What I'd like to talk about with you today is not a new occurrence, by any stretch of the imagination, but it's happening more often now than, let's say, during the "boom" years.
What I'm talking about is when a prospective client request a quote for land surveying services, and then when presented with the cost they respond with price objections.
They're convinced that you've overestimated what their needs are, and what is needed (in their minds) to survey their land.
I Don't Need All The Bells and Whistles
You've all probably experienced this and what I've heard are these following objections:
- "I really only need one line".
- "It's been surveyed before, so it should be easy".
And my favorite,
- "I don't need all the bells and whistles".
I just heard this last one recently from a well meaning property owner looking to have me survey their land. Apparently, the "squareness" of the land should have translated into a lower price than what I'd quoted. He seemed convinced that there are two types of surveying; Basic and cheap vs. the bells & whistles expensive type. I have to admit, I don't get it.
Budgets, Ability to Pay and Ignorance.
What I do get, however, is that budgets, ability to pay, and ignorance is largely behind this phenomenon. From what I could tell, this new customer, like many others who believe that we should be able to survey their property at a price lower than what is possible, was motivated to ask for a "lesser" survey because of these three factors:
- He only had a certain amount of extra money available to spend. Thinking that this known amount would cover the expense of having his property surveyed, he was caught off guard when confronted with the fact that it would, in fact, cost more than that.
- It didn't cost that much the last two times it was surveyed. Yes, he claims that he had it surveyed twice before in the past and while he didn't say so, I'm guessing that my fee today is more than what he paid for the last two surveys combined (and sadly my fee really isn't that high). I asked him who had surveyed the land before and he feigned not to remember. I also know that he spoke with a good client of mine prior to speaking with me. That's how he came to be calling me, and I have to believe that possibly he now understood that the prior two "surveys" were something less than complete surveys. I've seen this time and time again, were land owners pay for a survey, but somehow know less about the actual locations of their property corners than they did before hiring these supposed "surveyors". More on this next week.....
- A general ignorance about what land surveyors actually do to complete a survey. Here's were a little education goes a long way in shedding light on how a survey is done, and how much work is involved. The good client of mine that gave me this referral, you see, was originally in the dark about land surveying as much as is his friend and now my new client. He'd been burned a few times by other surveyors, who were cheap, fast and, unfortunately, wrong, when he hired me to survey a large tract of land he was purchasing. As he had been given my name, and a glowing review, from another client of mine who is a friend of his, he somewhat reluctantly hired me at a price I'm sure he thought at the time was too expensive. In the course carrying out his survey he asked lots of questions and I took every opportunity I could to educate him on what I was doing and how I was conducting his survey. I think it was illuminating for him, and as a businessperson I know he eventually understood how much work is involved with surveying land, understood that it's skilled, and understood that it's not something that can be done cheap. At least not if you want it done right, that is.
Often, when you face objections to price, you can negotiate a lesser scope which will result in a lesser fee. However, this wasn't possible as he was asking for a fairly basic and bare-bones property survey to begin with. So, facetiously, I asked him, "would you have me not research your chain-of-title", "not look at your neighbors' deeds", and my favorite, "not set any corners".
I also tongue-in-cheek asked if I could just walk around the property suggesting approximately where his property corners might be. Something like, "Mr. So and So, one lot corner is over near that bush, another is near the pole at the road, the third is sort of near your mailbox, and the final corner is down the bottom of that big hill over there. So that's $(insert cheap fee here) and feel free to never bother me about this again, as I'll be unavailable and deny ever having been here before". I think this is what he's heard and done before, and now realizes that this is not what surveying is. He, like many other unsuspecting land owners, got ripped-off. But, he got it done on the cheap!
I really Didn't Say That!
Long story short, he hired me to survey his property. Of course, I am exaggerating the above conversation that I had with this new client for effect. While I was more diplomatic and delicate about what really couldn't be left out of my survey and what may have been left out in his prior surveys, I think you get the idea. So when faced with price objections, what can you do? Here are a few ideas.
- Realign your scope to meet your prospects idea of what the price should be. Identify what in your professional judgment can be either left out or reduced to lower your price. Make sure your revised scope is clear as to what it includes. Also make it clear as to what has been left out. This can have two effects: 1. you reach agreement on price and the buyer decides that he/she can live without the cut services, or 2. the buyer gets a better grasp on what was involved with the original scope and realizes that he/she can't live without those services.
- If some things just can't be left out then say so, and explain why not. Education goes a long way to getting your client to understand that you're ultimately looking out for their best interest, are trying to do the best professional job that you possibly can, and that fairness in services provided balanced against fee paid is only reasonable.
- If price is the only buying criteria, then think about not taking this new project. I know passing on any project is hard to do in these difficult times, but it will probably save you a lot of heartache and heartburn down the road. Clients who shop for surveyors on price alone generally do not make for good clients, don't pay their bills (particularly for extras that arise in a project), will nickel and dime you to death, and end up being the most needy of clients requiring more hand-holding and energy on your part than anywhere near to what you're being compensated for.
- When price is the determining buying factor, I find that your prospect will throw another surveyor and his/her fee into the negotiations. You know what I mean, they'll say "Surveyor B said he could do it for $(insert lowball fee here)" and could start yesterday". Don't flinch. Say, "OK, I'm sorry I can't help you at this time, but please let me know if there's anything I can help you with in the future". Keep it polite, professional and don't take the bait. Sometimes it's just a ploy and many times they hire Surveyor B only to soon regret it. Sometimes they hire you anyway and never had any intention to hire the other surveyor. They were just testing you to see if you'd flinch.
- On rare occasions, offer flexible payment terms rather than lower your price. For this you have to be a good judge of character to ascertain ahead of time that you will get paid at all. I can think of at least a few times over the years where I offered a payment plan, or agreed to be paid intermittently, and it worked out great for two reasons. First, they lived up to their end of the bargain and did pay. Second, they ended up practically being salespeople for me, giving an incredible number of referrals. However, use this sparingly - it's risky. As a business owner you can't afford to give away your services for free too often.
- When you absolutely know that it's the right thing to do, lower your price. So when is this right to do? Three things to consider: Charity, additional services, and volume. If your potential client is in a time of need, then helping out (charity) might be the right thing to do. We all stumble once in awhile and need a helping hand. If there's a high likelihood of additional future and more profitable work, then you might consider the services now needed as a loss leader. If you have good reason to believe that in getting this client and project it will lead to a long term relationship of volume work, then you might consider accepting a lower fee. In every case, I would warn that you are probably not as smart and objective in making these decisions as you think you are - So be careful.
In writing this for you I've thought of several other real life stories I'll soon share on customer relations and development. I've made mistakes in identifying the good customers from the bad, as I'm sure you have too, at least from time to time, but finding the really great customers just makes your job more enjoyable and your business run more smoothly.
What do you think?