Congratulations! Your client just called to inform you that you are one of the low bidders, and they would like you to come in for an interview. It looks like all your long, stress-filled days, late nights and working weekends paid off with a possible winner.
This is great news, but the bidding game isn’t over. It’s just getting started, and you must make your next play carefully. You must nail this interview; it requires serious preparation and a solid game plan.
Prepare the team
The most important element you can provide is knowledge of your estimate. Even though you estimated the job, you may or may not be invited to join the boss, project manager or sales team who will most likely attend and lead the team. Then again, you may be the only one attending. When meeting clients, much depends on your level of experience, presentation skills and confidence.
Regardless, this is not the time for a bruised ego. You must help prepare the team members (even if the team is just one person) by informing them as much as you can about the project. The more details and in-depth information you can provide about what you covered (and especially what you didn’t) the better. Don’t hide anything. They absolutely must know where your estimate is short, what you missed and how much it is worth.
So if you know you left something out or are heavy on something, isolate these areas of your takeoff, and produce individual cost breakouts for them. By giving your team this information, you will help members accurately answer the client’s questions. They will know where they really stand when and if they get a chance to negotiate—especially if they are asked to lower your initial bid pricing.
What should you bring to the table? Less is more, but, walking into a bid review meeting empty-handed will not leave a positive first impression. Still, I don’t recommend bringing huge sets of plans. Only bring those that really matter—e.g., the main electrical floor plans, risers, site plan—what’s important to make your case.
Bring your copies of the bid form, important specs, your notes and any special pricing breakouts you have prepared. Bring any “pretty” marked-up drawings or, even better, CAD layouts. Nothing impresses clients more than showing you were deep into their project. You will also show them you are savvy with computer estimating and design.
Did you include what we didn’t show?
You likely will be asked “Did you include this (insert missing scope here)?” Be careful with quick responses, as your answer could be the deciding factor on whether or not you are awarded the contract. An instant, enthusiastic, “Yes, I did!” might mean giving away $10,000 you didn’t have in your bid. Or it may only be $2,000. Perhaps this is a trivial amount compared to the overall contract. But why give away anything, especially if you don’t have to?
Perhaps an honest “No” or “I’d like the opportunity to get back to you on this” will take you further into the negotiation process. This is where your premeeting preparation and costing will pay off.
My personal preference is to always tell the truth. Honesty may or may not be your boss’s preferred strategy. He may want to draw the question into deeper conversation about the design of the scope and how it could be value--engineered to accommodate the customer’s needs. So, again, you need to coordinate, develop a strategy and get your stories straight.
How much do you really know?
Impress upon your clients (and their client, too) how much you understand what their building is about, what its function is and how it is put together. Assure them they will be choosing a company that has thoroughly studied the project, the entire plan set, and all of the specs and is fully aware of the schedule. The more you convince them you didn’t just throw a bunch of numbers into a hat and pull out a rabbit, the better the chances that they will want you on their team.
Honesty, integrity, solid facts and knowledge will give you the win more times than lying and faking it. Unfortunately, no matter how well you do, the low bidder might still get the job. Such is life, such is the construction industry.
If you are not selected, don’t walk away defeated and discouraged. Chances are you impressed someone who, on the next bid, will be looking at your number a lot more closely and considering it a lot more—even if it is high.
SHOOK has been estimating for more than 23 years. Until recently, he operated a fully staffed estimating company, TakeOff 16 Inc. He is currently focusing on writing, teaching and speaking about electrical estimating. Read his blog at stanshook.blogspot.com or contact him directly at StanleyShook@gmail.com.