Not being prepared to answer any one of these questions could doom your bid

Property managers have a tough job choosing a landscape maintenance company that best fits their needs, expectations and budgets. The huge number of landscape maintenance companies chasing their business makes the bidding process very challenging.

How do they choose the best company when there are more than 1,000 landscape maintenance providers in the Phoenix area alone? What are they looking for in a maintenance service company?

Here are seven questions that most knowledgeable property managers will ask landscape companies seeking their business. Go into each meeting prepared with your responses.

1 Are you interested in serving us for the long run?

The property manager is often looking to build a mutually beneficial and long-term relationship with their land care provider, but is faced with the prospect of choosing from a large number of landscape maintenance providers. Many are now in the business as a direct result of the current economic condition. They have lost their jobs and need to find a way to provide for their families. All they need is a truck and a lawnmower to start signing up customers. Landscaping, which was once a pastime to them, becomes a source of income.

Can you assure the property manager that you will be around for as long as the property manager needs your company’s services? The manager wants to be certain that you won’t fail and leave them high and dry. That’s why it’s sometimes so difficult to deal with them. They realize that even reputable companies may not be run to sustain themselves, especially in down economies. Also, just because your company’s name is a familiar one in your market, doesn’t mean it’s a lock to earn the contract. Experienced property managers know how to play the game to get as much as they can at their price and they’ll have more than a few promising proposals to compare against yours.

2 Did you bid my property at a reasonable profit?

Let’s face it, if your company is focused on long-term growth, you must bid properties to make a profit, if not in the basic contract, then certainly figuring in (and selling) enhancements. Also, it’s not uncommon for companies to bid a contract realizing they’ll, at best, break even the first year of service, but start making a profit in the second and third year, assuming they can land a three-year deal. You know this; property managers know this, too.

Even so, knowing that you’re profitable helps them to sleep nights because they’re more confident your company will be around for the length of the contract and can execute it to their satisfaction. When a property is bid at a price that’s obviously below break-even point, the quality of service drops and the appearance of the property suffers. Shortcuts will have to be made to realize any profit or break even.

Because of low barriers to entry and the competitive forces unleashed by so many maintenance companies seeking work, almost every company feels strong pressure to lower price just to get jobs. The penalty for this is much greater for property managers and their properties. Over time, the appearance of their properties will suffer, harming occupancy or rental rates. In the end, it could cost them more money to clean up the properties again. There are safety considerations, too. Improper tree maintenance can result in tree damage and loss due to wind and storms, and could become safety hazards.

Don’t hesitate to ask property managers to discuss long-term goals for the properties they manage. They want to be satisfied that the bids they receive are presented in a way that provides the best overall care of the property.

3 What’s in it for me?

Do you know exactly what’s included in each proposal you submit? How do you know if you can provide the service for the best price? Your goal should be to deliver the best value at the best price, not the cheapest price.

Your maintenance contract can include maintenance extras that are done seasonally or once a year. Many of the extras can be excluded from the contract and performed as needed. Excluding them from the contract will make the overall monthly price lower. Check if you’re including services, such as over-seeding, weed control or fertilization. Make sure you and the property manager are discussing the same services for the price you’ve provided.

Landing the contract might depend upon offering an extra service that you discover is important to the property manager, but is not on the spec sheet. You won’t know until you ask and dig a little.

4 How big are you? But, more importantly, how dependable, accessible and customer-focused are you?

Yes, you will likely be asked about the size of your operation, but many times that will not decide whether you get the contract or not. Both small and large companies have their plusses and minuses. Smaller companies are typically more responsive and personal because the property manager has more access to the owner. But, larger companies can be just as customer-focused, with key personnel, such as account managers, readily available. Whether your company is large or small, customer focus and what each company offers in terms of value to price is what counts.

Key points you might to emphasize in attempting to land the contract is that you offer weekend and holiday service calls for landscape emergencies and can perform storm cleanup after hours, if necessary. Negotiate this and possible costs upfront because this may not be in the original contract.

5 What are the details, all of them?

Know exactly what services are included in your bid. A regular maintenance contract in the Phoenix area usually includes mowing, blowing and raking gravel. Services in your region will likely be different. Enhancements are usually excluded from the contract and will be invoiced once sold and completed. Excluding these enhancements can be beneficial because you can offer a lower monthly maintenance price. Generally, items such as irrigation repairs and storm damage are not included in the contract. They’re out of your control as a service provider.

Always bid “apples-to-apples” when you’re asked to submit your proposal. Don’t just calculate man-hours, as important as they are to job costing. There’s so much more that goes into maintaining landscaped properties, including equipment usage costs and materials, of course. Look at the whole picture.

6 I’m expecting to negotiate; are you?

Yes, you can negotiate after you submit your bid. Actually, you should. That’s a big part of the process. You will likely be asked to lower your price. Or perhaps you will be asked to throw in an extra service. Expect that and have a prepared response. If you’ve built some wiggle room into your bid, you may be able to meet the property manager halfway. Be expecting the question. After all, most of us wouldn’t buy a car without some negotiation.

7 Are you willing to stay in touch?

Be respectful and send a follow up email, letter or call whether you land the contract or not. If it’s a property that fits your company’s service profile, stay in touch with the property manager even if your bid is not chosen. You want the property manager to know that you’re thankful for their time and consideration, and for the opportunity to learn about their property and their property management needs.

You also want them to know that, if for some reason, their service provider does not perform to the level they expected, that you would be glad to revisit their property in the future.

Always keep your ultimate goal in mind in working with property managers and that’s to grow long-term relationships built upon providing the best service and delivering the best value at the best price. Remember, best price is rarely the cheapest price.

Lori DeRoche is co-founder with her father, James, of Tandem Landscape Services, Inc., in Phoenix. Contact her at [email protected].