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Every once in a while, your phone will ring and the potential client on the other end will tell you they want a bid today.

This happens in remodeling as well as in specialty trades. They might want a bid to have their gutters replaced or a bid for a complete kitchen remodel. Whatever it is, they decided they want it today, and if you can’t be there on their schedule, you won’t get the job.

Most contractors think they have two possible responses. They can either rearrange their schedule and drive to the potential client’s home to give them a bid, or they can blow off the lead as being a waste of time.

Actually, there are other responses that can possibly turn this kind of call into a profitable sale on your schedule.

When the potential client calls and says, “We want a bid today,” your first response should be a question. “Are you ready to write a contract today?” If they say yes, by all means, get there, get the estimate done, and write them a contract. If they have money to spend, let them.

But that’s seldom their response. This is a more likely scenario:

Potential Client: I want a bid today.

You: Are you ready to write a contract today?

Potential Client: No.

You: May I ask, is there a particular reason that you want the bid today? (Draw them out by asking softly but firmly.)

Potential Client: My wife wants to redo our kitchen, and I need to get 3 bids.

In my experience, that statement means the client is convinced that the job will cost far more than he wants to spend. He’s looking for a reason to not do the job.

This is when your competition will throw in the towel and tell them to call someone else. Or they’ll shoot a ridiculously high figure over the phone to scare them off so they can go on with their day.

But you’re in business to do business, and being the clever person you are, you continue as follows:

You: Do I understand you are getting quotes from other companies?

Potential Client: Yes.

You: Can I ask your criteria for picking your contractor?

This is the key question in turning this particular phone call around. If you’ve read Profitable Sales, you know where I’m going. Does this sound like the first steps in establishing yourself as the Contractor of Choice? You are controlling where the interview is going and you are learning more about this potential client.

They will usually tell you two or three things that they consider important, and it will usually start with a variation of this statement:

Potential Client: I am looking for a good price with top quality work.

You start with that, and begin asking more questions to reach agreement on criteria that are important to you and also benefit them.

You: Is finding a company that will do a good job and get it done on time important to you?

Potential Client: Yes.

You: Is finding a company that is honest and will complete the job for the price contracted important to you?

Potential Client: Yes.

You: Is keeping the job clean and organized important to you?

Potential Client: Yes.

You: Is getting the job built to your specifications important to you?

Potential Client: Yes.

Now, you can tell by the responses here where they are at. If they interrupt or try to change the subject, then you haven’t gotten their attention. If they answer your questions, then you’re heading in the right direction. Be careful not to overdo the questions. Six or seven, maybe eight questions, then it’s time to wrap up.

You: Mr. Potential Client, our company does all those things and we do them as well or better than other contractors you may be considering. We know this because over XX% of our business comes from referrals by satisfied clients. It sounds to me like we’re the kind of company you’re looking for to help you build your job. Can we set a time now when I can come out and talk with you and your spouse about the work you would like to have us do?

Do all conversations play out this way? Of course not. But many do. What I have given you here is an example of a very tough lead that many contractors simply blow away. When someone like this calls, they need help. They are scared to death you’re going to sell them something.

Put their fears to rest. Let them know that you’re there to help them buy the products or services that they need and that you’ll do a good job. Helping them buy is an art to be developed and all good salespeople work at it daily.

Here’s another possible scenario:

Potential Client: I want a bid today.

You: Are you ready to write a contract today?

Potential Client: No. I only have one day between business trips and I need to get some quotes for the job so I can pick a contractor and get the job scheduled.

That’s a legitimate reason to want a bid today. I’d still walk through the questions listed earlier, establishing yourself as the contractor of choice. It’s important to separate yourself from the competition and help them see just what they really want. And wrap it up with:

You: I’ll be happy to come out and we can review your job and decide if we can work together. If it looks like we can help, we’ll do some preliminary work and schedule our next appointment to continue the process of getting a quote put together for you. Is that fair enough?

Or they might have other reasons for getting a bid today. They might have been told by their insurance agent that they need three bids. Your questions will help you understand what you’re getting into, which is important to do before you invest too much time; if they’re just looking for paperwork for the insurance agent’s file, and they’re willing to pay for your time in creating that paperwork, go for it. Otherwise, walk away.

It helps to role play this and similar scenarios with someone else. Then when the client calls, you’ll be ready.

Put in the effort so you’re ready when they call. You’ll have a much better chance of either developing a profitable relationship with this potential client or knowing you walked away from a job you didn’t want anyway.

Note: Revised and updated, this article was originally published in our September, 2001 newsletter.

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