Too many remodelers commit to projects with too little information at hand to know whether the job should ever have been bid, Paul Winans and David Lupberger say. Their solution: Develop a lead sheet and use it as part of a process to determine whether the client's project should qualify on your list of potential jobs.

Winans and Lupberger spoke at separate educational sessions during the Remodeling Show in Chicago on Oct. 16-18, but they made the same point: Using a lead sheet to go over key questions and record the answers can save time (by identifying sure-loser projects) and promote sales (by collecting the information that can help you best make your case for getting the work). Here is a summary of what they said.

A lead sheet is both a data-recording device and a script, and it gets used starting with the first contact with a prospect. That may come when a potential client calls, or when that person fills out a form on your website, or writes an e-mail, or meets you on the street. Among the first information you want to get:

  • Client name.
  • Where do you live, and what's the location of the project? (The prospect might live or work way outside of your normal territory.)
  • What type of job do you have in mind?
  • Who referred you to us? (If the referrer was a lousy client, watch out, Winans said. And if the referrer was a website or ad, you'll want to record that now so you'll be able to track your marketing efforts.)

Plan on spending 15 to 20 minutes on the pre-qualifying telephone conversation, Lupberger said, while Winans recommended 20 to 30 minutes. Once you get past the basics, it's time to delver deeper, with questions like:

  • How long have you lived in your home? How much longer do you intend to live in it?
  • Have you hired a remodeler before? (If so, why didn't you call that person for the project you're exploring now?)
  • What's your target date for this project's completion? (This becomes particularly important if, say, the work is related to a wedding or birth.)
  • What is your process for selecting a remodeler to do the work?
  • Have you spoken with other professionals? How has that search gone?
  • What are you looking for in a contractor--Quality? Price? Trust?
  • Who will be involved in the decision-making process?

Above all, you need to ask "What is wrong with your home?" both said. Aside from learning what needs doing, this question helps you get to the emotional reasons motivating the work. They might involve safety concerns, or fear something will break, or simple embarrassment about looking good to the neighbors. On the other hand, tepid emotion might suggest a client is just testing the waters and isn't all that eager to see work begin. The lead sheet exercise also marks the low-key start of the sales process, they said. Taking thorough notes shows the clients you care about what they say, Winans said, while Lupberger stressed that customers will appreciate you if you just sit and listen: "Real prospects want to talk about their jobs."

Do NOT offer solutions during this meeting, Winans said. Clients are supposed to pay you for your solutions, and that will come later when and if you provide an estimate.

On the other hand, you should get an inkling of what the client is willing to spend, they said. Lupberger suggested asking "What is the budget range?" Winans prefers to never say "budget," opting instead for language like "How much are you willing to invest to get the benefits you seek?"

There will be times when your gut will tell you right away that this job isn't for you, Lupberger said. When that happens, say "no" gracefully and in a professional manner. On the other hand, if you are interested in the work, Winans recommended that you make sure you schedule the next event before you leave that person. Never leave the customer hanging.

--Craig Webb, editor-in-chief of REMODELING, wrote this article with reporting assistance from Brendan Rimetz. On Twitter, follow Webb at @craiglwebb and REMODELING at @remodelingmag.