Cream of the Crop features a rotating panel from the Harvest Group, a landscape business consulting company.

Does this scenario sound familiar to you? You receive a call for what sounds like a great new project. It is a complete backyard renovation with a stone patio, pergola, fire pit and screen plantings.

You jump in your car and drive 45 minutes to meet the new prospect. You then spend two hours walking through the project with the prospect exchanging design ideas and potential budgets. You are about to wrap things up and head back to the office to start designing the project when they mention their timeline. The project needs to be completed in six weeks for their daughter’s wedding. Your lead time is 10 weeks out, and you have no flexibility in the schedule. You have no choice but to politely turn down the project.

As you drive back to the office, you are kicking yourself for wasting 3½ hours of your time at a busy time of year. You will never get these hours back. How could this have been averted?

Pre-screen and qualify your prospects.

You must find ways to work smarter, not harder. This starts with implementing a solid, well-structured pre-screening and qualifying program. The program should be documented and trained so several people in your organization can do the screening and pre-qualifying of the prospects that call.

Building the program has a number of facets to it:


This is the first step where you make sure that the prospect’s project aligns with the work you do. The prospect may need a large tree removed from their property. You do not do arborist work, so you can let the prospect know that you do not offer this service. At that point you can end the call or refer the prospect to a company that you know does good work. Be careful when referring work to another contractor. The work they do reflects directly back to you. Referring to the wrong company could jeopardize future work with that client.

Given the right parameters, a receptionist or someone in your office with a good phone presence can perform this function.

Qualifying the prospect.

Now that you have determined that this is a solid prospect, you need to qualify the prospect. This is where you talk in-depth with the prospect to get a better understanding of the scope of work and services needed to be sure this prospect is a good fit for your company. This function is generally performed by the salesperson or designer.

Create a script.

To be sure that you are carefully qualifying the prospects that call, it’s important to follow a script so you cover all the critical questions. In the heat of the season, it is easy to hurry through the qualifying process and move on to the next tasks. Having a script will allow a number of people in your organization to perform this function and will go a long way in assuring you that you will be meeting with a great prospect.

Create a list of qualifiers.

The qualifiers will make sure that you are not chasing after prospects that you will never work with. Qualifiers should include:

    1. Timing – What is the client’s timeline or deadline? Does it align with your schedule and backlog?

    2. Minimum project size – You should know what the minimum project size you do to ensure profitability. What is your cost to send out a three-man crew in one of your trucks fully equipped? Is it $3,000? $5,000? $10,000? You cannot afford to run out to perform some small projects.

    3. Location – Is this project in your normal service area? If it is well beyond, you may want to turn it down unless it is a direct referral from one of your great existing clients.

    4. Design Fees – These fees are great qualifiers. If a prospect is unwilling to pay for design fees, it is highly likely that they are just out “shopping” for the lowest price.

    5. Consultation fees – Your initial meeting may be complimentary, but make sure the prospect knows that there is a one-hour limit. Beyond an hour, your hourly consultation fee should kick in. This will help prevent Mrs. Jones form walking you though her garden for three hours to pick your brain and get design ideas.

By creating and documenting a solid pre-screening and qualifying process, your chances of finding a great new client go up exponentially along with your sales. The amount of wasted time in your day, will be drastically reduced as well.

Contact Jud Griggs at