Passing the Baton: A Systematic Approach to the sales to Production Handoff Process
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Having owned and operated a design build remodeling company for almost 20 years has provided me first with hands-on experience and second with great relationships having consulted with numerous construction firms for the past 6 years. All that combined with other industry work experience for a total of 30+ years and counting, has provided some valuable insight into the business practices of builders and remodelers. One observation is the fact that contractors operate their businesses in different ways. No one company is alike. In fact, there are as many ways to do it as there are guys (and gals) doing it. However, there is one area where a common pattern is seen. Many contractors have a tendency to rush to production. The mentality is that the sooner you start production, the sooner you get cash flow. In my experience this can and usually does lead to problems.
“Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance.”
Home building or remodeling projects are not something that should be rushed. A successful project involves the careful coordination of many tasks coupled with exceptional design, quality construction, and meticulous project management. However, effectively delivering those processes in an efficient manner can be quite daunting without proper planning. Building or remodeling a home comes with many challenges that cannot be left to chance. Because there are so many unknowns, without some essential planning, mistakes are bound to happen and can make things difficult, time consuming and costly.
One of the most critical yet often overlooked processes of building or remodeling projects is the handoff from sales to production. If the salesperson doesn’t provide the correct and/or all of the required information to the production team, this lack of information is bound to cause problems and eat into your profits.
The Keys To Production Success Start with the Handoff:
- Manage Owner Expectations
- Clearly Defined Scope of Work
- Under-promise over-deliver
- Accurate and Detailed Specifications
- Properly Set the Stage
- Get things right the first time
- Communication, Communication, & Communication
Managing Owner Expectations
To ensure a home building or remodel project is successful, proper solutions to not only the handoff but other aspects of the project need to be established at the beginning of the project. Your sales team should have a thorough understanding of what your company offers and have the ability to set clear expectations for your customers, because you know the owner already has their own expectations even before contacting you. Each phase of Project Development should provide the customer with more information helping to develop more well defined and clear customer expectations. Let them know what to expect during the sales process, the handoff and production. If the owner has a clear understanding of what to expect and what is required of them, they will be able to provide necessary information in a timely manner, and will have more confidence in your ability to execute a successful project. Do you have an established process for developing and managing your projects? Are you able to define that process in such a way as to allow easy and accurate perception or interpretation for both your team and your customers? Does your process establish expectations and provide a well thought out road map that can easily be followed for the successful completion of the project? If so, what are they?
Clearly Defined Scope of Work
After you have set your customer’s expectations, make sure they fully understand what you are delivering to them. The customer doesn’t know what they don’t know so be detailed and leave nothing to interpretation. When laying out your Scope of Work (SOW) it should contain any deliverables or exclusions, a production schedule with milestones, and a schedule of payments. Ultimately you should provide a written description of any and all expectations including all end products that are expected from your company with a timeline for when they will be provided. Do you provide a written SOW to your customers? Do you have a standard SOW form for each project? When do you deliver this to your customers?
Two areas where you can under-promise and over-deliver is in your schedule and overall communication. When establishing your schedule, give extra time so the customer will be impressed if you complete a portion or even a large milestone early. If you have committed to following up once a week with the customer, make that a verbal conversation and follow up with a thorough email on what was covered. If something goes better than expected, let them know that things are going well. It doesn’t always have to be just the bad news. Possibly even provide a small refund or complete some aspect of the project that was not included and reveal it to the client towards the end of the project treating it as a gift from your company to them for being such a great client. This can really blow customers away and turn them into brand ambassadors. More or less do what most other companies are not. Do you willingly provide your clients with freebies or gifts? If not, besides exceptional workmanship, what do you do to exceed expectations?
