“How many jobs are you going to win for me?” I have heard that question at every interview I ever had for an estimating position. As an independent estimator, I still hear it. The answer is none, at least not by myself. Estimators need to be enabled, as they are only one part of a group. The group can include co-workers, vendors, manufacturers, general contractors and project owners. Even if you are the owner, estimator, chief cook and bottle washer at your company, you still have to work with people outside the company. If you want to be the successful and profitable bidder on a project, everyone in the group has to do their job. For simplicity, this article assumes each position is separate.
Since the boss has the most authority, let’s ask him, “Are you enabling your estimators?” You bear the final responsibility for many things the estimator needs, including marketing, relationships, the environment and capabilities.
Marketing and relationships
I have a customer who wins 50 percent of the projects I bid for him. I have another whose win rate is closer to 5 percent. The difference is marketing. You cannot survive, much less prosper, without friends, including customers, vendors and manufacturers. And it is not just one person’s job. Everyone in your company is responsible for marketing, and marketing is about creating relationships. Consider the following scenarios:
• The person who answers the phone is often the first point of contact and can significantly affect your relationships. A moody receptionist can cause you to lose customers before you ever get a chance to speak to them.
• Estimators may be responsible for handling quotes and material pricing. They are in constant contact with vendors and manufacturers. If they foster a positive relationship, you are more likely to get better pricing and superior service.
• Project managers are point people for your company. If they upset your customers, the customers will go somewhere else.
• You are responsible for relationships with vendors, subcontractors and manufacturers. You have to work hard on those relationships. You want good pricing, and the vendors want to deal with people who pay their bills on time. If you cannot get competitive pricing, you might as well find another line of work. They also want to work with people they like and can trust. Vendors and manufacturers can steer work your way or make you aware of projects bidding with only a few competitors.
• And, of course, there is the work most people think of when marketing is mentioned—calling on customers. It has to be done. General contractors and owners will give preference to the people they like.
Your estimator needs a comfortable environment, which can vary from person to person. Something as simple as a chair can have a huge effect on your estimator’s productivity. A chair that cuts off the circulation in your legs or hurts your back will kill productivity. I knew an estimator who could not work in a noisy environment. We got him some noise-canceling headphones and almost doubled his productivity. If you have adopted paperless takeoff, the correct chair/desk/monitor height and an ergonomic mouse will go far in preventing arm and wrist fatigue.
You are responsible for matching your company’s capabilities to the projects you want to bid. Let’s say you are bidding a job that includes a large amount of rigid conduit. Do you have the experienced manpower needed to install big rigid conduit? Do you own a conduit bender that big? How about your bonding capacity? Do you have good field supervision? If needed, can you obtain a new capability for a project you are bidding? All of this must be transmitted to your estimator.
Of course, many of the items mentioned above could be delegated to the appropriate employee, but the boss still is ultimately responsible for setting up an organization that works.
Finally, we cannot ignore the estimator. Estimators have to do their part, including an accurate takeoff, entry of the takeoff into an estimating system, review for typos and missing information, a thorough understanding of the project, recommendations for labor factoring, and for bid strategies, recognition of problems with the bid documents, solutions to problems with the bid documents, generating and managing requests for information, vendor and manufacturer coordination, correspondence with the general contractor or project owner, and coordination of addendums. Estimators cannot just do a takeoff and think their job is done.
You should be able to see now how many people are involved in a winning estimate. Make sure your estimators have the support they need.