Here are some step-by-step instructions for handling calls from prospective clients. Think of it as a guide for landing business.
It requires you to devote time and resources to your business protocols and marketing efforts to find success, such as:
- creating and distributing marketing collateral;
- building relationships; and
- knocking on doors.
Consider this scenario: The phone rings and it is a commercial client looking to find a commercial property inspector and you are the first one they called. What are you going to do? Do you just give the price over the phone? Or do you have a process in place for yourself and your office team?
It is just as important for you to create a plan for phone calls with prospective clients as it is to have a plan for routing your walk-through survey. A plan will help you build a professional image and credibility. As a result, you will establish an ongoing business relationship with clients and solidify their selection of you over another inspection firm for current and future jobs. The following flowchart reviews the steps reviewed in this article.
There is no single element more important to a client relationship than the first phone call, and not having a plan for that call will limit the likelihood of client acquisition and retention. Your phone should be answered with confidence and professionalism. One element of professionalism includes the use of a call sheet.
A call sheet is a form that aids you and your staff in consistently collecting the necessary information to research a particular job, and to have a well-informed conversation with the client. Note that the initial phone call is a simple interaction. It’s not something of deep substance.
Some of the items to consider adding to your call sheet include:
- Client details: name, phone number, and email address
- Property location: full address (and unit number, if applicable)
- Referral source: realtor, attorney, or other, and their contact information
- Current building use
- Future building use
- Inspection time frame
- Any special requests or concerns
Provide this call sheet to your office staff and use it specifically for handling commercial jobs. Some people choose to have a dedicated line for commercial inquiries. Make sure your team clarifies the type of project requested before collecting the relevant information. The procedure for residential and commercial inquiries should differ if you offer both services. To download the call sheet template, visit Commercial Property Inspection Call Sheet.
Understanding Commercial Due Diligence
Most commercial transactions have due diligence periods that are much longer than those for residential transactions. These periods could be 60 to 90 days. Prospective clients are not looking for a commercial property inspection within 24 to 48 hours after their initial call. There is time for you to adequately research the property and produce a fair and accurate price for the services you will be providing. So, even if you answer your own phone, you should make sure to take a pause and do your preliminary research before you call the client back with a price.
The callers for commercial property inspections are typically different than prospective residential clients. They are generally subordinates of business professionals looking to provide a service. Their mindset is business-driven, not emotional. Your first point of contact may not necessarily be the direct CRE buyers, but individuals in charge of the building or property acquisition. In most cases, they have found you through a direct referral or through your various sales and marketing efforts.
So, the phone rings, and you, your call center, or an assistant or subordinate answers the phone. Ideally, the call should be answered with the mindset that the client is calling a commercial property inspection company, not a home inspection company.
“Hello. Thank you for calling Rob’s Commercial Property Inspections. How can we help you today?”
The client will begin asking questions about the services and perhaps other questions about you and the inspection process. Whoever answers the phone should start the conversation with, “Please let me gather some information so that we can research the building and get back to you with a better understanding of your property.”
Next, the call sheet should be completed, and the client should be given an expectation of when they will hear back from you or your team. Ideally, this will be within 24 hours. Never provide an immediate inspection date or price. A commercial property inspection is not as straightforward as a residential property inspection. You cannot fit commercial buildings into simple price matrixes without looking at the building first.
Wait… Why Pause?
Many experts on business relationships talk about client “touches” and how many are required before a potential client decides to use your services, and most agree that this number is three. So, the first touch will be when the client calls your office. Then, the third touch will be when you call the client back after your preliminary research. But what will be the second touch?
The purpose of this second touch is to reaffirm their inquiry and promise a callback from the lead inspector by a specific time after doing some research. There are several methods of producing the second touch. The first option is using an automated calling service. This type of service skips the live call and leaves a pre-recorded voicemail. There are programs you can set up and pay for that will do this for you. Other options include emails and text messages.
Preliminary research is important because you must look at the building before accurately determining your inspection fee. Your research will give you an idea of the complexity of the building, the number of inspectors needed, the type of specialty consultants needed, roof access needs, etc.
Some of the tools you can use for this step are:
1. online research and mapping: Search for the property on Loopnet.com, MLS, and Google Satellite; and
2. site visitation:
● Observe the property from your vehicle.
