed. The ones on the mannequin are really nice looking but don't provide any information about pricing. You have to really want that particular coat to put extra research into the project even though you drove all the way to the mall and you are standing right there.
Trust in your customer. They don't want to waste any more of their own time than you want to waste of yours. You could solve both you and your customer's problem if somehow you could use your website to train them.
Great question, and ObviousGuy gave a great answer.
We have implemented a minimum project amount which we tell people up front. This helps weed out people looking for small projects. I have slowly realized that the cost of getting a project up and running (enter in data, make proposal, guide clients through color, pull and designs, billing, etc) mean it is not worthwhile to do small projects anymore.
Also, I have a prepared email/pitch that we tell people who call in. We tailor it for each individual, but it gets the main points across in a positive way without spending too much time & energy. Along the lines of what ObviousGuy said, I like to say "we don't want to waste your time by coming to your house until we know our price fits into your budget"- so I try to give a proposal before we meet, or ballpark pricing. I find homeowners to be a much bigger waste of time because they are not prepared for custom cabinet pricing.
To be the devil's advocate against my own method- I am probably losing sales because we don't meet people face to face from the start.
We have many people call and or email. After a few basic questions to kind of size up whether they are a serious potential customer or just tire kickers I give them the option and opportunity for an in person consultation. Then if they/we are too busy ect... we then start the process of emailing pics and info to create an estimate or bid
Since the mass technology shift customers are sending in RFQs with phones or tablets. So it is easier than ever to quote something. Everything is quoted estimate in what it takes such as 2 hours to deal with the pull knob selections.
We have found if we churn out estimates fast we get more work and all work is bid high