Formula for a Successful Security Survey

The site survey is part of both the sales and bidding process. Many bids will stipulate a mandatory site survey. Sometimes they refer to it as a mandatory walk-through.

Often the site survey can be done by contacting the end-user and scheduling an appointment. If you are lucky, a representative for the end-user who is familiar with the site and the project will be available. If you are not so lucky, you will be asked to sign in and then sort of told what general direction to go and where not to go. These unescorted walk-throughs prevent interaction with the customer and limit what you can accomplish during your visit.

Sometimes one joint walk-through will be scheduled, and you will have to show up with everyone else planning to bid the project. Occasionally there will be an option for you to plead for an alternate walk-through

The benefits to the customer of having a scheduled walk-through are that they can register all serious bidders, make general remarks and distribute documentation about the project to every one at one time; and hopefully maintain a level playing field for all the contenders.

The mandatory walk-through may also deter a casual bidder who is not conveniently located to the site. You can easily kill a day participating in a walk-through, especially if a few hours of travel each way is required.

There have been situations where more vendors showed up than anticipated, and we’d be split up into smaller groups for the orientation and site tour. Under these conditions, it is easy to get lost in the crowd and it’s a struggle to trying to hear questions and comments in the front of the group.

At some walk-throughs, you might be directed to email your questions so they can respond by email to all who signed in to the walk-throughs Often there will be a closing date for questions to be submitted which corresponds to the bid submittal deadline.

A few times the bid submittal deadline has been pushed back because question submitted made the end-user realize they forgot to include something, and addendums would be necessary.

On more than one occasion, questions I raised caused the cancellation of the bid while the owner went back to the drawing board and rethought the project.

Addendums are clarifications or changes to the project. When you submit your bid, you are usually required to confirm that your bid reflects all the addendums that were issued.

A poorly written bid specification is an open invitation for trouble. A bidder will bid a job strictly to the spec, knowing the system will not work correctly or is incomplete as described, and when the discrepancies become apparent, they will have the inside track, and will be protected by the contract so they can fulfill the change-orders without having to bid them competitively.

I have occasionally pointed out discrepancies in the specification, only to be told to bid it as written and they’d play catch up later. Taking the initiative by adding items or deviating from the bid spec will actually give the advantage to someone who follows the rules.

In my opinion, seasoned facility people recognize there are shortcomings in the process where the low bidder wins but a low bid is something everyone understands. It does not require technical expertise to differentiate lump sums to determine which is lowest.

There are situations where they modify the process to include other factors in the bid selection process, like vendor experience, or ability to provide warranty services after the installation.

How you as a bidder feel about the particular bidding process in play will be determined by your own company’s competitive stance. Sometimes subjectivity can work in your favor, and sometimes it works against you.

On the other hand, consistently being low bidder might put you out of business. When I first went into business, I subcontracted for a locksmith. (At that point in time, in that part of the world, subcontracting was permitted). This guy had a very successful business, but there were other lockshops in the area. I became aware that his competitors were providing key duplication for less that he was, and I told him this and that I thought it was costing him business.

He said he knew very well what his competitors were charging. He told me that he could have a line of customers around the block if he kept lowering his prices, but he wouldn’t be working smart. His margins would be lower, he’d be expending manpower working cheaply, and he’d be distracted from going after more profitable endeavors and servicing his repeat and infinitely more valuable commercial accounts. Homeowners come in for a key copy occasionally, at best, but your commercial accounts pay the bills.

Another successful locksmith I did business with along the way put it another way; he said by undercharging, you reduced your activities to ‘exchanging money’ rather than you getting more than it cost you to perform the service. He was against lowering his prices to where he was breaking even or losing money.

Often a mistake will be made in the bidding process where you overlooked something and wound up low bidder by accident. Some guys will deliberately low ball a job. Sometimes it is to frustrate the competitors. Sometimes it is to get their foot in the door.

The idea of losing money on the first project with hopes of making it back on the next job is a tactic you may either do intentionally or a rationalization you will employ if you messed up. I imagine most readers can say they’ve been there and done that already.

I have observed situations where low bidding, and then experiencing project delays or other problems, has led to credit crunch and or cash flow problems. Many mergers and acquisitions are the result of a company overextending itself trying to grow the business, getting stuck, then having to sell to a former competitor.

The contracting entity hopes that by requiring a site survey, bidders will pay attention and price the job carefully. This will hopefully result in a better installation for the best price, and the client can make it part of the contract that the dealer cannot use not seeing the project as an excuse for not doing the job right, or as an excuse for a change order, confusion about the scope of work or justification for an up charge or project delay.


Three Reasons

Many times a site survey is part of the sales process and the survey is important for three reasons.

One: It is an opportunity for you to develop a relationship with the client by meeting him on his turf. In this modern era, many people try to build a relationship with an email or a telephone conversation. Although these are important communication tools, in some cases an in-person meeting is desirable. Telephones are good for taking orders, like you order a cheese pizza over the phone. Making a sale is not the same as taking an order. Emails are best when used for follow up or exchanging information, not embarking on a new relationship. Also emails are best when they are short and to the point.

Two: The survey gives you the opportunity to see the site first-hand to best evaluate what is required. Usually the survey will reveal things the owner failed to divulge, or allow you to see opportunities for other sales.

The primary mission is to provide the customer what he wants, but it has been my experience that once I gain the client’s trust, he is likely to ask me to recommend products in order to achieve what he wants. I know I have a warehouse full of equipment, and it would be great to bring a few truckloads of it over, but that isn’t how it works. Customers are usually interested in hearing what you have to say, unless they were issued a punch list and strict orders not to deviate from it, in which case they are looking to place an order, so you can do this over the phone and email.

Third: The survey is when you will not only design the system you are offering but also try to figure out how you are going to install it so you can make your best guesstimate on the labor which will be required.

One of the best parts of doing site surveys is that you are never exactly sure what you are going to encounter. If a security professional is poised to offer a number of different products and services, he is creating opportunities for himself when he walks onto a new site.

Realistically, every site survey does not result in a sale, but that’s how it goes in sales. But going in person, making a professional and non-threatening presentation, being alert and taking good notes will increase your chances of creating a new account, closing a sale and finding unexpected needs you can professionally fulfill for the end-user.

I recently surveyed a site. Someone else had already been selected for the video surveillance cameras, so I was going to try and get whatever was left over. What was originally anticipated to be a few standalone access controllers has grown to include closers, networked access, exit devices, hinges and low energy door operators.

If you don’t make the effort, be assured someone else will.