By Mike Voories, CSP
Taking the time to make a proposal or to respond to an RFP is to give away a piece of your most valuable and only nonrenewable resource - your time. If a stranger were to call and ask for $20, certainly you would require a little more information before forking over the cash. Your time is worth much more than $20. Money is renewable; you can always make more of it. Your time is not; once you spend it, it’s gone forever. Since we have a finite amount of time, we should be more careful with how we spend it.
I’m a huge believer in realizing the true value of our time and acting accordingly; however, qualifying prospects isn’t just a staple in time management. It’s also really smart business. The more time we waste on dead ends and bad deals, the less time we have to pursue worthwhile, profitable opportunities. Furthermore, we must be deliberate and specific in the clientele we wish to work with. I know it’s hard for motivated and growth-focused professionals to accept, but we’re simply not a good fit for everyone. Not all business is good business. Some opportunities are really threats in disguise.
It is critical that you have a clear definition of who is and isn’t a good fit for your business. It’s not the same for everyone. Different companies bring their own unique skills, strengths, niches and experience to the marketplace.
Just because someone asks for a proposal doesn’t mean you have to give one. It’s OK to say no, but it’ll be easier to do so once you’ve established your ideal prospects.
So, when do you say no?
Not your target customer. When the person, company or property isn’t the type of business you’re actively pursuing. If you wouldn’t purposely and proactively pursue the person, company or property - for whatever reason, say no. Maybe your target market isn’t residential or multi-family. Maybe working with third-party management companies isn’t in your sales plan. Maybe you only want zero-tolerance properties, or maybe you don’t want any. Maybe you just don’t like plowing gas stations. Whatever it is, it’s OK to say no.
When you can’t identify a pain or problem to solve. To be clear, the interested party wanting a price isn’t a pain or a problem we should be concerned with solving. We have to dig. We have to uncover it. Do they have specific service concerns you can solve? Do they have budgetary concerns you can solve? Do they have liability concerns you can solve? Maybe it’s mitigating property damage. Maybe it’s a lack of adequate communication that keeps them up at night. Whatever it is, we have to find it - and if we can solve the pain or problem, great. But if we can’t find it or solve it, say no.
When they can’t afford you. There’s nothing wrong with a prospect that simply cannot afford your service. And there’s nothing wrong with you not wasting time preparing a proposal. But how do you know if they can afford you before you give them a proposal? You have to discuss money early. When a prospect receives your proposal, they should already have a clear understanding of what it’s going to say. The proposal, with respect to price, should be somewhat of a formality. If the prospect is getting their first taste of what your services will cost by way of a submitted proposal, you likely have not qualified them.
When they’re price shopping. This one can be tough for the less-seasoned sales professionals, especially given the routine nature of snow business going “out to bid” regularly. Some prospects must routinely put their contracts out to bid, but don’t be fooled into thinking the only way to win some of these deals is to be the lowest bidder. It’s our job as sales professionals to determine how much deciding weight is placed on price. When you determine a prospect will be awarding the business based solely, or even mostly, on low price, say no. But what if you believe you can beat your competition in terms of price and still be profitable? From my experience, once you sell a client on the basis of low price alone, it will forever remain a stipulation for continuing to work with that client. Furthermore, you may encounter prospects that have no intention of switching. They’re simply market checking their incumbent. Say no to these folks, too.
Business styles do not mix. When they insist on doing business in a manner not consistent with industry best practices, or your company’s standard operating procedures, think twice. Many contractors have gotten in trouble here. As a professional, you know the right way to provide the service. Prospects are often much less knowledgeable than the snow professional, yet many insist on scopes inconsistent with industry best practices. As professionals, it’s our duty to educate them. Maybe they want sidewalks cleared without deicer. Maybe they want to be the ones to initiate service. Maybe they don’t want service until it’s done snowing. Maybe they think a 4-inch plowing trigger is appropriate. Whatever it is, if we can’t bring them around to the right way of doing things, we must say no. Exceptions made almost always end badly.
There’s obviously more that goes into qualifying a prospect, a lot of which is company-specific; however, these outlined topics are rather universal. What’s important is that we become comfortable saying no when it’s either not a good fit or it’s simply a time waster. Just because someone asks you for a price or a proposal does not mean you’re obligated to give them one. Our time is way too valuable to waste. There is no shortage of well-qualified prospects out there - take the time to qualify them.
Mike Voories, CSP, is chief operating officer at Brilar, a commercial landscape & snow maintenance firm with locations across the Midwest. He also is a consultant to the service industries. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.