Quoting projects are similar to unwritten Cajun recipes in that the ingredients change over time. As you find something that tastes good, you tweak it. These recipes differ greatly, just as dealers quote projects differently. There is no one method that has the secret sauce. But here are some ideas that you should consider when quoting jobs and taking business from your competitors.

Cover Letter with Meat - Yes, "Meat!" What does that mean? It means you need a cover letter that describes you and your company. Tell the prospective client why they should do business with you and not your competitors. Do not include any fluff. If you hire a professional to write the letter, make sure they understand your culture. If your cover letter is not compelling it may actually cause you to lose business. I have one from a roofing company that I can send to you as an example if you would like? Email me at [email protected] and I will send it along. It might be the best one ever written.

Hook 'Em Before Delivering Prices -Never send prices via email or fax without a relationship or a customer who is ready to receive prices. I hate when one is asked to quote a project and the customer never calls back after they receive pricing. In the first place, they should have not contacted you anyway. If your prices are more than the competition or different than they expect, then you have to justify it. You can't justify prices if they see your prices, run the other direction, and leave you hanging.

Use the Quoting Option as a Sales Opportunity - If you have the opportunity to hand deliver the quote, do it. I feel that you are 75% more likely to get the job by delivering the quote directly to the customer on their turf. Notice the walls in the builder's office. Does he or she play golf, fish, or like a certain sports team? I think you can fill in the blank from here - If not, tune your conversation around their interests.

Take along the Fire Truck - This taken from a kid whose father brought his fire truck to school and allowed the kids to play on the truck as opposed to another father who just talked about a fire truck. Which did kids remembered the most? Of course, those that played on the real truck. If you are selling windows, for example, always have real samples in your truck. If you have a truck or van, fill it with products so you can show your customers. Brochures are nice, but the real product is a better sales solution.

Give Three Options - When I was a kid I remember going to hardware shows with my father, who would purchase displays that had products in three categories, "Good," "Better," and "Best." The margins and prices escalated accordingly. Today, because of our price conscious builders, we slip into the lowest price product that we stock and often think this is the best product. However, it may not be the best product. If you give a builder three options you will find that instead of losing a job, you might get the job. One size does not fit all, so offering three sizes assures you better success.

It is OK to Ask the Builder How They Are Pricing the Job - If you have a builder that is doing a job at cost plus 10% and you have an opportunity to sell them a $10,000 order for $9,000, you have just kept $100 in the builder's pocket. Why? Well, 10% of $10,000 is $1,000 and 10% of $9,000 is $900. We don't think in these terms when we are assisting the builder; but we should. This is common practice in remodeling jobs, custom homes, or smaller projects. If your customer is going to take your product knowledge and prices to a competitor who will beat you by 10%, outsmart that competitor. Here are three ways to address the competitor that will be beat your prices by 10%?

  • Discuss your delivery, product selection, and in stock products, plus quality. Discuss the items that make you different, but better. Become the expert.
  • If the builder has employees picking up products, consider the price of their labor and time so you can help the builder complete the project quicker. If they are paying an employee "X per hour" and the employee has to spend two hours finding products at the competitor, is it worth it for the builder?
  • Do little things for the builder to help them become successful. Examples range from suggesting different products or providing them with referrals for more business. Some people refer to this as, "Pay it forward." I refer to it is, "Profit it forward."

Build a relationship with the customer at every turn. That is, use every phone call, face-to-face visit, or even conversations with mutual friends to sew up the relationship. Do your homework and find out information about your customer or potential customers. You can use a search engine on the Internet or make phone calls to your existing friends and customers.

Pair up Champion Customers with Prospects - Take a prospect to dinner with a champion customer. How about a sporting event, fishing, or hunting? It will change the dynamics of the conversation. "You can'ttell a prospect how great you are; however a champion customer can tell them how great you are."

Thank You Cards Rule - I see fewer thank you cards and more email correspondence today. However, if you invest 15 minutes a day on two to three nice notes you will be remembered. These cards will show up in your customers postal mail boxes or on their desks. You will touch them in a way that will be different from your competitor.

Successful companies are great at quoting projects. Note: I am not saying that they are great at throwing out prices. I have never met a winning company that just tossed our prices. If that is what you are doing, consider rethinking the entire process. As you build the business and relationships, your customers will ask for fewer quotes and just give you the order. That, my friends, makes the perfect recipe.

Chris Rader is a consultant based in Lafayette, La. Contact him at [email protected].