I’d Rather be Golfing

I would prefer to play golf than do in-home price quotes–I am really tired of doing them. So I can’t dispute all the good reasons for skipping them. However, for those who are still on the fence, let me explain the reasons I still keep choosing them over golf:

  • The lost annuity associated with under-pricing a house by just $10 builds to a considerable sum over time, and depending on how you pay your cleaners, this sum may come straight off your bottom line. For a weekly customer, it’s $5,000 per year. Most owners would miss nine holes for $5,000.
  • The opportunity to give a half-hour sales pitch about your company, in person, to the customer doesn’t normally arise, except in connection with an in-home price quote visit.. This is true for those prospects we convert as well as those which are lost. And when you’re giving a sales pitch, there is no better prop than the customer’s home. Explaining to a prospect exactly what and how your cleaners will clean wins customers, and doing this by phone is less effective.
  • For the above reason and others, our close rate for in-home visits is significantly higher than for sales pitches by phone. Most importantly, our ability to win assignments at a premium price is enhanced by a personal visit. Prospects consistently choose us for a higher price, based on promises, in-person, from me as an owner.
  • I find it easier to manage customers I have met, than those I have not.
  • Customers whom I visit are more loyal than those I have not. Someday, when they get really annoyed at something we’ve done, they are likely to phone me if I have met them, or fire us if one of us has not.
  • Work orders for homes I have visited are better tailored than for homes I have not. Better work orders result in fewer misunderstandings, and perfect work orders usually translate to satisfied customers (which, of course, translates to higher client retention rates).
  • Staffing decisions for those homes I have visited result in better-tailored teams than for those I have not.
  • The probability that the team will get lost on the way to the initial clean is exponentially higher for those homes I have not visited than for those I have visited.
  • Refusing to give quotes over the phone can chase price sensitive and one-off customers to our competitors, which in the house cleaning industry, depending on one’s market position, can be a very good thing.
  • Bad debts smell like dirty rats, even before they become bad debts. They’re easier to smell during an in-home visit than by phone.
  • If I were to depend on one good reason for doing in-home visits instead of quoting by phone, it would be to avoid the down-side associated with quoting John Belushi a price over the phone: When a reincarnate needs his house cleaned right before his mother visits, he’ll put on his best Felix Ungar voice, and book a cleaning with the first company to provide a quote by phone. Please, for the next one, just let John B choose Merly Maids, not us.

It’s Not Just About Winning Assignments

You don’t have to be an Einstein to win house cleaning assignments at losing prices, so babbling about close rates is naïve. HCA’s Quote Win Rate represents a more interesting performance statistic for measuring the success of in-home quotes. The rate measures not just quotes won as a percentage of total quotes, but rather those quotes which meet our target for profit margin, as a percentage of total quotes for recurring assignments. If you can track it, then you might find the right salesperson to do in-home quotes for you, and by basing their pay on incentives linked to HCA’s Quote Win Rate, then maybe such a person can do in-home quotes nearly as effectively as you might. If I have ten persons ask me about this by Christmas, then we’ll make a form for it and make it available online. Otherwise, we’ll just use it at DC.

Taking the Call

There are two primary objectives in taking calls from a prospect. The first is to satisfy the prospect’s request for information, and the second is to book an in-home price quote visit.

When we receive a call from a prospect, we don’t ask many questions, because we don’t want to leave the impression that we are trying to harvest contact details before the prospect wishes to disclose them. We want the prospect to feel like we don’t mind if he or she asks 100 questions anonymously. Not everyone agrees with this approach; there are those who advise pumping every prospect for contact details for your database. Yes, then what? A prospect phoned you up, chose not to pursue the matter further because you repelled her with a lot of questions, and now you want to start sending her junk mail or calling her during her dinner? So, no premature pumping, because people aren’t that dumb and you’ll annoy them. Be cool. Be enthusiastic about your company. If she’s in a listening mood, then talk. If she’s in a talking mood then listen.

So, we let each prospect be anonymous for as long as he or she wishes. But there are a few questions which we usually sneak in during normal conversation which help us decide the best things to say during the call. One of the first things we ask as early in the call as possible is how the prospect heard about us. Another thing we might say is that we service different neighborhoods on different days, and then we ask her about her neighborhood. With a little luck, we might know some of her neighbors, but anyway, knowing her neighborhood can give us an idea of the size and price of her house without seeming to pry about her identity. Neighborhood generally provides our first (but not our best) clue about whether she is most likely to choose a company based on price or some other factor.

