Handling the Walk-through

What every cleaning contractor should know

Whenever building service contractors (BSCs) get together, the topics they are most likely to discuss are bids and bidding. However, one of the most important issues—and some might say the most important issue—often overlooked during the bidding process is making the most of the walk-through.

The “walk-through” involves meeting with the prospective client and walking through the facility for a site inspection in order to submit a proposal. It gives the BSC and the prospect a chance to meet each other and to see if they can do business together. And for the contractor specifically, it offers an opportunity to show competence and professionalism.

Here are some tips on how to make the most of your walk-through to help secure the client:

Dress the Part

Making the most of this critical interaction all starts with how you look. Some janitorial contractors may call on prospective clients in jeans and shorts, while others may wear flashy suits and Rolex watches. While there is an old saying, “It’s better to be overdressed than underdressed,” when it comes to meeting with a potential client, it’s best to be properly dressed.

For almost all walk-throughs, the proper dress is business casual. If calling on a large facility, or an important potential client, the visit may call for a sport coat and possibly a tie for men and comparable attire for women. The important thing to remember is that you are conducting business, and you should dress accordingly.

Ask Appropriate Questions

There are many questions cleaning contractors can and should ask the potential client during the walk-through—as well as one they should never ask. Before delving into these specific questions, remember the prospect is your host. At least during the walk-through, let the potential client do most of the talking.

Usually at the end of the walk-through, a contractor will be brought into the client’s office or a conference room. Now is the time to ask questions, such as the following:

  • Why are you looking for a new cleaning contractor? Maybe the company is perfectly happy with the current contractor, but is required to take bids. But more often than not, the motivation is more serious: The client is unhappy with the current cleaning service. If this is the case, this meeting becomes all the more important.
  • Can you describe the specific problems? Knowing what issues are of concern will help to address them in a proposal and suggest ways your company would solve them.
  • Do you have a list of cleaning specifications for the facility? Having a list is helpful because if the prospect hands the list out to all potential contractors, it helps ensure that everyone is bidding on the same specifications. If a list is not available, be sure to tailor the list of services in your proposal based on what you learn about the facility’s needs during this initial meeting.

Some other questions to ask include the following:

  • Is a green cleaning strategy requested or required?

  • What is the frequency of service, and during what times may the custodians work?

  • How many square feet need cleaning? How much of the square footage is hard surface floor and how much is carpet? (Be prepared to take your own measurements.)

  • Is there nearby parking? (This may apply to city locations. If parking options are not free, you may need to incorporate the cost of parking into your proposal.)

  • Should I include carpet cleaning and floor refinishing in the monthly charge or bill it separately when performed?

Do Not Ask The Following

While not all contractors will agree, unless the prospective client volunteers what it currently pays or its budget for cleaning services, it’s often best not to ask.

According to one facility manager’s account, all the contractors she met were told exactly what her company was paying for cleaning. When the bids arrived, all of the bids were essentially that same amount. The result: She was skeptical about all of the contractors she met.

The lesson: It is best to formulate your own bid. Submit a bid that covers your costs and produces enough profit for you to have this prospect as a client.

The Group Walk-through

In some cases, a prospect will have several cleaning contractors meet with him or her at the same time to conduct a walk-through. This is very common for government facilities and many large private companies, as well.

After the group walk-through, the prospect will look over all the bids and then begin weeding out those it does not want to pursue. If your bid is one of the ones selected for closer review, you will likely be called back, and at this point both you and the prospect will have an opportunity to get to know each other and ask questions.

During the group walk-through, it is important to be professional: Look your best, as discussed earlier; do not hesitate to ask a question or for clarification if it is important for you to submit an informed proposal; and end the meeting by thanking the prospect and sending a thank-you card a day or two later.

Ways to Stand Out

Most cleaning contractors will submit an attractive proposal, cover all the items discussed in the walk-through, and include references. But that is not enough today to win a potential client’s business. The way to make a proposal stand out is to take it to the next level. Some ways to do this include the following:

  • Suggest ways you can help the client become greener and more sustainable. For many facility managers, this is still a confusing area, so if you can offer ways to guide them through the maze, it could prove very significant.

  • If you are a member of a group purchasing organization (GPO), make sure to mention it in the proposal. Members of GPOs typically pay less for cleaning products and equipment, and those savings may be passed on to the client. Also, manufacturers often ask GPO members to beta-test new cleaning equipment. This means members may have access to state-of-the-art equipment before anyone else does, which may also result in savings for the customer.

  • Suggest ways to help the client save money. A building owner or manager will invariably look at a proposal more closely when it includes suggestions on ways to reduce costs. For instance, because most facilities pay for floor refinishing separate from the monthly cleaning charge, suggesting ways to reduce refinishing cycles—and pointing out the savings that can result—is a real eye-opener that makes you and your proposal look very good.

The walk-through is the first chance to make an impression. If you present yourself professionally and take the opportunity to really listen to the potential client’s needs, you can tailor a proposal to meet these needs and also include value-added services, which can help you stand out and win new business.

Posted On October 1, 2015

Tobi Colbert

Director of Business Development and Member Services at the National Service Alliance (NSA)

Tobi Colbert is director of business development and member services at the National Service Alliance (NSA), a leading group purchasing organization for larger building service contractors and related businesses in the United States. She can be reached at [email protected].

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