Accurate and Detailed Specifications
Many contractors provide little to any project specifications and most customers are completely unaware of the extent of how necessary detailed specifications are to guarantee a successful project. Unless you intend to work extensively with the client throughout the project and are working on a Cost Plus agreement (which I highly advise against), the customer may not be prepared to review their plans numerous times with multiple team members to make sure everything is accurate and detailed as it should be. Most customers believe that once they have expressed there needs to the designer and/ or sales person, that is all that is necessary for your company to build and them to receive exactly what they expected. Even if you had them verbally repeat it back to you verbatom, their understanding and/or perception of something may be completely different than yours. It does not matter who is right or who is wrong, if expectations are different then you have problems. If you are running into these type of scenarios after production has begun, the extent of the problem can range from a mere misunderstanding to a project ending and deterioration of the relationship with the client and could wind up resulting in litigation. The only person who comes out ahead, win or lose if you have to go to court, is the attorneys. Having accurate and detailed specifications can help:
- Garner a more accurate bids from the required trades.
- Set straightforward quality standards for the production team to uphold.
- Avoid being caught off guard by unplanned circumstances.
- Eliminate unnecessary change orders.
- Stay on schedule and preventing unnecessary delays and holding up construction
- Keep the project within budget avoiding the number one cause of owner frustration.
- Prevent potential disputes arising from differentiating expectations.
- The owner more easily secure a construction loan.
- Accomplish your desired profitability.
- Achieve the owner’s goals of getting the home they envisioned.
Do you provide line item unit based specifications as part of your proposal and/ or construction agreement?
Properly Set the Stage
Having a well defined path for how your company helps customers get their home building and remodeling projects from concept to completion can not only help you more easily sell the project but it can properly set the stage for what the owner can expect. Detailed specifications can provide a clear understanding of what is and isn’t included, but providing a well thought out and easy to interpret road map for the process can be be almost as important. Providing your potential customers with evidence that you not only have the experience and knowledge necessary to complete the type of project they are considering is important, but that you can also show them you have the ideal vehicle to get them there. Having a proven process and a system for implementing that process can be helpful in closing the sale, but having a good plan and project roadmap for how things are to be fulfilled can not only set the stage properly but also provide parties involved with the project a clear understanding of their role and responsibilities. The project road map is a critical component and can play an instrumental part in the overall success of the project. Do you have well defined project development and production road map? Is it on paper, and do you share it with your customers and project team members?
Get Things Right the First Time
This may seem like an obvious key to the success of a project, but if we all did it right the first time, there would be no complaints and we’d all be working a lot less and living much more comfortably. Even when my company was small and I was on site every day, involved with every aspect of the installation of the project, dealing with customer requests, and addressing concerns before they festered, things still went wrong. I have made enough mistakes for the both of us. Call it failing forward or the school of hard knocks, it is usually how it goes in this industry. As my company grew, I was pulled out of the field and confined to my desk most of the time performing design, estimating, and sales duties for the company. This was where I learned just how difficult this business can be. While working in the field, I was able to deal with things as they came up, quickly finding an agreeable solution on the fly. Having many years of experience and enough foresight to avoid some scenarios that could potentially cause problems later on, in addition to the capacity (as the owner) to make necessary decisions as needed without requiring timely authorization and/or approvals helped me avoid many issues. As I stepped further and further out of the field, I was forced to micromanage every project which still didn’t make sure things were right the first time.
It took me working late most evenings and weekends to keep projects on track and maintain customer satisfaction along with a handful of costly mistakes and a few unhappy customers before I finally established a much needed system for implementing the process of the Handoff from Sales to Production. It wasn’t until I developed a proper system and fully implemented the process into my company that I was able to quit playing defense and play on the offensive instead. Until this time my company was not able to provide a consistent and predictable outcome. Making certain the Sales Team (design, estimating, and sales) provides all the necessary information to the production team, all parties involved have a good quality, accurate plan and specifications along with a well thought out road map to follow, and, most importantly, clearly understands what is expected of them is all paramount to a achieving a successful project. Do you have an established process for the Handoff? How is your current system working? What forms do you use? What key information do you make certain the Sales team passes along to the Production team? What other items do you require Sales to put together for Production?
