Your sales person Mary has been through the ringer.

Not too long ago, Mary spent a lot of time bidding a job and thought she had it, only to find out her information was used for a renegotiation with the current janitorial company that took care of the carpet cleaning.

She learned her lesson and so you, as the commercial carpet cleaning company owner, saw that she needed a little more training and some lessons in prequalification principles. See the November issue of Cleanfax magazine, page 12.

Now something else has come up.

Big opportunity…?

In the last month or so, Mary kept up with cold calls, sending out information (letters and e-mails) and has been getting appointments which are turning into work. The actual sales volume is a long way from supporting her, but goals are being met.

opportunityThis afternoon she came into your office with the outcome of her morning Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) meeting. A property manager asked her to give him a proposal for carpet cleaning in a building that has 600,000 square feet. It will be a one-time cleaning that might be able to be done once a year in the future.

“Is this my wow moment?” you ask yourself. After all, isn’t this why you hired a salesperson? You wanted to grow your business and have a salesperson actually help you, paying for their own wages by making sales and earning commissions.

So why does this great opportunity — or fluke proposal — have you worried? Mary is floating right up to the ceiling. What is your concern? Isn’t this the greatest thing that could happen?

After all, 600,000 square feet might actually turn out to be a larger job than most of your competitors do in an entire year! You have read on the Cleanfax bulletin board that some people charge 35 cents a foot for commercial carpet cleaning. Even if you went down to 20 cents a foot, that is $120,000. Things are great!

Mary tells you that the walk-through for the request for proposal (RFP) is next Thursday at 10 a.m., and that only contractors who attend the walk-through and information meeting will be eligible to bid. Obviously, anyone who wants this job must attend.

… Or big problem?

She hands you the RFP containing its many questions, requirements and exact cleaning specifications, including method and cleaning products that must be used. The first sentence says that it is a request for hot water extraction and pile lifting services, conforming to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) requirements. You let Mary know that you want to look it over and meet with her tomorrow.

The fluke proposal does happen, you say to yourself. The promise of better things to come, the big break you knew was there. Yet you remain hesitant. You know that Mary has worked hard and is doing the right things daily and your worry has to do with breaking the momentum that she has.

You have seen other sales people — even yourself — work on the “one big” potential job, only to fall flat on your face while you killed your forward progress because you devoted all your time into the “fluke.”

Then after two or three weeks of thinking, planning, calling other people for help and agonizing over how to price the job and then submitting the bid, you don’t even get a letter back saying it was awarded to another company. You just sit there paralyzed with the expectation that you might get this dream job.

That is the problem with large bids like this. It paralyzes you, taking all your time, and emotionally drains you.

In the end it delivers you nothing and now you have nothing in the pipeline for next month. You have been here before and are very concerned with dealing with Mary and the fluke proposal.

Your meeting with Mary to discuss all of this is tomorrow morning.

Facing reality

When Mary gets in, you get the RFP out and start going through it together. She asks who else will be there for the walk-through. You mention your best competitors will be there and the janitorial company who currently takes care of the building will be there as well. In fact, they are most likely the company that is currently taking care of the carpet.

She soon realizes that this is going to be a tough job to price.

Next, you express your concern with how much time and emotional baggage this RFP carries with it. You let her know that you do not want her spending tons of time on a project that will derail her for a “bid” that is not a “negotiated” proposal.reality

It appears, from all the details of the RFP, that this company will work with anyone who will give them the best (lowest) price and is not interested in an ongoing relationship that is mutually beneficial to both of you.

How can this work out for both of you? You want Mary to learn how to bid these jobs, while not taking her time and energy away from her day-to-day sales efforts.

Both of you decide that you as the owner will take a role in doing this proposal, attending the walk-through together and helping with price calculations and filling out the RFP forms. If asked, both of you will present the bid.

As a side note, and if you are not familiar with RFPs, simply go online and in a search engine insert “RFP Carpet Cleaning” and you will see many examples of actual RFPs.

Smart decisions

It ends up that you were right after all.

The walk-through had six different companies, including yours, all asking questions. You were also right about the current janitorial company in that it is currently doing the carpet cleaning. In fact, you notice the carpet is in fairly good shape.

You want to ask, “So why are you looking for a proposal?” but you don’t feel comfortable asking the question in front of the other companies. You figure you will follow up at a later time.

Next month, we will see what happened with this bid. Be prepared to disagree with the outcome. On the Cleanfax bulletin board, the number one area of disagreement is usually on how to price a job..

Also, look for a new feature in the Commercial Cash Flow column as well, one that takes you and this columnist from the written page of the magazine to a “reality check.” We will see what really happens when advice from this column is implemented. The results — whether good or bad — will be published.

Fred Geyen is president of the Geyen Group ( His background includes commercial product sales and program development for residential, commercial and disaster restoration with ServiceMaster. He has a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Accredited Professional (LEED-AP) designation and is on the board of directors with the LMCCA. Geyen can be contacted at (612) 799-5111.