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Quality, Speed, Price

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Paul DeffenbaughEvery 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 that expectation.

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 inexpensive?"

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.