A high percentage of facilities professionals contract out landscape maintenance services. The landscape maintenance industry is a maturing industry, and there are many qualified companies from which to choose. Unfortunately, due to the relative ease of entry into the industry, there are quite a few unqualified companies out there as well. How can you make sure that you are dealing with a service provider that will do the job that you expect?There are some obvious things that you are likely to do with all service providers, such as be certain that the contractor is licensed and insured. While landscape licensing requirements vary by state, most states require pest control licensing, some require irrigation licensing or certification, and some require contractors’ licenses.Another good indicator of a contractor’s professionalism is their choice of trade associations. Numerous reputable companies belong to the Associated Landscape Contractors of America (ALCA). Select trade associations, such as ALCA, provide superior training and certification for companies and individual employees.Increasingly, landscape professionals are earning certifications such as Certified Landscape Professional (CLP) or Certified Landscape Technician (CLT). Another positive gauge of qualification is the number of certified employees a contractor has assigned to your project.When you’re not specific about a certain type of reference, the company is likely to give you contact information for their best clients. However, by specifying that you’d like to talk with clients who have properties similar in size and scope to yours (which the company has maintained for at least 2 years), you’re likely to get more useful information from the references.There are some very important questions that need to be answered by a landscaping contractor during the proposal process. Their ability to clearly articulate the answers can be an important indicator of what kind of company they are and what kind of experience you may have as their customer:Who will be the person responsible for managing the contract?What is the staffing plan, and what is the tenure and experience of the people assigned to the job?What if you are not happy with the people assigned to your site?How will both on- and off-hour emergencies be handled?How will extra work be priced?What is the process for quality assurance on your project?Since the proposal and sales process is, to a degree, an exercise in comparing promises, you have to be able to assess intangibles within the process. You get an indication of how the contractor conducts business by evaluating the contractor’s actions throughout the proposal process. How thorough is the contractor? Is the contractor asking the right questions? Are they listening to and including everything that you are asking about? Are they proactively looking at improvements that could be made to your property? Do they promptly return phone calls and show up for appointments on time?Finally, it is critical to furnish detailed and consistent specifications to all companies submitting proposals. If you do not do this, it is really tricky to compare proposals on an “apples-to-apples” basis. Have contractors specify quantities of product being used for things like mulch. By doing so, you can often deduce why there are variances in their pricing. By asking for more detail, you can also get an indication of how well a contractor knows their business.Bruce K. Wilson is director at Symbiot’s Landscaping Network (www.symbiot.biz), which is headquartered in Sandy, UT.