One other piece of information which we don’t mind knowing is what event prompted the call. If the conversation is going well, we would almost always ask who presently cleans the prospect’s house and why they wish to change. If our representative taking the call is not going to be doing the quote, then we take loads of notes throughout the call, because it’s a lot more fun doing in-home quotes when you have some idea about what you are going to find on the other side of that front door.

Booking the Visit

When you’re just starting out, you can win more assignments if you are willing to drop anything, anytime and run off to the end of the earth to do a price quote. If you are a start-up, at least in the beginning, I recommend it. Being the one company willing to do a quote on the spot, or on the weekend can make the difference in winning a couple extra assignments per month, and if these are recurring, the marginal work can represent a significant percentage of your total work.

I often find when I apply this approach that the homeowner is just so pleased that I seem so flexible that I am able to pick my own time anyway. So the impositions are not as frequent as one might expect.

In the beginning, you should consider doing quotes yourself, because your own enthusiasm and commitment can make up for any shortage of experience. If you try, you can find someone else who has house cleaning experience to do quotes for you, but unless she lacks your own desperate enthusiasm and commitment to getting a high price, you’re probably going to be better off doing them yourself.

As a start-up, you might have to take the calls too. Although, if it can be arranged, and especially if you have a partner, I think there are advantages in separating the phone answering and the in-home quotes. For one thing, having two different persons speak to a prospect represents convincing evidence that your company has more than one manager. Aside from that, having someone else speak with the prospect first can sometimes provide an opportunity to repeat and refocus some questions and in so doing allow you to refine your understanding about important matters which might affect price and other basic issues, like did the homeowner like her previous cleaner. If she loved her, you might have to take a softer approach to showing her the dirt. As opposed to if she fired the other cleaner for doing a bad job, you’re going to have to convincingly point out dirty stuff and cough up some promises, or she is going to just lump you in with the previous company or cleaner. So you have to know this stuff and the best case is that you learn this information before you ever get to the house.

Bring Something

There are loads of really lame competitors out there who do in-home visits without a marketing piece. They think that a business card or contract is going to do the trick. I really don’t understand it. If they lack the confidence in their venture to spring for 1,000 marketing pieces, then why don’t they just skip the failed enterprise step and go straight to greeting at Wal-Mart?. Is Molly Maid going to leave nothing when they do their quote? How about Merry Maids? Come on, you have to leave something besides a business card or contract behind. It’s not that big of a deal to come up with something here. It has to: a) look nice so it doesn’t get binned the moment you walk out; and b) have your promises and contact details written on it. If the homeowner saves it, if it has your quotes written directly on it in your hand writing, if it includes your contact details and a summary of your promises, then sooner or later she is going to call you to come around and clean her house.

Arriving at the House

Before you arrive at the house, you have to come up with three possible scheduling solutions for the house. We’re presently developing a mobile solution for this, but until we complete it, just figure out a few possible windows before you arrive. Oh yeah, and if you clean for her neighbors, make sure you know their prices and cleaning schedule.

I have a few basic rules about arriving at the house, but please don’t be insulted about them, if you find them too basic, somebody else might find them useful.

Whenever I get this wrong, it almost always costs me the job. Arrive a half hour early, do a drive-by then wait on another street in order to drive up five minutes before the meeting time. You kind of want to be at the door just a couple minutes early. I always wait a minimum of half an hour when I get stood up. I get stood up about one time out of five. If I come back to visit somebody who stood me up, I always get the quote, so I never take it hard. It’s just a percentage thing, and getting stood up is just another fun part of doing in-home quotes (did I mention that I would rather be golfing?).

Don’t park in the driveway, park in front of the house on the street whenever it is feasible to do so. That way you can avoid being interrupted by the teenage son half-way through the visit when he starts hollering that somebody has parked him into the garage, or by his father who returns home and starts hollering that somebody took his parking spot. This happened to me several times before I developed the rule—I’m a slow learner. If you don’t like the rule, go ahead, park in the driveway. Let me know how it goes.

Don’t look in the windows. Yes, of course it’s ridiculous that I am mentioning this, but some people actually do this kind of subconsciously while they are waiting for someone to answer the door. Ring the bell, then just step away from the door and pretend to be watching the street or reading your notes. You’re going to have to smile when somebody appears, so just think about that, make sure you have your booklet in your hand, and your card and a great big dumb grin. I love doing these visits.

