Structuring and Documenting the Sales Process

With some customers, selling the job is a long, drawn-out process involving many detours and a lot of back-tracking. How do you keep that process organized, and remember what has been said and promised? It starts with a spiral notebook. February 16, 2012

I am hoping to hear how others are dealing with the paperwork given to clients. What do you give them and when do you give it? I used to go straight to the contract, no proposal. The contract detailed all the cabinetry and services as well as pricing. This would be modified as the job developed. Most of the time I would not even bother with the contract until the design was finished and pricing was ok. I would discuss the cost of the job in conversation without really writing it down until the details were done.

But this does not work for us today. The sales process can drag on for weeks and months and I usually have five or ten active bids out there. I tend to forget the pricing and what we discussed. I canít pull out a contract after the first meeting, usually not even after the third meeting, so I need to document our progress without using a contract. I also want to be able to collect a deposit before the contract is introduced. Often clients do not want to give a deposit without having a solid price, or I am stuck with adding to the deposit or subtracting from it due to design changes. This is nearly impossible in my market.

So Iím imagining a proposal with some of the wording from my contract, but not all the details. The main purpose of the proposal will be to inform the client what I am offering and how much it will cost. I would also have wording to explain what will be required in order to proceed with the project (deposit, site conditions, site measurements, etc.). How are you guys handling this?

Forum Responses
(Business and Management Forum)
From contributor S:
I invest 99 in every job right at the start - a notebook. I take it with me to every meeting, take notes on the conversations, rough measurements, everything. Most projects seemed to involve at least two visits to nail down enough of the details to ever fabricate a quote. Keep the notebooks throughout the job. Final measurements, construction notes, materials ordered, everything. I have piles of them still. I hated doing paperwork, so everything went into the note book except for a contract and samples. Payments were listed in the book. Even changes went into the notebook and were signed right there by the customer. If the customer needed a copy I just Xeroxed it.

It may seem simple today doing it without the help of electronics, but it works; and was always a backup for the "who said to do it like that" conversation. I always felt laying a contract on the table before the client was totally ready was a push off and not very well received at times; it seems so final.

From contributor K:
I always do a proposal to make sure I am within budget for them. If they like the proposal we go more in depth on the design. After the design is approved, then the proposal is converted to a contract with specific sizes and colors. I email them a copy of the contract prior to sitting down to sign it. It gives them time to read it over and ask any questions. This seems to take the edge off of contract signing. I also have a notebook for each job. Even if I just give a ball park bid, it goes in the notebook.

From contributor C:
1. Estimate
2. Contract
3. Shop drawings
4. Changes/shop approvals
5. Invoice on materials and shop drawings
6. Product delivery
7. Invoice
8. All extras get an invoice - period.

Lots and lots of documentation and all notes go in files. Results may vary- 3/4 lawyers recommend document to the hilt.

From the original questioner:
I also have a note book (spiral bound) but it is for me. I canít exactly copy the random notes and give that to a client! As for forgetting, I have my notes in the notebook and the file in Cabinet Vision, but sometimes two months, 30 bids, and 15 completed jobs cause me to forget the details of what we discussed.

Contributor K - you are doing exactly what I have in mind. Do you collect a deposit after they accept the proposal? Does your proposal have legal wording explaining the deposit and that "we are entering a contract"? I also intend to convert the proposal into a contract directly. I am pretty good with "smart documents", so I can make a auto filling PDF document.

Contributor C - so you take a deposit before the contract? Do you actually reprint the contract after the revisions? I am not sure that change orders will cover the disparity that I often have between the proposal and the actual contract. It is not uncommon to go from all melamine door Euro cabinets to face framed wooden cabinets during the design re-visioning phase. That is why I want to collect money after the initial proposal, the revisions usually take a lot of work.

From contributor C:
I am looking at commercial and some residential. Some of what you are doing on the revisions is handled by the architect and a lot of us giving them apples to apples estimates, then contract award and then shop drawings for interpretations and for the more savvy, change orders for the sniffers.

I usually get money in commercial at the approved shop drawing time, for both approved drawings and material draw. In residential it's approved before money and then changes are billable.

It would almost seem that you are working as the designer for free and they are wearing you out, maybe raise prices a little to offset? I can see what you are going through and it seems almost a razors walk. Don't spend enough time and don't get the job and vice versa. It's hard especially in residential to draw the line in the sand and say no more from this point forward until we have a contract, but don't lose the work.

From contributor P:
One of the advantages of having a price list is being able to prepare and present a proposal (with the goal of closing) to the client based on their needs when you meet with them. Designs are meant to be tweaked, but it should not be an obstacle to closing the sale. I don't quite understand how you present a proposal and then go more in depth on the design. Maybe I read that wrong.

People don't like surprises when it comes to pricing. Close the sale first based on what you have already discussed and designed. If they add face-frame's, change the design and create a Change Order. That's what it is for. There's no reason why you cannot design, price, and layout a kitchen in the same sitting.