When preparing for a sales pitch or producing client reports, many roofing professionals don't use the sales tools available to them.

Imagine it's the ninth inning of the seventh game of the World Series. The score is tied, with two outs. The batter approaches the plate and assumes his batting stance. But wait - instead of the usual wood bat, he's holding a plastic wiffle ball bat! The bat shatters as it makes contact with the ball, and the ball dribbles into the infield where it is easily caught and the runner is thrown out, ending the inning.

While this scenario may seem far-fetched, it illustrates the importance of using the right tools - especially in a clinch situation. Yet when preparing for a sales pitch or producing client reports, many roofing professionals don't use the sales tools available to them, such as proposal-writing software. And if they're facing competition that does use these tools, they may quickly find themselves striking out.

The New Rules of Selling

It almost goes without saying that today's market is more competitive than ever. Budgets are tight, and building owners may be reluctant or unable to spend the money to purchase a new roof. Therefore, it is important for roofers to sell on-going accounts - such as maintenance and inspection programs - instead of simply bidding on the most visible, large project. Many building owners and facility managers aren't very knowledgeable about roofs, however, and so have to be educated about the importance of regular maintenance and inspections.

This means that in addition to acting as a sales tool, proposals and reports also need to be informative and provide the building owner or manager with a clear snapshot of what is going on with the roof. The proposals need to show problem areas, explain how they occurred, and discuss what needs to be done to repair or prevent the problem. And all of this needs to be done without using "roofing jargon," which is meaningless to the building owner.

An Important Tool of the Trade

Fortunately, a good proposal-writing software program can help roofing professionals present a wealth of information in formats that are easy to understand. For instance, some programs let users include CAD drawings and photographs, which have been marked-up to highlight roof problem areas. Not only do these graphics make information easier to understand and absorb, but they also provide a level of detail necessary to help the building owner make an informed decision. Other types of information that can be incorporated in proposals include outlines of the building showing roof sections, rooftop details and moisture surveys.

Gathering and exhibiting all of this data is streamlined with a proposal-writing program because many of them use preformatted templates to make it easier for contractors to enter information. Not only do these templates reduce the amount of time it takes to generate proposals, but they also ensure that all proposals use a consistent, easy-to-read format - again making it easier for the building owner to follow along.

Finally, proposal-writing programs generate very professional-looking and well-organized reports and proposals - always a strong selling point. In fact, the leading roofing manufacturers appreciate the competitive value of these programs so much that they provide them to their lucky sales staff and contractors. And recently some major roofing trade organizations have expressed interest in these programs as a way for their members to raise their professionalism.

Evaluating the Players

If a proposal-writing software program seems to be a beneficial tool for you, how can you determine which proposal writing software program is right for you? Consider the following:

Is it specific to the roofing industry? While there are general proposal writing programs out there, your best bet is to go with one that is geared specifically to the roofing industry. These programs usually include items unique to the industry such as inspection reports, maintenance schedules and roof plans. Some programs also offer preformatted proposals for ease of use - just make sure these can be customized to meet your organization's needs. In addition, look for a program that offers "smart lists,' which are predefined lists of standard entries, such as terms like "ponding water" or "wind scouring." These lists can be accompanied with "smart text", which is predefined text - such as the definition of "ponding water" - that can be inserted in memo fields. These little details make the proposal more meaningful for building owners and facility managers.

Other features to look for in a roofing-specific proposal writing program are the ability to generate multi-roof proposals, the capability to attach and mark-up external files such as PDF files, CAD drawings, and photographs, and a process for exporting information to roofing asset management programs.

Is the program easy to use? Obviously, a proposal-writing program isn't going to have much of an impact if it is too complicated to use efficiently. Look for a program that has a familiar layout like Microsoft Outlook to make navigation easier. Other options to look for are separate proposal and details folders. This helps organize the information by storing "standard" information such as the client's name, roof photos and the proposal layout in the proposal folder, and details about specific roof sections in the details folder. Another handy feature is a wizard, which guides the user through the steps of creating a proposal. Look for copy features that make recreating a new proposal easier by re-using portions of other proposals.

Does it produce professional-looking reports? The reports and proposals generated by these programs should be well-organized, pleasant to look at, and perhaps most important, easy to follow and understand. Keep in mind that the main purpose of a report or proposal is to communicate in a manner that is easily understood. A report with pretty pictures and graphics is useless if the reader can't comprehend what is being said. By the same token, a report with all print and few graphics can appear daunting and unappealing.

In today's aggressive business world, it is important for roofing contractors to use the tools they need to stay competitive. Using a proposal-generating software program can not only help contractors stay in the game, but it might even generate some home runs!