When the prospect comes to the door, I introduce myself and give them the booklet and the card straight-away. The distraction of the gift provides me an opportunity to step out of my shoes and leave them on the front porch as I step into the house. Yeah, so that’s another rule. I walk up to the door with my shoes untied (only once did some guy notice that they were untied, or is he just the only one so far who mentioned it?). You have to do it quickly or one of ten people will ask you to take them off before you get a chance to finish and you’ll lose the points for having done it without being asked. And for the rest, if you do it quickly they probably won’t even notice until half-way through and then a surprising number will thank you for it. Well, I can’t even convince our General Manager to comply with this rule, so I don’t know why I’m mentioning it here. If you enjoy your shoes, just keep them on. I’ve never tried just wearing them, so please let me know how that goes, too.

What follows the weather?

Try to reach a consensus about the weather, and just keep refusing any casual offers of food and drink, because unless you’re meeting my Aunt Edith, the homeowner has no interest in serving you like you’re a guest or something.

Don’t be confused about this important point: you’re not a guest. And you’re not her new best friend, and you’re not there for anything but to give her the quote. You’re darn nice, only mildly friendly, incredibly patient, this visit means a lot to you, you’re keen, you’re thanking her for inviting your company. “This can take ten minutes or half an hour, just whatever your schedule allows.” You’re flexible, but you’re not here to lounge. Yeah, you have work to do. Just business, and you’re Mr Know Everything About Clean Man. Don’t tell her she has a beautiful house, because then she is going to think that your company doesn’t clean any other nice homes. Tell her that the hardwood floor has a very fine finish, or mention the nice blinds, or nice woodwork—that implies that you notice details, and she might then imagine that your company might actually clean details. And that’s usually my segue, a compliment about a fine detail, leading up to my first implicit or explicit promise.

A Pause before the Spin

I usually try to steer conversation towards an initial sort of brief sitting or more often a standing at the kitchen counter Q&A session, because it gives me a chance to talk about our company before talking about her house. This moment is prime time. If you skip it now and save your sales pitch until the end, you’ll be sorry. Then you’ll have to try to describe the best five reasons the homeowner should choose your company while you’re giving her the price, then she’s just going to stare at the price you’re giving her and ignore your babble. So, 1) five to ten minute Q&A including your sales pitch; 2) quizzes for pricing and 400 promises whilst romping through the house; and finally 3) five to ten minutes for prices and more promises.

During the exchange of Questions and Answers, it’s pretty important to get some information. There are loads of reasons for someone to invite you around for a price quote. You should do your best to understand the homeowner’s reason before you begin. The homeowner can usually be led to volunteer this. But, if all else fails, I just blurt it out, “Who cleans your home now? Are you happy with them?” It’s not always so straight forward, because sometimes the prospective customer just wants to take charge of everything. So then you have to just let her; don’t ever fight it, because if you do it will turn into a big wrestling match, you’ll always lose, and then she’ll despise you and not hire you.

Once you’ve gotten the basics out of her, talk about your employee pay rates, your pay systems, your training systems, your evaluation systems, your employee retention rates, your client retention rates, your worker’s comp insurance, you’re liability insurance, your fidelity bonding, (check her eyes. Is she still listening? Then continue about), your service philosophy, your personal involvement in management, your standards for checking thoroughness, your team leaders, your hiring standards, your promotion standards, your dependability rates, your uniforms, your key control systems, your equipment and supplies, etc. Yes, that’s a lot. But if you aren’t prepared to speak confidently about all those things, then you might consider rethinking some of your policies and practices. Anyway, as long as your service area doesn’t include Denver, you might do just fine with a shorter list.

The initial Q&A eventually deteriorates into a discussion about, “What you do you do to clean . . .” “Well, how about if we walk through the house then and we’ll discuss the details?”

The walk-through: Mr Clean Man, the Dirt, and Promises

If you can show a homeowner what it is exactly your company will do differently than the last cleaner, then you will win the assignment. If you can’t be convincing on this fact, then you’ll be winning just your low-ball offers. If you win just the low-ball offers, then your company will go bust. So, promises are pretty important.

Promises have to be detailed for them to be credible. If you wanted to make general promises, you could have done that on the phone. That’s where the deal about showing the dirt comes in. If you hire us, these baseboards will never be dirty. We’ll make them clean during the initial clean and they will never look like this again. See this fine line of lint along the edges of the carpet? That’s there because nobody is using an edging tool on your carpets. On light colored carpets like this, if you let that dust and dirt sit like that, it’s going to permanently discolor the carpet, and even the carpet cleaners won’t be able to lighten it completely (says Mr Know Everything About Clean Man). That’s why we use two vacuums in every home, every visit. So maybe we won’t have to vacuum those edges every visit since you don’t have pets, but the rule is when our quality manager comes and checks the house, the carpet edges, shower corners, under the beds—when our manager checks, all these details have to be just as clean as after the initial clean—no excuses.

