The Singing / Dancing Proposal

I will never forget two statements that two of my fellow estimators / sales people told me when I worked in construction in California. The first guys' name was John. John was in his 70's. John and I both worked at a Kitchen and Bath remodeling company. The company had about 15 sales people (We were referred to as Kitchen and Bath designers, but that was a fancy name for salespeople). John was one of the top salesmen. He would have been the #1 Sales person but he didn't like to sell completely new kitchens with new cabinets. John liked to sell refacing. By selling refacing he would get smaller commission checks but they involved less headaches than the big fancy jobs. And at John's stage in life he was all for less headaches if you know what I mean. John's quote that I will always remember is Remember Jack, it's not the steak that you are selling, it's the sizzle. It took me a while to digest this statement but I have found over the years that it is really true. You first have to face the fact that to most people having a crew of unknown, rough around the edges men inside their home for a period of time is not a pleasant thought. So, you have to make your proposal sizzle.

So, how is that done? How do you make your proposal sizzle? You will need to think about the benefits of the finished product to your customer and then you will proceed to craft the wording of your proposal to highlight those benefits. Let's say that you are proposing to remodel a customers' master bathroom and closet. The proposal includes expanding the closet by 30 square feet, installing a new vanity with two sinks and replacing the 12" square tile flooring with 18" tile flooring using an off white tile (the customer used to have brown tile). Some of the line items that you could include in your proposal are as follows:

  • The right side wall of the closet will be removed and then rebuilt to add 30 square feet of room in the closet. This will almost double the size of the closet giving you a huge, expansive closet that will be easy to keep organized. The capacity for shoe storage in this closet will quadruple from 20 pairs to over 80 pairs of shoes.
  • The new vanity that is installed will include a double sink. The undermounted sinks that are included will be modern and luxurious. The addition of an extra sink in your master bathroom will facilitate harmonious morning preparations. There will be no more waiting for a sink to wash your face or brush your teeth.
  • We will replace the existing 12" tile and install 18" bone white tile. The new tile, due to the larger size will make the bathroom area look huge. Also, due to less grout joints, the cleaning will become effortless. The bone white color of the tile will give the master bathroom a light, bright, cheery, and modern feeling.

What are you doing with statements like the above? You are allowing the customer to smell the sizzle. You are suggesting to them that their lifestyle, their mood and their ease of use will significantly improve by their use of the remodel elements that you have suggested.

Another estimator / salesperson that I worked with was Steve. Steve and I worked for a company that serviced Homeowners Associations. Our proposals were mailed and faxed to our property manager customers (these were the days before email was a cultural norm) Most often we did not have an opportunity to Pitch our proposals. The proposals were just sent and we hoped that they were approved. Of course, on rare occasion we were invited to a Board of Directors Meeting to discuss our proposal but that was not the norm. In this context Steve once said to me Jack, your proposals need to sing and dance on their own.

In essence Steve and John were saying the same thing, weren't they? They were both saying that the words on the paper of your proposal were more than just specifications. The words in your proposal need to stir up positive feelings. Your words need to make your customer see your vision of their improved living situation that is a direct result of your work.

In response you may say, Jack that takes a lot of work to think that way. You are exactly right about that. And you would be right if you were to say that most handymen do not word proposals that way. In fact, I would wager to say that their proposals are very minimal, poorly worded, with improper grammar and no sense of style or vision. But let me ask you this, do you think a customer wants to work with a contractor who is uneducated and has no sense of vision? Or do most customers want to work with a contractor who is creative and is able to express their creativity with not only the work of their hands but also the work of their minds (the written work of their proposal).

Both John and Steve were the best at what they did. They were highly paid for what they did best. That high pay didn't come as a result of being slack with their proposals. Their proposals were top shelf which gave customers the message that the work at their home would be top shelf as well.

Article Contributed by:
Jack Severens
Severens Construction Management

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