The Prospect Telephone Call

Discussion in 'Landscape Architecture and Design' started by mcw615, Nov 28, 2011.

  1. mcw615

    mcw615 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 473

    What is your process when you get a telephone inquiry for a project?

    Here is my problem...the majority (75%, roughly) are price shoppers. "Do you give free estimates?" or, "I would like a price for landscaping."

    We are relatively new into expanding into design/build (two years), so I have yet to establish a set system for this and screening. I have been charging a $75.00 initial on-site consultation for everything, but too often (75%) I find myself having to defend why we don't give free estimates as the other so called "professionals" do. I am looking to try and concisely educate a prospect client over the telephone the value and the why we approach every project from a design point of view, starting from a budget, and not an 'estimate'.

    I feel every time I am 'defending' myself and end up overwhelming them when trying to explain the reasoning of our process.

    What are your thoughts and experience?
  2. PaperCutter

    PaperCutter LawnSite Bronze Member
    Messages: 1,996

    How you choose to run your business is up to you and isn't open for debate. If you're defending or debating it you're wasting your time because you're not talking to a prospect at that point.

    My question is - what do they get for that $75? Does that get them a design and a proposal? Or are they just paying for a one hour consultation, after which you'll understand the scope of work and be able to give them a design proposal?

    I don't typically charge for the initial consultation because I'm just not getting in that volume of leads (I never charge to meet with a good referral) and I think you really need to have a reputation as the bad mofo in your market to pull that off. Charging for the design phase? Absolutely and I think those who don't are nuts. But a consult fee - especially for a part of the industry you're trying to break into - is ambitious.
  3. mcw615

    mcw615 LawnSite Senior Member
    Messages: 473

    You are absolutely correct, every company is established differently.

    Like you, I am not getting the volume as a large company would. Over the last couple hours I have put a bit more thought into this, and had the chance to speak with a good consultant.

    First, I would explain our first step process which is an on-site consultation that is an hour long visit...the objective in our first meeting is to, etc. First, a good referral from a previous client...that means you are already on top. The referral was not because of "good, cheap prices", it was because the client was very pleased with your quality of work and hopefully, as well your customer service and level of professionalism. (At least that's the reasoning of my incoming referrals)

    One thing the consultant earlier pointed out to me was this. My method of advertising...we do have an ad in the YellowBook and will on occasion run an ad in the newspaper. In the past we have always relied on word of mouth which has worked great, because as I said you already start out on top. As I am beginning to venture out into advertising, I am experiencing some trial and error here in a different ball-game. The 'price shoppers' inquiring about free estimates almost always come from those methods of advertising, he pointed out maybe instead of marketing your services, market why you're different to attract your 'target customer' who values quality work and professionalism, and we further discussed this a bit more.

    My idea of a new approach--the caller that asks "Do you give free estimates?" First, before answering their question, divert it into discussing their project, what they would like accomplished, and do a bit of screening to build your own judgment of the prospect. Ask what it is that they value in a landscaper? Ask what is their ultimate deciding factor in choosing a landscaper, is it solely based on price? If it sounds they are looking for cheap work, explain we are a focused firm that focuses on mid to high end quality projects...and if they are looking to just have some 'tasks' completed as mentioned, we could refer them to someone (a great friend who is in the industry that is capable of handling small projects worth his while). If it sounds there is say a 50% probability, then it might be worthwhile to set up an on-site meeting to brief on their project, provide and explain what a rough ball park figure is to complete such from previous jobs, but use the meeting to sit down face to face for twenty minutes and explain what we do, our process and methodology and the fee's for such and if we sound to be a good match then set up the first meeting in the design phase. Hopefully that will turn some leads into sales until you build up the 'known' reputation for exactly what we do...focus on high quality work and professionalism, budgets are a concern, but not "the" deciding factor.

    To sum...I have learned A) To build a system to better 'screen' and use my own judgment on each call. B) Sometimes I might have to visit with a prospect to go over the process, give them some educational material, tell them more about my company face to face, all instead of verbally overwhelming them over the phone, and C) If it sounds they are already on the wagon (ex. referral), go ahead and see about scheduling the initial on-site consultation and get the design process going.
  4. JimLewis

    JimLewis LawnSite Fanatic
    Messages: 6,870

    Well I'd help with the screening portion. We've gotten pretty good at that. But, you see, I'm one of those "so called professionals" who doesn't charge for estimates. So you probably don't want my advice. Since you're apparently so much more professional than I am, I should probably be listening to you, not the other way around.


  5. Executive Landscape

    Executive Landscape LawnSite Member
    Messages: 17

    Charging for an initial consultation will lose alot of potential clients, unfortunately our industry is filled with alot of "landscapers" who dont know what theyre doing from a design aspect and most worth while clients know this. So charging for your knowledge is really tough unless you are pre qualified to that customer. If you are a LA or have another design degree then you may be able to get away with consulting fees.
    Get a good system of qualifying customers over the phone and speak intelligently about the design/install process. Explain to the potential customer what happens on your intial consult, this is a cliff notes version. " I will meet with you at your home and listen to your wants/needs, I will then offer some ideas from a design standpoint to find out what your likes/dislikes are to make sure we are on the same page. Once we are in agreement on a design concept we will figure out an aprpriate budget, we can tailor the budget/design to fit within your budget range. Once we have established your budget I will work with our design team to quickly get a design completed that fits all of our criteria including budget. The design will come complete with all plant and materials sizes and quantities and detailed costs for each separate item." Somewhere in the conversation the client will ask "how do I know what my budget should be and how do we come up with this number or range?" this is where you explain that based on the scope of work, your experience will help to figure out a reasonable range for exactly what the client wants. In my opinion, all design fees should be based on budget range( this is just an example; 5k-10k budget=$500 design fee, 10k-20k= $750 fee etc...). This will accomplish two things that are crucial, one is getting a client to commit to a budget that you can work within, the other is justifying paying a fee for a design in a way that makes sense to the client and makes them invest in the design. At this point all you have to do is deliver a nice design within budget and you should sign up almost every job you design.
    A few helpful hints:
    1.Email the final price to your client before you meet with them to present the design, this will eliminate any concerns over price and give them a chance to alter the budget,if necessary, without anymore wasted time. This also keeps the focus on the design instead of price during your presentation.
    2.We do a "design presentation" instead of a design, this way we take the design with us when the presentation is over to avoid clients shopping our design to other contractors. We simply explain that we are a design/build company and dont want our designs to get in the hands of our competition. Clients have never had any issue with this when explained properly. Explain to them that the design fee will be applied to the cost of the job as long as they hire you to do any portion of the work. You should have a design fee agreement with you at all times so they can read through it and cut you a check(fee based on given budget) when your initial consultation is complete.
    3. Always be prepared to give a client a start/completion date and tell them approx. how long the install should take.
    4. Clients like to know what to expect, the better you explain your system over the phone and exactly how the system works to everyones advantage the better chance you have at selling a job.
    5. Practice, practice , the time that you explain your system 20 times over the phone it will roll of your tongue without having to refer to the paper on your desk with bullet points.
    6. Get back to your client quickly, every minute that goes by, when theyre waitng for a design, your % chances of selling the job go down...aka "strike while the iron is hot"
    Im sure many "experts" can critique this and tell me why im doing this all wrong but this works extremely well for my company, hope this helps some of you.

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