When I first started doing in-home quotes, I didn’t like it much. I didn’t know jack about cleaning a house. I thought I would suffer a lot for that. In retrospect, I suffered very little, especially considering how much I deserved to have suffered for it. Two things have helped mitigate my intolerable ignorance about house cleaning: 1) you have to absolutely know your cleaning products and supplies and be darn sure how, precisely, they are used; and 2) you have to be able to show the homeowner the dirt. Since I kind of have these things down pat, the Know Everything part of the Mr Clean Man show hasn’t ever really been a problem. Of course it would be easier if I had ever cleaned even just one house. But since I haven’t, I’ve had to just kind of depend on management skills. I know that kind of annoys a lot of clean-with-the-team house cleaning entrepreneurs. The fact is most of them would do well to accept that for a house cleaning enterprise committed to scale, success depends more on management skills than house cleaning skills. For those with both, well, that would be quite nice. Of course, I’m digressing . . .

So then, how many people live here normally? Yeah, you have to kind of work the questions in during the walk-through. If you don’t know the questions, then read my Article about the Pricer. Don’t wait until the end, until the walk through is over and ask how many bathrooms are in the house. You’ve just walked the house, if you were paying attention you’d obviously know how many bathrooms you walked through. But for me, it doesn’t work that way—I can’t count bathrooms on the fly to save my life, because I’m too busy hijacking the walk-through and turning it into a sales show charade deal—I can’t be counting bathrooms. Oooooh, hmmm, Ooh, what about these shower corners? We can make these grout lines white again, but the caulk might not become completely white. It’ll be a lot better than this, but it needs to be re-caulked. And so on and so forth.

When the whole walk-through is done, I have my notes with the answers to all my statistics questions and I have sufficient impressions to put a value on each of the subjective factors, and if I’m lucky enough not to have left it inside the shower, I may still have my pen. What’s the point? The point is that I just spent 20 minutes being jumping up and down Mr Know Everything About Clean Man, and in the process I spontaneously spewed about 400 promises. And that’s how I win all those house cleaning assignments on the basis of everything but price. Oh yeah, and I have my notes for the work order.

Work Orders

Really detailed work orders lead to really tailored service.

I’ve tried using forms for walking through a house. I can’t do it. I know Mrs Molly does it, but I just can’t. The problem I have is that I’m doing the whole charade show deal, so I just don’t have time to fill in a bunch of darn boxes, or get stuff on the right lines. And I’m following Mrs homeowner [Oops, almost forgot another rule—I didn’t make this one up, so you’ll have to follow this one: always allow a lady to go first, except: 1) through a revolving door; 2) into a bar; and 3) up a flight of stairs.]. And I’m following Mrs homeowner all around her house and she’s going into whatever room she feels like, so I end up jumping all over the form as we switch rooms.

The point is, everybody keeps asking me for my form. And when I tell them I don’t have one, they think I just don’t want to show it to them. The fact is, I binned my form years ago. It didn’t work. It was more trouble than it was worth. Now I use the stream of consciousness system. I just walk behind her and write like a maniac when she’s talking and then make promises like a maniac when she’s not. There is no form. There is a long list of detailed barely legible notes scribbled across as many pages of a yellow legal pad as I require. Amongst them are scribbled my price statistics which I pare out when I’m sitting at the end, calculating a price quote.

The Price of Clean

Don’t panic, because it’s just a fact: you’re going to get the price wrong. If it is ridiculously high, then you’ll never speak with this lady again. If it is ridiculously low, you’re going to lose money for a month or two, then just suck it up and raise your price by such a big amount that you’ll never clean for this lady again after that. Obviously, in terms of just those two bad outcomes, the second one is way worse.

Of course, you’re kind of shooting to be in the ballpark, but you’re not going to get it exactly right, and sometimes you’re just plain going to get it wrong. I wish I could tell you every little secret about how I fall upon a price. I have that statistics tool. It says more about how I do it than I can blabber about, so maybe I’ll just leave it at that. It’s going to be available as a hand-held unit soon. In the mean time, if you have one of our websites you have access to all the levers and what not, so you can just mess around with it and find out what I would quote for all those scenarios you care to build using our scenario builder.

