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How Do You Let A Customer Off The Hook?

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by JimLewis, Aug 4, 2009.

  1. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,872

    I have this problem that is occurring more frequently recently. I give a good 2-4 bids a day for landscaping projects. Could be hardscape; could be a new irrigation system; could be lighting; could be design and planting; could be all these things. But every once in a while I run into a customer / job that just doesn't appeal to me at all. Either the customer just has a really odd personality or is a little too dogmatic or what they want done is something I know they can't afford or what they want done is something we just don't do very often. Sometimes it's just that the job has too many challenges and I just don't want to deal with a job with that many challenges. But for whatever reason, after I walk around the property I just lose interest in bidding the project out.

    So at that point comes my dilemma. I don't want to say, "Sorry, you're too weird." And I can't say, "Sorry, I know you can't afford that." I don't want to say, "Sorry. This job presents more challenges than I feel like dealing with right now and we're already plenty busy with jobs that are much less stressful." And I don't want to say, "Sorry, we don't do that." because they can probably find an example of something like they want done on our website. So saying, "we don't do that." is kind of a lie. Often times we do install what they are after, it's just their job is a lot more challenging than the ones we've done before and I just don't feel like messing with all the difficulties. I can't say, "Sorry, I can tell from your personality that you're going to be the type of person that tries to micro-manage me the entire job, and we're going to end up resenting you by the end of the project."

    I don't want to say we're too busy right now. Because why would I be out there giving a bid in the first place if we weren't taking on new work? And what if their friend calls us a few days later and we tell the friend, "Sure! We can do that. Here's a bid and we can start in 3 weeks!" Then I'm going to look like a liar to the first person.

    I don't want to give a super-high bid (in the hopes that they just don't call back) because then I get a reputation for our prices being exhorbitant.

    I don't want to just drop the ball on them and not give them a bid because then I get a bad rep. for not following through.

    I just don't know how to let people down easily and get out of having to write up a bid for a job I know isn't a good fit for our company or is going to present more challenges than I really want to deal with. How do you get out of that nicely and still look like a nice, professional outfit that they would speak highly of to others????
  2. Isobel

    Isobel LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 548

    All I say is, "I'm sorry but this job is out of our scope, and I believe you would be better served with another contractor. Thank you."
  3. stuvecorp

    stuvecorp LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 5,246

    Good topic Jim. I have another 'warning sign', have you just gotten a feeling this is bad situation run away? Another one, they want to do stuff out of order - like putting in the shrubs and rock before the lawn is installed or the lawn before the driveway. I have to admit there has been a couple that I just never called back(I know very bad). I would like to hear how guys handle this.
  4. Stillwater

    Stillwater LawnSite Platinum Member
    Messages: 4,889

    I experience this from time to time, It is easy to deal with, what gives this a perception of being hard to solve is "feelings" and "fear" overcome this and it is easy. your right artificially inflating bids is damaging along with out right lying, Telling the truth is also potentially damaging as well. How I handle this depends on the dynamic of the situation. I try not to turn work away, I am selling a service and man hours and I want it sold. When I have a bad feeling about money I write the contract with stronger payment terms and schedules so I never get into a hole. If after meeting and their is a trust issue with them for what ever reason that is a deal breaker, I don't bid and out of respect for myself and them I outright refer them to another landscape contractor. I don't do it over the phone I do it their looking them in the eye It takes courage and a poker face. I remain respectful and professional at all times but I have a operation to run so my concern for a customers sensibilities can only go so far.

    I am sorry mr. Jones this is a project I am not interested in taking on right now But I would like you to give Mr. xxxx at xxxxxx a call he will be intrested in talking to you about this project.
  5. AGLA

    AGLA LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,776

    One way is to simplify the contract in order to make it less time consuming for you and too scary for them. You do this by listing two or three very specific easy things in the contract and then state that all other work will be time and materials pricing with hourly rates for evrything from man hours, trucks, equipment, charged for being on site whether they are running or not,.... materials with a listed markup of x%.

