Updated: Sep 12, 2020
A beautifully crafted proposal is no substitute for a meaningful relationship with a client.
You submit the winning proposal, and once the contract is signed, the newly acquired customer takes you aside and says, “We chose you because through the whole sales process, we felt like you really knew us.”
(And notice, they didn’t say, “we chose your organisation”.)
I think that’s the best compliment a new customer can give you.
Has a customer ever said that to you? They would if every interaction you had with them was 100 per cent focussed on them.
From initial exploratory meetings and ongoing encounters that delve into their problems or goals, to written correspondence and face-to-face presentations that spoke to their ambitions, fears, hopes and dreams, this is what you should be aiming for: to make the customer feel like you know them, inside and out.
If you can do this, it’s tough for your competition to beat you on price or by offering a more innovative solution.
Neglectful At Best, Disrespectful At Worst
Alas in B2B IT, we’re often not that good at taking the time to get to know prospective customers. Heck, we frequently neglect current customers until they release a Request for Proposal (RFP) and let us know about it together with our competition at the public briefing.
I’ve sat in meeting rooms to help put together a tender and have heard individuals negatively talk about a customer yet not pause to think how our smart solution will support the customer’s goals.
When putting together deals in B2B IT, we spend more time ‘solutioning’ than communicating the why, who, what, how and the where. Occasionally the what and the how are explained though not well. And rarely do we eloquently speak to the why?
You Get Me
Why does the client care about you, vendor? It’s not because you’re in the top right-hand corner of Gartner’s Magic Quadrant or you have some prestigious brands as your customers. Sure, these credentials support your sales pitch, but that’s not why the client picks you.
They pick you because you get them and their why. Why they need to make some big changes right now. You know why they’re afraid they might not make it. You know why they’re excited about a risky but potentially lucrative plan to expand a product line. You know why a new technology platform is the secret to their success. You know which parts of that technology platform they absolutely must have and which parts they don’t care for.
We Lack Tenderness
How do you know all these whys and wherefores? Well, you’ve taken the time to get to know the customer. To “love them tender, love them true.”
Well, “duh”, you might say, “I’ve done my research, looked them up on LinkedIn and also searched for news articles about them.” That’s not getting to know the customer, that’s more like speed dating. Two minutes of your time doesn’t cut it, that’s not a relationship. Yet you expect the customer to hand over thousands if not millions of dollars of business.
It makes no sense. But still, we grab the RFP, fill it out and submit. Get nowhere, so we complete another RFP, submit, get nowhere, complete another RFP, and on it goes.
We’re Doing Bids Wrong
First: We get excited about the technology and not the customer. We have a team of technical experts rushing to sit in a room and design the solution before they’re made aware of the client’s business needs, the real needs, not the ones outlined in the RFP document.
On the other hand, the lead sales executive and their support team are not sitting in a room spending hours doing the hard work required to figure out the decision-makers and influencers on the customer side. Occasionally there will be a pursuit strategy workshop but alas many times the sales executive turns up with scant insight or knowledge of the customer.
My question is: “How can you strategise when you don’t even know where the pieces go on the chessboard?” The strategy session turns into a “let’s research the client” meeting.
Also, the pursuit strategy workshop shouldn’t be about listing the decision-makers and then merely assigning to them, “Supporter”, “Neutral”, “Detractor.” We should know this extremely well before we get to the pursuit strategy workshop. The point of the strategy workshop is to figure out how to turn detractors into neutrals and how to turn neutrals into supporters. And then it’s about diving deeper still into each of these individual’s fears, agendas, alliances, business objectives and personal ambitions. “But that’s too hard,” you say. “And we don’t have the time.”
Second: We get excited about the technology and not the customer: No, I’m not repeating myself. The technical stuff comes first and second, and the customer comes third on the list of priorities in B2B IT.
I’ve been to bid kick-offs where there is one slide or maybe two dedicated to talking about the client, their industry, and their business objectives. The rest of the presentation is loaded up with the technical solution we’re thinking of offering.
In my opinion, bid kick-offs should have very little about the technology (the technical team can talk about that when they’re ‘solutioning’). It should be 90% about the client’s business objectives, where the lead seller takes everyone behind the curtain for an intimate show-and-tell about the customer, so that we all end up feeling like the customer is our family.
I believe the point of having a bid kick-off is to first help the team understand and empathise with the customer, then second to get everyone to act like a team: to want to win, all the while committed to helping the customer succeed in their endeavours.
But that rarely happens. When it does (and I have seen this a few times) the pursuit is a joy. It feels like we’re pulling together everything we’ve got, and more.
It means that even if the proposal has some typos and isn’t perfect, or if we’re not entirely compliant, we’re forgiven because the customer feels the love and respect we have when we’re with them in workshops or presenting our proposal face-to-face.
We say we’re client-centric, but are we?
Think about how you’re doing bids. Are you spending time doing more work to research, analyse and probe the customer’s business objectives, or map stakeholder’s agendas? Are you digging deep to understand the individual needs of the users of your technology, or are you mostly ‘solutioning’? If the answer is, ‘solutioning’, it could be the reason why you’re not winning as much business as you should.
Getting to know anyone takes time, whether it’s a professional or personal relationship. But the investment in the time to truly understand people will pay off mightily.
What will you do differently next time a request for proposal hits your desk?