How much influence is technology having on the snow business? Smaller buyers and service providers might suggest not much. But for the large-scale buyers and providers of snow removal services, technology is a must. And whether or not you aspire to service clients on a large scale, we can learn a few things from the providers that do and adopt applicable solutions to help their companies get ahead and stay current.
For most local buyers and providers, business is still done on a one-to-one basis. The buyer and the provider typically meet in person, the scope of work and needs for the property or properties are discussed and a price is agreed upon. It’s pretty simple and low key. But for the buyer with larger needs, it’s anything but simple.
Think about the retail industry: banks, restaurant chains, grocery stores and big-box retailers across the country. These buyers represent hundreds or even thousands of sites that amount to millions of square feet of pavement and sidewalks that require snow and ice management services.
When hiring a snow services provider, they need a company with capacity and reach. They also need someone capable of managing the entire process. Plain and simple, you cannot meet their needs with hard work alone.
So, who is able to meet these requirements? Usually, it’s facility management brokers. These outfits have decided that rather than focus on personally servicing the sites, they will serve as the administrative go-between. Their ability to win work is primarily through administrative horsepower, not contracting.
Expediting the RFP process
I recently visited with several of these buyers and providers at the Snow & Ice Symposium. As annual participants of the trade show, they occasionally stop by to discuss how we can help them. They see our high-resolution aerial photos of their proper-ties and their wheels start turning on what a service like ours can do for them during the request for proposal (RFP) process.
What are they looking for in a service provider? Once an RFP is written, it’s sent to several providers with some recurring obligations they need to fulfill:
- They’re looking for a central point of contact for a large region or regions of work — usually states, not just cities.
- They want proof of when the work was performed. This usually means some type of GPS tracking with a time stamp that verifies the time and date the provider was on site.
- They want a centralized or a single point of contact for invoicing. In other words, you need to be able to bill for all services rendered across all properties.
Under these circumstances and with these requirements, both buyer and provider have a lot to manage, organize and collaborate about. Without using technology to address all or some of these requirements, satisfying these needs could become very complicated and laborious.
Let’s address some of the technical solutions and administrative tools that this segment incorporates on a routine basis when working with customers.
Estimating and property measuring
Estimating is a necessary evil of winning work and pricing it correctly. It’s also an item in the pre-sales process that takes the most time and money to complete. Expediting this in any way possible is crucial to your ability to more quickly turn your estimates around and win the sale.
These providers typically use a service that will allow them to view aerial images of their properties, then measure them to produce an estimate. This then allows them to price the work, as well as negotiate with a contractor. Citywide, statewide and often regional coverage for scope and pricing is usually set in the estimating system.
Utilizing software in this area of your business is inexpensive compared with measuring properties manually. This can also be one area of your business where you can begin to use a technical solution without majorly disrupting your whole operation.
GPS tracking for service verification
Smartphone-enabled GPS tracking solutions are very popular for service verification. These cloud-based tools let the customer know you’re on site, and some of these apps can even assist in the billing process between the broker and contractor. Many solutions include a customer portal designed to allow for quick and secure communication between the broker and the companies they’re servicing.
Often verification of service is posted, as well as service requests, too. This can help everyone stay on the same page as well as hold each other accountable for what was agreed upon and what is actually happening. Furthermore, it’s a great way to communicate with your subcontractors.
Enterprise resource planning software (ERP)
Commonly known as a complete operating software, an ERP typically includes a customer relationship management (CRM) piece, an estimating component, job costing, payroll and accounting features (among others). There are many industry-specific products to choose from and plenty of other solutions that cater to service businesses in general that can meet several of your company’s needs.
Implementing an ERP is usually an arduous task, but once complete you have the luxury of viewing the inner workings of your business with a few mouse clicks. Plus, sometimes you can’t put a price on having everything in one system.
Can technology help your business?
Large regional or national providers are leading the charge as far as how ingrained technology is in their business practices, and their customers reap tangible benefits from it. Further, the ability to make your day-to-day tasks more efficient and easier to manage is typically worth the cost and hassle of purchasing and implementing a solution.
The good news is as technology continues to become the norm in our industry (and service businesses in general), solutions have become more specialized, more flexible and more affordable.
If you look at the areas in your company that cause you the most grief or take you the most time to complete, you might be able to alleviate some stress associated with these functions by using a simple technical solution that doesn’t take a lot of time or cost a lot of money to purchase and learn.
The areas that small businesses are charged with managing are abundant. Don’t be afraid to seek assistance from soft-ware and technology.
Mike Rorie has been a participant in the snow and ice industry for over three decades. He is now CEO of GIS Dynamics, parent company to Go iLawn and Go iPave. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.