    That keeps you from wasting time writing up contracts (keep a template), does not make you look expensive, and still scares most (if not all) of them away because the final price is unknown and they can't nickel and dime you by claiming the job is incomplete. If they do sign up, you'll either make a bunch of money or they will not stick with you long.
  6. little green guy

    little green guy LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 955

    We run into this fairly often, If i feel like someone or something is not going to work well with our company I just tell them I feel another company will better meet their needs for whatever the reason may be. Sometimes it's someone with a small project that a one or 2 man operation would be better able to handle. Or sometimes its a personality that just dosn't jive with us. I've learned to be more selective with the clients we deal with and not just take any project that comes through the doors. If I feel it's not a good fit I don't even bid the job. It's important to tactfully reject a bid while setting your company to a higher level. You will do more damage to your company and your reputation by taking a job that you don't have a good feeling about than if you refuse it.
  7. mrusk

    mrusk LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,260

    Up to this year I turned down more jobs then I bid. "Our company is not the best match for your project" .
  8. topsites

    topsites LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 21,653

    I've learned not to judge a book by it's cover, it was a hard lesson to learn and it still burns me
    some days for not turning down a job where I should've SEEN the red flags and acted upon them!

    But what can you do, they are not all like that, I've gotten some of my better customers by going through
    thick and thin, this came with the realization that with customers, nobody is perfect and this is as good as it gets.
    And it sucked at times but at others it turned out so well I ended up wondering what was the matter with me?

    Some of it, no offense because I'm there also, but we bring it on ourselves :p
    That one's tough, for me, I can't always see what it is, matter of fact I usually can
    NOT see what it is, what it could be I am doing wrong...
    But I have, over the years, looking back, seen it.
    You almost have to laugh at that point.

    Yeah, that's how I used to do it, to a point...
    "I am sorry but due to unforeseen circumstances I am afraid I can not help you at this time"

    The Yin yang?
    No matter how it's put, it reduces business in the future, you get less calls, at least that was my experience.

    Some of it I honestly believe is in the advertising, but that takes years to iron out
    and I've also found a change in the ad doesn't always bring the expected results.
    Oh, it can backfire :p
    So that's not entirely a winner solution, but it is something to keep in mind for later.

    Some of it is TIME in the business, this takes years and it never completely
    fixes the problem, but reputation over these years will eventually come around,
    folks will say "Hey that Joe he does this stuff but he won't do THAT" and so it goes.

    I think some of it is just growing pains, too.
    Last edited: Aug 7, 2009
  9. Az Gardener

    Az Gardener LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,899

    In a sales class I took years ago at the Sandler Sales Institute they talked a lot about "up front contracts" and controlling the sales process.

    Controlling the sales process is the first thing. Having a set sales process and telling the client what it is.

    Once you have laid out your sales process you get them to verbally agree to your terms. This is the up front contract.

    Mostly we discussed it in terms of making sure you didn't wast time presenting to people we did not have the authority to make a buying decision. or that wanted to think it over. Here is a typical phrase we worked on.

    "So when I come back to deliver the proposal I will meet with both of you at the same time and you will make a decision. Yes or no, I hope its yes but if its no I understand no hard feelings lets just come to a decision so we can both move on, is that OK can we agree on this up front?"

    You could say something like...

    "You know I really enjoy the work we do, that's probably why we are successful. Sometimes I just don't mesh with clients or I see that I just wont enjoy the job they want me to do, in these situations I just can't commit 100% and therefor I don't deliver our best work. Have you ever had a situation like that? You know you met a client or a sales guy and you just knew that it was going to be a struggle to get through the process? I want this to be a pleasant experience for both of us I see the work we do as more than just a job. Can we agree up front if you or I see or feel a uncomfortable situation developing we can just call uncle and graciously stop the process? With no hard feelings?

    I guarantee this will feel like your pulling your fingernails out with pliers all the while your balls are in a vice, it is uncomfortable for sure for the first few times. I strongly recommend writing a script and doing some role playing to get comfortable with your spiel. You don't deliver the spiel until the end of the fist meeting so if you feel great about the contact dump the spiel. If you are unsure pull it out of the tool box and lay it on them. its just another tool in your sales box.
  10. Az Gardener

    Az Gardener LawnSite Gold Member
    Messages: 3,899

    Of course even with this method you still will get the occasional nut job, errr... prospective client who won't uphold an upfront contract. It should still cut down on your grief somewhat.

    Role playing with someone is critical so you feel comfortable delivering the contract. Make sure the person you are role playing with is not playing dead either. They have to evolve with your pitch so as you get more comfortable delivering it they get more combative so you can learn to overcome objections.You also want to make it as realistic as possible so if you would be standing you need to be standing while you do the role playing. You also want to know when in the process you are going to deliver the contract and start befor so you can work on the transition. It helps to present it in a manor so that it is perceived as a benefit as much for them as for you.

    I know this all sounds silly and overkill but this is what professional sales people do. I paid over 3-K to attend this school over 10 years ago and it was full of professional sales people and the school is still there and operating today. In fact it is where I met my biz coach.

    This question belongs in the business section or a sales and marketing section that does not exist yet. I hate this brown room.

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