Quality, Speed, Price
Every construction project estimate sits on a
three-legged stool of quality, speed and price. They are entwined
the same way a rope is. Make major changes to any of those
elements, and you have to adjust the other two.
Want the project to go faster? You need to raise the price,
reduce the quality or a do little of both. Want the lowest possible
price? That project will likely be done with shoddy workmanship or
take forever to complete as the contractor pulls crews out for
better paying jobs.
There are two main problems I see when contractors try to
explain this issue to building owners or homeowners. The
inclination of every buyer is that they want the project done at a
good pace with the best quality and lowest price. That's impossible
to deliver, but nonetheless, every buyer goes into the project with
So the first problem you have to overcome is educational. It
doesn't matter if you're a home improvement salesperson in a living
room selling a metal roof to a homeowner or a metal building
contractor pitching a pre-engineered metal building to a
municipality. At some point, you have to explain how you arrived at
the price for the estimate, and give an indication of the quality
of work and how long the project will last.
How do you explain that? The most common phrase about this
triangle is, "Quality, speed or price. Pick two." One contractor I
knew would work with homeowners and have them assign numerical
values to each element, one through 20, and tell them the total
couldn't exceed 40. It seemed to work for him, and the homeowner
would quickly understand if he wanted lowest price (a 20) and
fastest pace (20) there was nothing left for quality.
But it's more complicated than that, especially for
construction, when the baseline for winning the project is the
cost. That part of the triangle is set in concrete, so the only
real variables you have are speed and quality.
We can narrow it down even more quickly than that, because every
project has a timeline. Buyers can compare price and speed among
bidders, but they are clueless about understanding quality.
I often have seen small contractors with business cards that
tout the quality of their work and also use a phrase such as "best
price." I always ask them, "If you're so good, why are you so
It is easy to say you do good work, but hard to prove it. Like
they teach in dental school, it takes the patient five minutes to
figure out if they like you, but five years to figure out if you're
any good. Same in contracting.
There is only one, true way to show customers you do quality
work, and that is through referrals. Show them your previous
projects, give them names of past customers and urge them to
contact them. If you're really confident in your work, don't select
your referral customers, but offer them your entire past customer
list. (Of course, respect the privacy of customers who don't want
to be bothered.)
But most importantly, during the sales process, address the
issue of quality, speed and price head on, and begin educating the
buyer then. It will help build trust and make it easier to
differentiate yourself on quality.