by Ron Segura

Carpet cleaners are almost always looking for new ways to generate revenue, and although we may hear discussions about offering this or that add-on service, one of the most significant ways to take a carpet cleaning business to a higher level is to take on commercial accounts.

This could include accounts in an entire assortment of industries, from food service and schools to medium and large office buildings. Very often these locations are cleaned in house or by hired contract cleaners that provide an array of services — that is, except for carpet cleaning, specifically, carpet extraction.

Before you start knocking on doors or responding to requests for proposals (RFPs) for carpet cleaning work, I want to give you a little heads-up on how the game has changed in the past few years. The days of just responding to an RFP or bidding on an account, in this case to clean their carpets, and then waiting to hear from the prospect are coming to an end. This is especially true when working with larger organizations — schools and universities as well as corporate campuses — but we are seeing this filter down to smaller organizations as well.

And the big change is this: You are going to be expected to give a presentation. Typically, once the organization has narrowed down the RFPs to three to five contenders, the applicants are all invited to the prospect’s facility to give a presentation. The prospect presentation is usually about 30 to 60 minutes, usually in a conference room, and usually with all contenders presenting on the same day. So, don’t be surprised if you pass one or more of your competitors on the way in or out of the building.

Having the presentations on the same day makes it much easier for the prospect. First, they will likely have a few people attending the event and will have had to work around multiple schedules. Second, they are better able to compare the contenders when they see them one right after the other.

Things to do and not do

Before we go into how to structure your prospect presentation and ways to make your presentation stand out, there are a few dos and don’ts we should cover:

  • Do arrive at the scheduled time; tardiness will count against you.
  • Do dress appropriately, such as wearing business casual attire, although suit and tie are not usually necessary. (Note: It’s usually better to be overdressed than underdressed.)
  • Do come prepared with a PowerPoint or similar presentation. It does not have to be “slick,” but it should look professional.
  • Do remember the PowerPoint slides are to complement your presentation. They shouldn’t become the talk. This means:
    • Do not read from the slides.
    • Do not put too much text on each slide.
    • Do not have too many slides — try to have just enough to cover the key points in your presentation.
  • Do make sure the prospect presentation addresses everything the prospect has requested.
  • Do bring notes to ensure you cover these items and everything else you want to discuss.
  • Do not read from a script or memorize the presentation; it’s better to just talk.
  • Do rehearse your talk. Practicing will help you feel more comfortable and allow you to time the talk. When “winging” a presentation, it is invariably either too short or too long, neither of which is acceptable.
  • Do pass out handouts if you want, but do not pass them out while you are talking because it will prove distracting for you and the prospect.

The prospect presentation structure

There are no cut-and-dried rules as to how the prospect presentation should be made.

Some people like to structure it like a story, first talking about themselves and their businesses. This is fine, but also provide a summary of what you will be discussing. By summarizing the main points you will be covering, you will be less likely to be interrupted with questions that you had planned to address later on in your presentation.

After presenting the summary and taking a few minutes to talk about your business, address all the items that were requested in the RFP. These may include such things as:

  • How you came up with your estimate,
  • How many people will be involved in the actual carpet cleaning,
  • Insurance issues,
  • Whether you conduct background checks on your staff,
  • The type of equipment you will use and why,
  • The types of cleaning solutions you will use; if the prospect has requested green-certified cleaning solutions, you may want to provide a list of those products and which organization(s) certified them,
  • Supervision procedures and quality control,
  • How you prefer to communicate with the client (by email, telephone, etc.).

Finally, never leave without offering the prospect a suggestion or two. For instance, provide the prospect with suggestions as to how they could reduce their carpet cleaning costs; become “greener” or more sustainable; use less water for cleaning, if that is a consideration; or make the facility cleaner or healthier. Very often it is these suggestions that can sway the odds in your favor…winning you the contract.

Many contractors find they have a hidden talent when it comes to these presentations. They enjoy doing them and are very good at them. However, in most cases, the prospect is looking beyond your proposal and beyond how good you are at making a presentation. They are looking for something much more subjective — someone they believe they can work with, trust, and partner with.

Ron Segura is president of Segura Associates. His company works with large organizations to streamline their cleaning and building operations as well as promote sustainability and healthier cleaning strategies so that facilities function more effectively and efficiently and realize a cost savings. He can be reached through his company website at www.seguraassociates.com.