● Schedule a meeting with the client at the property (only necessary for large and complex projects).
The first option is the best. The MLS and Loopnet listings will provide the real estate listing and related documents. The real estate listing will include the size of the building, the size ratios between office space and warehouse space, and other details and descriptions that agents provide.
The internet research and mapping will let you see the exterior of the building, the shape and the height of the roof, and potentially the roof access point. It is important to consider roof access in this step because some roofs have an easy means of access, while others have no access at all. Knowing this before the client interview will give you the opportunity to set the proper expectations and give the client options. These options could include consideration for bringing a roofing contractor or other expert.
Determine Your Fee/Pricing
CCPIA has several resources available to help you create and customize your pricing models and matrixes. While no method is one-size-fits-all, they will help guide you through the process and items you should consider in determining your own formula. Based on your preliminary research, you should prepare a baseline fee before calling the client back as part of the third touch. This fee could change based on new information you gather in the third touch, but at least you will have a good starting point. Visit Resources for Pricing a Commercial Property Inspection to learn about setting a fee schedule.
Calling the Client Back: The Client Interview
After performing the research, establishing your comfort level with inspecting the building, and creating your baseline fee, it is time to call the client back. The client interview is your third touch and is the one that will convince the client that you are the inspector they should hire.
It is best if you do not start the conversation with the price. Instead, begin by talking to the client about the building, their business, and their expectations for the inspection, such as special requests and/or ancillary services they might need. You may consider any upward or downward fee adjustments depending on your conversation. This could include the inclusion of something new or the omission of some other item. For example, you may omit a specific system like the roof, or assess all apartments instead of a sample number. The client interview may also allow you to discuss your background, the ComSOP, and your preliminary research findings.
After the interview and after reviewing your previous research, it is time to present the fee to your prospective client. The client will either accept it or raise questions or objections. You can create the proposal and schedule the inspection if the client accepts the fee. However, you should be prepared to amend your fee or answer their objections, if any are presented. Ideally, at the end of this step, the client will have verbally accepted the proposed price and confirmed the day and time of the inspection.
Building the Proposal
The proposal is a written document and establishes the price expectations between you and your client. For information about the creation of a proposal, please refer to Anatomy of a Commercial Property Inspection Proposal and CCPIA’s Commercial Property Inspection Proposal Template.
The proposal should contain several important items:
- Property address
- Building description
- ComSOP reference
- Scope of Work
- Fees and retainers
- Delivery time frame and method
- Expiration date of proposal
This proposal can also include your inspection agreement as your scope of work, or it could include the list of experts you will be bringing to the inspection.
Some projects will be scheduled directly during the proposal process, but others might have to be scheduled after the proposal is accepted. Every client will have a different business operation process. There will be times that a proposal will be submitted for approval, and there could be several weeks between the submission and acceptance. That is why it is important to have some form of expiration in the document. It is not advised to schedule an inspection before having the proposal and agreement accepted and signed.
Remember: The proposal is the first written impression the client will receive about your firm. Making sure that it is well written and free of errors is very important.
Scheduling the Inspection
The client interview should conclude with a conversation about scheduling and coordinating the inspection. But generally, the inspection is officially on your schedule after the proposal and agreement are signed and remitted to you.
The client should be aware that you need to have access to the entire property and that if there are any locations that are off limits, they need to be identified. You may also discuss the occupancy status of the building. Confidentiality may be important during the site visit. If permitted, you could use the Notice of Inspection Letter after the proposal is accepted.
If you are bringing experts or other inspectors along on the inspection, they should all be present at the same time in order to cause the least amount of disruption for any tenants or employees on site. The care you take for optimum scheduling will be yet another positive impression you will be presenting to your client and to all of the other professionals associated with this project.
Performing the Inspection
Your work toward building strong business relationships is not over yet. You and your team need to be on time and professional. Inspectors can be placed in situations where they must interact with client’s employees or occupants. It’s often the case that they will not know that the building or property is being bought or sold. If this is the case, many commercial inspectors may call themselves insurance inspectors. After the inspection, make sure to acknowledge and thank everyone present and leave the property as you found it.
Article Written By: Rob Claus, CMI®