Communication, Communication, & Communication
Make sure your team has the necessary information when and where they need it. The challenge isn’t in the actual construction because it is the most predictable part of this entire process. In many ways it is repetitive. Where the challenges arise are in the areas of communication since a custom home requires so many custom features. Coordinating the customer selections, ordering materials on time, and maintaining a smooth flowing construction schedule requires a great deal of management skills and communication. In today’s fast paced and technology driven world people are use to instant gratification. Unless expectations are set and maintained the lack of communication can lead to extensive decrease in project productivity and lead to rapidly deteriorating customer relations. A simple Communication Policy can help hold team members accountable, and having an established protocol for project communication can set customer expectations and prevent late night or weekend calls. Knowing that they can expect a response within a stated time frame usually puts them at ease as long as the time parameters are consistently upheld. There are a few circumstances in which too much information is a bad thing when working with customers but more is better when keeping your clients informed and in the loop when it comes to their project. Consistent thorough communication is never a bad thing. Do you have an established process for managing project communications. What is your internal and customer communication policy? What tools or communication streams have you established so everyone is on the same page regarding the project? Do you have the ability to monitor the communication occurring between your sales and production team? How do you track whether the project team is properly communicating with the customer?
A Successful Handoff Includes Technology
Another key to success is having the necessary information when and where you need it. If the salesperson and/or designer doesn’t deliver a complete package to Production, you’re bound to lose profit through lack of information. There are a lot of moving parts, and to do the job right you need to pay attention to every detail of the process no matter how small or seemingly insignificant. To ensure your projects will be run smoothly and you consistently produce predictable outcomes that achieve the desired level of customer satisfaction, it is paramount that you develop a systematic approach that includes using cutting edge technology and tools to facilitate communication and limit confusion.
Today’s technology can help eliminate some of the bumps in the road by providing a platform where a proven process can easily be implemented, creating a well developed system within your business. They give you the ability to quickly create Accurate Estimates which include detailed specifications and cost data, can be easily presented in a professional looking proposal, and then can be effortlessly moved into your project management tool. Transferring all of the needed information and being 100% confident it is the correct information is invaluable. Limit the time constraints, reduce the margin of error that comes with the many redundancies of data transfer, skip the monotonous tasks of duplicate entry, and avoid the “copy and paste”. We are all too familiar with duplicate entry methods. These technology platforms will help you produce the required information and enable you to host this information in a single accessible location reducing the need for multiple job folders or project binders. This will minimizes time constraints on information transmission because both the Sales and Production teams have access to the most current Project Information and see changes updated in real time. There are many CRM, estimating, and/or Project Management software platforms out there. I won’t mention how many different estimating tools and/or project management programs I have purchased and utilized over the years and am a little embarrassed to discuss how much money I have spent trying to find a adequate solution. Out of all the software platforms I have utilized, I have found Clear Estimates to be a great solution and the best suited for my needs for a variety of reasons. My focus both as a contractor and a design professional has always been on the residential side of the business and mostly in single family construction. Because a majority of my projects are and have always been remodels and additions with a few custom new homes, Clear Estimates is the most useful estimating tool available hands down. Clear Estimates gives me the ability to quickly generate detailed specifications that are unit based allowing for quick quantity updates and price adjustments. The on demand access to the RemodelMax Database, the largest and most in depth database of parts and assemblies for residential remodeling, provides the ability to systematically calculate accurate estimates and produce proposals without requiring the lengthy bidding process. The available features and functions are too many to list however I will mention that the capabilities of the Clear Estimates tool, coupled with the ability to customize the system in multiple ways to fit my needs has made Clear Estimates an invaluable resource for both my company as well as many of my building and remodeling consulting clients.
Additionally, having the ability to seamlessly integrate with 3rd party software like your CRM and project management system can help eliminate a number of issues. One issue, as I’m sure we’ve all experienced, is that not everyone is using the correct information. I have found BuilderTrend to be the best project management system out there for many reasons. Mainly because of its usability. It is more intuitive than all the other platforms I have used or had the opportunity to demo. The ability to template most aspect of a project makes BuilderTrend a very powerful and highly valuable tool. Systems! Systems! Systems! BuilderTrend is a tremendously valuable platform for any size design, build, or remodeling company. Functioning as an all in one project management system, with a large number of useful features providing an excellent solution for project communication. Develop an accurate scope of work with selections features and project collaboration functionality. Achieve higher levels of productivity with accountability features that are integrated with the project schedule. Maintain owner expectations with project budgeting functionality. Maintain profitability with change management features. Manage production with real time job costing features. Reduce administrative workload with integration with accounting systems. And much much more.