Well anyway, let me just talk hypothetically about what factors might make me adjust the prices I get from that hypothetical hand-held pricer deal. Is she going to pay us or not? Is she going to lock us out? Is she going to have a go at hiring away my cleaners? Is she going to do the scope creep deal (ask my cleaners to clean the basement and wash the dog even though it’s not priced into my quote)? Is she going to be a reasonable, polite individual? Is she flexible on scheduling? Ding, ding, ding, ding. These things affect my price. Not all of them used to, but now I just let them flow—I just factor them all in. And sometimes, as a result, my prices are so high that I finish second instead of first.

Second Place can be Better

If she’s shopping this deal hard, she’ll let slip a few clues—she’ll ask questions which obviously are comparative in nature. Something which smells a little to Merly Maidish, like what if I leave dishes, will you leave them in the sink? Aha! That’s a Merly Maid trick. She’s read it right off their slick little brochures, and she doesn’t like it that the brochure says “No dishes.”. Or maybe even Merly Maids has been here cleaning before and she canned them. She’s a savvy little maid service shopper, this one. Good. I’m going for second. I usually decide it before I write up the quotes, but sometimes I decide it on the fly once I’ve read her face while she’s reading my quotes:

“There are a lot of maid services in Denver and they all provide different levels of services for different prices. If you get three quotes, you’ll generally find that ours is the highest, certainly never the lowest. We win customers by offering thorough and dependable house cleaning. We spend longer in customers’ homes than other companies, and our prices reflect that. So what I normally recommend is for customers to get two or three quotes and if you are not sure between two companies, which one you like the best, just pick the cheapest of the two and see if they satisfy your needs. If you’re happy with them, then you’ve saved money. If you’re not, then you can always give us a call later. My quotes are good for one year. So hang onto that and give me a call anytime. We’ll be glad to hear from you.”

This often floors the homeowner. “No, no, I’m tired of trying the others—I don’t want to keep wasting time with this. When can you start?” If she wants to book it, then book it right there on the spot. Propose a date. Propose another date. Check her date by phoning the office. If she wants to book, you want to book. If she wants to wait, you want to wait.

No!! No!! Don’t say No!

I’ve made two of them cry before during the in-home visits. I’m not even joking. They each just kept asking for more. I never said no to one thing. I just kept making them loads of promises, and they just kept getting happier and happier, and more demanding and more demanding. Then I gave them the prices and made them cry. I didn’t win them both (just one for a few weeks), but I made them cry. So I guess my sales pitches were pretty good. They both must have been naturally emotional, and they sure loved those “yes’s.”

With my yes / no thing, it’s sort of a matter of personal philosophy, but also you have to be aware of what is happening out there everyday in your market. The major franchises have divvied up your whole metro market into little postage stamp-sized territories and sent a bunch of people dressed up in green and blue golf shirts out there to run around and tell your prospective customers, “No.” If you don’t believe this, have a look at those glossy brochures they’re handing out. They have “no’s” written all over them. Why? Because the big Merly in the sky knows that you can lose money saying yes, and the big Merly is afraid that if he doesn’t set really detailed guidelines for the flock that quite a lot of them could be repeatedly and fatally taken advantage of. So they’ve come up with this rule, like “Never wash dishes, you can lose money washing dishes.”

Dishes? Of course you can lose money washing dishes. So don’t get me wrong: the smartest guys in the house cleaning industry are the franchisors. I’m not talking about all of them, just Merry Maids, Molly Maids, The Maids International, Maid Brigade and MaidPro. The guys that run those national companies are smart, and they know their stuff. And they’re telling their franchisees to say “no” to doing some stuff. Now here I am telling you to say “yes” instead, right? Well no, I’m not actually telling you to say “yes.” What I’m saying is that those franchisors do know what’s best for themselves and sometimes even for their franchisees, but for me, I just have to be smart enough to price a “yes.” I can do that.

When John Belushi needs his dishes washed, and if his Aunt Addie just died and left him a big mansion, then why shouldn’t our company wash his dishes for an hourly price? I just take the no, dress it up with a big fat hourly price tag and sell it as a “yes.” If they buy it, then I’ve won a customer who Merly Maids never could have taken.


I don’t feel as desperate as I used to about winning every assignment. I still do the Mr Promise Clean Man show. I’m still really keen to win each customer one by one, but I just haven’t bought a house cleaning assignment for a long time. These in-home quotes aren’t really that bad. You just have to get past the first 100, or so; that’s about when I got really good at them. I didn’t start getting really bored silly with them until around number 50. Can you imagine how much golf I’ve missed?

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