A friend, JJ Levenske, wrote us recently.

“I couldn’t help but share a topic with you that just proves how ‘goofy’ our marketplace is and that you can never assume anything about customer preference.Being Too Professional?

Repeat client calls us to do an extensive remodel (designer estimated it to be about $350k) and compete with one other general contractor (who in all fairness, has a great reputation too) who he has a relationship with too.

The designer (Just an Interior Designer, not an architect or anything like that) puts together a pretty good scope of work and asks both of us to get ‘close ballparks’ put together and then there will be an interview process.

We do the ballpark estimate (but in true Michael Stone format and present it just like you would advise in your books) and have a wonderful 2 hour meeting explaining everything.

We also present a contract at that time (again, in true Michael Stone format – very thorough and explain every paragraph and what it means)

After this we’re feeling pretty good but there is always that ‘what could we have done better’ inner monologue going through your thoughts…

The designer finally calls back and tells us that the Owner has decided to go with the other contractor.

Now I hate losing, but I ask her if I can talk to her on specifics of what we did right/wrong/indifferent that convinced them to choose the other GC.

She agrees and this is where the topic gets interesting:

  • Price – not an issue, we were within a couple percent of each other on a prelim scope and schematic design (that’s good, for both contractor and Owner)
  • Presentation – wonderful way of explaining the entire scope, pricing, and how the contract works
  • And this goes on for each detail that you might expect……………. So I finally ask, if all these things were wonderful then why didn’t we get it?

ANSWER: ‘You were dressed too professionally and you responded too confidently with each question they had; they felt more comfortable with the contractor with the jeans and cowboy boots.’

Now, that doesn’t bother me at face value but I asked, ‘so in essence what you’re telling me is that he chose them because he felt he could manipulate them better than us because of our perceived professionalism?’, ‘Well, I’m not saying that but you might pick up on that…'”

Can you be too professional in your approach? I don’t think so. I think JJ probably called it: the client wanted a less professional contractor who they thought could be manipulated. Only time will tell if he is right. It would be interesting when the job is complete to ask the contractor who got the job if it went smoothly.

It sounds like JJ made a good presentation, doing what he’d trained himself to do and what he felt was right for that job and that time.

To be successful, set your standards and stick to them. You’ve heard me say before that the key to successful estimating is doing the same thing the same way every time. The same approach holds for sales. Develop a system and stick to it. That includes how you dress, your grooming, decorum, vocabulary and presentation when working with a potential client. It all adds up. Be consistent, and over time, as you continue to refine your skills, your sales ability will improve and you’ll be more successful.

There are a few things I would have done differently. I saw a warning flag when the designer projected a price on the job before getting input from the contractor. When a designer gives pricing info, they can set up all kinds of problems between the client and the contractor if the contractor’s price comes in higher. That may have been the case here; he told us the project ended up being $425K instead of the $350K estimate. I’ve met few architects or designers who’ve been trained in estimating and know enough about actual costs to ballpark a project price with any degree of accuracy.

When the designer asked for a close ballpark, I would have shown them a copy of the Cost vs. Value report published by Remodeling Magazine every year. I don’t believe in doing ballparks or writing a contract without a commitment from the client. If I work, I get paid. That’s outlined in our book, Profitable Sales; A Contractor’s Guide. Writing detailed estimates, writing contracts or scopes of repairs, and helping clients make selections are items I consider to be work. I believe that a serious client will pick a good contractor and work with them to get the job done, without asking the contractor to work for free. On the flip side, the contractor must train themselves to stand up to requests to do things for free and instead explain, “This is how we work.”

My position on these items might change based on certain conditions on a given job, but not by much. Time is our most valuable asset and we shouldn’t allow anyone to waste it. We are the only ones who can protect it.

I appreciate JJ sharing this letter. I’ll admit, I wouldn’t be happy about losing a job because I was too professional. This feels like a job you could be happy you lost.

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