What technology platforms are you using to make the handoff process efficient and effective?
Controlling The Chaos
Now that we’ve highlighted a proper Handoff in theory, it’s time to detail what that would look like in practice. The following steps for a proper handoff are designed so no matter how involved you are as an owner, the project will run smoothly. If you are a micromanager, this process will help you empower your employees with the steps for a successful sales to production process. If you are an owner who is more removed from the project, this process will ensure the employees you left in charge are getting it done the right way.
Steps to a Proper Hand-off:
- Accurate Estimate
- Detailed Specifications
- Estimate Completion Checklist – The template called the Estimate Checklist runs 23 pages and includes about 400 “task descriptions” in 25 categories, such as general conditions, site work, and finished carpentry. Nine of those pages are product selection sheets and include descriptions, number, color, type, and notes for selections.
- Room Finish Schedule – This form includes room finishes; number/name of rooms; specs for ceiling, walls, trim, and windows; what’s painted/stained; a colors list; and a list of plumbing fixtures. Also included are lighting layouts, permits, a description of the job scope, daily cleanup requirements, pre-drywall inspection checklist, copies of plumbing fixture and appliance specs, and subcontractor contracts with their scope of work.
- Project Startup – Owner Initial Questionnaire
- Project Kick-off Meeting – In-office meeting that precedes the site visit with the client, and lets the project manager know whether everything is ready for a smooth job start. Most of the items on this checklist refer to additional checklists and forms that help with construction decisions.
- Pre-Construction Walk-through – Onsite Sales and Production meeting where staff iron out any issues that may have been overlooked prior to project Startup
- Pre-Construction Conference – Onsite meeting where Sales introduces the Production to the Owner. Objectives of the Pre-Construction Conference:
- Clarify Project Directory
- Identify the Owner’s primary Production point of contact
- Preview 3D Model of what is being built
- Answer questions regarding Plans and Specifications
- Explanations as to why construction methods were chose
- Describe how complex aspects of the project are to be built
- Define project exclusions
- Update and or establish project protocols as needed
- Confirm what the Owner can expect from each party involved in the project including any Subcontractors
- Clarify and gather Owner Approval on project logistics such as material storage, dumpster location, cleanup policies, sanitary toilet, and parking
- Identify discrepancies and iron out any issues overlooked establing agreed solutions
- Project Protocol – Require active communication and collaboration between the sales and production team throughout the production
- Communication Protocol
- Collaboration Protocol
- Digital Data Protocol
- Project Directory
- Sales Rep
- Project Lead
- Lead Carpenter
- Project manager
- Job Superintendent
- Job Foreman
- Project Performance Meetings – Maintain the Sales teams continued involvement with the project, working with the owner to finalize the selections and implement change orders as needed until information can be passed to the production team.
This list may look like a lot but much of what is included was formulated during the sales process. This step simply brings it all together. By implementing the above project management process, you’ll go from controlling chaos resulting in unpredictable outcomes to consistently producing predictable successful results.
A successful building or remodeling project involves the careful coordination of many tasks coupled with exceptional design, quality construction, and meticulous project management. One of the most critical yet often overlooked steps is the Handoff from Sales to Production. Many contractors have a tendency to rush into production and home building or remodeling projects are not something that should be rushed. If the production team doesn’t have the correct and/or all of the required information when they needed, this lack of information is bound to cause problems and eat into your profits. To ensure your projects run smoothly it is paramount that you develop a systematic approach to this process. Clear Estimates and Design Build Consultants are co-hosting a webinar specifically on this topic. Wyatt Knight will be presenting a proven process that consistently produces predictable results. He will be showcasing the system both his company and many of his builder and remodeler consulting clients use. Learn the keys to a successful Handoff. Join Wyatt as he demonstrates the techniques and tools used to effectively delivering this process in an efficient manner and how you can practically apply them in your business.