Hi land 8, first time on the forums this website seems to be very useful so im excited to be on.

anyway I do sales/design for a landscaping company and am pretty new to the sales part so I'm curious about the below predicament.... 

Recently I have had a new prospect that is looking to get a lot of work done to their property. This client though real excited also seemed nervous, and cautious ( which I realize are to understandable feelings for a client ). This pops red flags in my mind like, did I do or say something to make them feel this way, are they thinking they are asking to much and are they able to afford the work that will be involved. So my question is what are some strategies to implement to be able to read if your prospect is legit or just feeling out the company. Because if it all goes through the design process, and they don't end up buying....... the company takes a hit on the design hours.   Though landing a big job is nice getting the client to pay for all the time put in prior to building seems to be the underlying issue if the job falls through.

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It sounds like the company that you work for does not charge separately for design services. While that can be an investment which yields results in getting the profits from the build, there is a point of diminishing returns.

If the company wants to keep the philosophy of not charging for design work to be competitive in their market, they have to limit what they'll do for free until there is a financial commitment from the property owner. In other words, if it is a quick foundation planting it may be worth the risk.

If it gets to be more than that break the design down to an initial phase that you don't charge for and then add to the design after you get a contract and deposit for that first phase if they want to keep the free design philosophy. A better way to go, in my opinion, is to charge a design fee for anything more than a simple planting plan. Anyone who puts a deposit on a design is no longer talking to any other designers and are demonstrating a commitment to moving forward in completing the project. It is the best pre-qualifier that you can have. Your company can remain competitive by not charging full price for design if they want to use it as a marketing tool.

What you'll find is that three things happen when you, as a design/build contractor, sign someone to a design contract. The first is that they stop looking at other designers or contractors (they are not going to pay to people at once and if they are relying on free design, they would not have paid you). The second is that they are now showing a financial commitment to move forward with the project. The third and most important is that you are now in the position to build a relationship with the client that makes them more comfortable with your company executing the design than anyone else - the build becomes yours to lose.

When you do free design, there is nothing for the prospect to lose even if he has no intent or means of moving forward. There is no reason that they may not be having six other free designers doing the same thing for them at the same time. There is no more bond between you and the prospect being built than between him and the other six.

Free design for a design/build works best if you can do a quick sketch, write up a proposal to build it, print a contract, get it signed and a deposit before you leave the site. The sketch should not leave your possession or be copied until you have deposit.

Part of what you and the company have to figure out is at what point can you leave a prospect with the feeling that you invested enough effort to get the job and also be able to walk away not feeling like you got ripped off if they don't go with you.

It is easier to sell design than to sell a complete landscape. Once you sell the design, the build is yours to lose.

Never ever design anything for free. 

I agree with the other posts, especially Andrew's point about getting the client's "buy in".  

If you suspect the client is nervous about the expense of the build, you have every right to ask them what their budget is.  

Thanks for the input guys. One I my main rules is I never hand a drawing over until try are signed up. My boss is all about us getting paid for the design, I'm the firs designer the company has had so we are new to a full time design position so we are working out the kinks.

If I can offer you one piece of advice if you’re going to be in design/build/sales--don’t be afraid to ask the tough questions up front. If during the initial visit you learn that the homeowner has been living in the house four three or four years and the window treatments are missing, unfurnished living rooms, etc., start asking questions. This is when you bring up the budget, project schedule and find out how many other d/b firms they’re talking to. Don’t fall for the “we’re just looking for ideas” bs. When I was in d/b and people would call to schedule a consultation and stated they were just looking for ideas, I would start talking about design fees. Don’t waste your time with eternal tire kickers. I know people who are well paid and live in nice homes with ugly yards, and have gone to every spring garden show for the last 12 years talking to landscape contractors, yet never pull the trigger.

The other thing: collecting a decent design fee is a good way to keep you in that job. When times get lean(er) you the design guy giving away tons of design hours for free will have a big ass target on your back. You’ll be replaced by the boss’ nephew who got his associates in hort at the local community college that can’t find a job. The nephew will be more valuable because he’ll plow snow in the winter and do warranty work as well. 

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