When John Dunbar joined Jancewicz & Son, in Bellows Falls, Vt., eight years ago as production manager, the handoff from sales to production was informal at best. “We used to work from a basic three-page proposal with very generic information,” he says. Today, a typical Jancewicz & Son proposal may run to 20 pages and includes digital photos. In many cases, a work crew could build the project using just the proposal, says Dunbar, who is now a sales manager.

The company's new detailed system leaves little to chance during the handoff to production. That focus has paid off. “Customer satisfaction has gone way up, customer complaints and callbacks are way down, and profitability is up,” Dunbar says. The company shoots for a healthy gross profit, “and we hit that target pretty regularly.”

AM I CLEAR? The handoff from sales to production is a critical juncture in a home improvement contractor's business. For many, though, it can be a raft of headaches and problems, resulting in an imperfect or even botched job and low customer satisfaction rates, almost all of which are avoidable.

“If there is an issue with a customer, 99% of the time it is something we didn't communicate clearly,” says Ed Ladouceur, president of Storm Tite Co., in Warwick, R.I. The solution is to manage the process with a system that collects critical details and communicates them to the right parties as the project proceeds.

Contractors use a variety of forms and checklists to make the process repeatable, to provide each individual with reminders of the small and large steps each must take, and to capture that information for future use. Problems immediately arise, for instance, if contract terms are nonexistent or unclear. “Everything begins with a contract that's been properly executed,” Ladouceur says. “People get into trouble because their contracts are ambiguous,” failing to clearly spell out what the contractor will and won't do. For example, what if on a typical roofing job, you recommend replacing old chimney flashing and pipe boots, but the homeowner doesn't want to pay for it? Ladouceur created a form to cover the situation and eliminate potential misunderstandings. “We have them sign the disclaimer [saying] they have elected not to do so,” he explains.

DEFINE, DELIVER, DIGITIZE A detailed, comprehensive contract is a necessary start, but contractors who have refined the sales/production handoff go well beyond that to channel everyone's efforts in the desired direction.

“It's not so much the handover as what you've done before you hand it over that's important,” says Steve Rennekamp, president of Energy Swing Windows, in Murraysville, Pa. “I use the expression, ‘define and deliver.' Once the job is sold, we spend a lot of time defining exactly what the customer's expectations are and exactly what we are going to do,” he adds.

Energy Swing Windows mostly uses a two-call close. On the first call, salespeople take rough measurements and digital photos, “especially of anything that's atypical from what we usually do,” Rennekamp says. The sales reps review those photos with the installation department to identify potential problems and arrive at an accurate price to present to the homeowner on the return visit.

Digital photos are also a “great tool” for Storm Tite, Ladouceur says. The salesperson photographs everything from the elevations of the house to small details that may prove crucial to the job or to logistics such as staging and Dumpster location. “All those things are agreed to before we leave the customer's house and are noted with a Sharpie on the digital photos,” he says.

At Energy Swing, only when the homeowner indicates that he or she wants to proceed do the company's salespeople “spend the time to define exactly what we are going to do,” Rennekamp says. They use a form that's something between a checklist and an order form to capture all the information, plus a follow-up sheet where, for example, they draw any window grid patterns involved, Rennekamp says.