Staying competitive as a construction estimator is an ongoing challenge. Creating an affordable — yet realistic — bid, while still satisfying customer criteria, is no small task. That, combined with the fact that companies normally close on a mere 10 - 20 percent of bids, means that the job of an estimator is tough as nails.
The above challenges underline one simple truth: in order to stay competitive in this field, you must set your bids apart. This huge responsibility falls on your shoulders as the project estimator.
As the person tasked with developing construction bids, you are the invaluable progenitor of project success. Your company’s ability to close on new business is directly correlated to your efficiency and accuracy in bid estimation and development. So, what qualities are customers looking for in a construction bid, and how can project estimators make their work stand out?
First and foremost: the customer is (almost) always right. At the end of the day, customers have the final say on construction bids, and it’s your job to make sure they pick your company. Estimators should use client concerns as a compass to guide project bid development.
No one project is the same, but there are a few common client requirements that apply to nearly all bids:
A thorough understanding of the job requirements
Flexibility regarding solutions
Respect for the stated budget
Adaptability in order to avoid endangering quality or long-term value
You’ll notice that “lowest price” is not listed here. For one, a client interested solely in the lowest price point runs the risk of sacrificing project quality, safety, and other non-financial priorities.
“Affordability” is abstract enough that clients put it on their priority list, but ultimately it can be difficult for estimators to identify exact ways to achieve this amorphous goal.
This is not to say that the project bottom line isn’t important, but end-all-be-all project affordability is closely wrapped up in other common client concerns, and by addressing it indirectly you can achieve more.
By focusing on actionable tasks like the ones listed above, estimators can better exert control over project efficiency, affect cost indirectly, and make bids more attractive to prospects.
2. Personalized project details
Personalizing a job bid requires a pinch of personality and a dash of interpersonal skills — be sure to ask intelligent, probing questions and let natural curiosity guide client conversation. Tailoring a bid to clients’ specific needs will help your company rise above the competition.
No customer wants to feel like they are receiving a canned, generic bid that derived from a template. To prove you put in the legwork your client deserves, create a fully itemized accounting of materials, labor, and other expenses. Details will instill confidence in the customer and prove that you took their needs into consideration at the micro level.
Try including alternative recommendations — in the event of extenuating circumstances, customers like to have options. Be prepared to explain the pros and cons of these auxiliary options in the event the customer wants variation.
What if the customer doesn’t know what they want? When it comes to customer indifference, you will be expected to defend the advantages of a particular option and translate jargon into layman's terms.
4. Know when to push back
The customer is certainly entitled to their opinions and preferences, but sometimes they don’t fully understand the circumstances of the project. Sometimes you need to stand your ground and explain the non-negotiables — you are the expert after all.
For example, customers will often dispute a project price, but cost reduction should never be at odds with project safety or quality. If a budget is unrealistic and the customer is unwilling to budge on requirements that might compromise building success, it’s in your best interest to opt out of the potential deal.
Worthwhile customers will appreciate your counsel and recognize that a “yes man” firm will cost project success in the long term.
5. Use the right technology
Here’s the hard truth: the job of a project estimator is already hard enough without having to juggle the considerations already listed.
Leveraging the right software solutions helps estimators keep up with a high quantity of bids while also improving the quality of deliverables. In the digital age, it can be hard to keep up with the ever-evolving construction technology landscape. This means that estimators should not be asking themselves if new technologies will help them stay ahead of the competition, but rather which technologies will help them stay ahead of the competition.
Some technologies especially relevant to estimators include:
All-in-one estimation platform — Software that facilitates the construction workflow with estimators in mind. From estimating to billing, software that connects the historically fragmented areas of the construction process will greatly improve project efficiency and worker collaboration.
Instant bid summary — Compare components using labor-to-material ratios, costs per foot, per system, or per floor. This software streamlines on-the-fly adjustments and modifications.
Project management — Quickly create a construction schedule or material lists for suppliers by breaking the bid down into logical parts.
Emerging engineering, design, and manufacturing software is making the constructible workflow more efficient than ever. Don’t fall behind the technological curve — it’s impossible to develop a competitive bid without the right tools.