Nov. 22 2019 06:00 AM

Never assume that your traditional way of doing things is necessarily the best way.

Know what your customers want. Sounds like common sense, doesn’t it? Yet, we often think, “Of course we know what our customers want — we’ve been doing this for years.”

If you’ve been in the landscape or irrigation business for some time, there’s a good chance that you’ve become accustomed to a “good old way” of doing things, from the way you calculate bids to your processes out in the field. What’s worked in the past seems to be working perfectly well in the present — so why upset the apple cart?

In his book “Raving Fans,” management consultant Ken Blanchard teaches that the key to winning the hearts of customers is learning what customers want and tailoring your products and services to exceed their particular expectations.

Landscaping is not a massmarket business. No two jobs are exactly alike. Every job has unique levels of service, amount of detail and scheduling. And no two customers are alike, either. They all have their own interests and hot buttons.

A rude but necessary awakening

Years ago, I experienced something profound that forever changed the way our company assembles commercial proposals.

We’d gone to a client’s office to tie up a model home installation contract. One of our experienced project managers had assembled our proposal with a standard summarized price followed by a long list of qualifications — which included a significant upcharge for a major site amenity. Because the architect had failed to provide exact specifications, the project manager had omitted this item from the base bid and stuck it deep down in the bid qualifications.

All was going well with our sales pitch until the subject of this missing site amenity arose. My project manager matteroffactly told the client the $100,000plus item was fully noted in the qualifications. When the client heard this, he erupted! Jumping to his feet, he leaned over the table to our project manager and shouted, “You don’t think we actually read all of this (expletive) stuff, do you?”

I’d never witnessed a client outburst as intense as this and haven’t since. But, in truth, this client had a right to be upset. Our project manager had used our base bid number as though it was reliable, even though that wasn’t really accurate. Our previously friendly client felt abused and betrayed, and we went back to our office licking our wounds.

This shocking experience motivated us to create a new bid format tailored to what our clients most wanted to see. We surveyed our clients and, based on what they told us, we reimagined what a construction proposal should look like — through their eyes.

Put yourself in your client’s shoes

I won’t disclose our bidding secret sauce, but I will tell you that we learned to be upfront and honest with clients throughout the bidding process. Early and full disclosure of all the costs that might be incurred protects their interests and yours.

Provide a base bid early in the proposal, but right after that, discuss every concern they might have. Put yourself in their shoes. Discuss and disclose all the potential extra charges and issues that might be encountered before the job is completed. Demonstrate that you have their best interests in mind. Be the good guy — give them all the information they’ll need to make fully informed and intelligent decisions.

Never assume that your “good old way” of doing things is necessarily the best way. Periodically adjust all your customer-facing processes to what your customers really want, and you’ll surely win more business — creating “raving fans” along the way.

Are you curious what happened with that angry client? It’s 35 years later, and we continue to do all his work.

Have you had any similar “awakenings” that caused you to significantly improve or change your business? Please email me at the address below, so I can compile ideas to share in future columns.

Gary Horton, MBA, is CEO of Landscape Development Inc., a green industry leader for over 35 years with offices throughout California and Nevada. He can be reached at