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Competitiveness

Why it’s good to be an underdog

If you want to win, you must be dominant, all-powerful and able to effortlessly crush your opponent, right? Well, not always. It turns out that there's a very special place in our hearts for winners who don't have those qualities, and who struggle valiantly against the odds. 

"The dam is broken.....the 62-year drought is over….". So declared the television commentator two minutes before the siren sounded on the 2016 Grand Final last Saturday, when the Western Bulldogs kicked the final goal that gave them an unbeatable lead over match favourites, the Sydney Swans. 

Dogs by name, and underdogs by nature, the Western Bulldogs hadn't won a premiership since 1954. They had already pulled of a coup just by making it to the Grand Final.

Though widely considered unlikely to win, the Bulldogs fought their way to a 22-point victory.

With it came the cheers and tears of thousands of people – including many, like me, who aren't even football fans. Why were we so affected by their win?

Some of the most famous movies of all time tell the real-life stories of underdogs who triumphed over adversity, including Rocky (inspired by the story of Chuck Wepner), 8 Mile, Erin Brockovich and my personal favourite, Eddie the Eagle. We see our own hopes and dreams reflected in their epic struggles.

Seeing others at a disadvantage also tends to ignite our sense of fairness and justice. This means that supporting the underdog is one way that we can confront and reduce inequality.

In fact, even suggesting that a team or person is the underdog makes us more likely to support them. In study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, researchers asked 71 participants to imagine that two teams — one ranked higher than the other — were going to compete in an Olympic swimming event. In all scenarios, the participants said they would prefer to see the lower-ranked team prevail over the higher-ranked one, even if that higher-ranked team had been the underdog in a previous scenario.

We also relate better to underdogs, seeing them as more “real”, or more authentic. In another study, psychology professor Joseph Vandello from the University of Florida asked students to watch a basketball game in which they were told that one team was the favorite. After watching the footage, the viewers characterised the underdog team as having less “intelligence” and “talent,” but more “hustle” and “heart”. Again, this pattern was consistent even when the scenario was flipped so that the other team was framed as the underdog. The viewers simply liked the people who were losing more than they liked the winners.

What does this mean for you and your team?

If you’re already the underdogs, take heart.

In his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell says that bigger is only better up to a point.

Gladwell identifies 7 characteristics of the "winning little guy", including an honourable reputation; doing everything in in person; determination; empathy; teamwork; and being both passionate and likeable.

To me, this also provides an excellent summary of the qualities of every winning bid team I have ever worked with, no matter how large or small.

But if you’re not the underdogs, take this as a warning.  

If your team already feels like they are the sure-fire winners, and they are in any way arrogant or entitled about this, you may have a problem on your hands.

Just like a Grand Final, one thing is for sure in a competitive pitch - it isn't over until it's over.

The culture you want for your pitch team is one where the prevailing conversation is about what we can do for the customer, not what's in it for us.

So how can you get your team to think and behave like underdogs, and harness the extra energy and empathy that comes along with it? Here are five values and behaviours to encourage. 

  1. Ask more questions. Underdogs assume less, read the briefing thoroughly, and carefully flag any issues and concerns.
  2. Speak with humility. Underdogs don't assume they already know everything, and they treat the opportunity (and the customer) with respect.
  3. Work harder. Underdogs are in early, stay late, and put in the hard yards when they need to. They don’t leave the work to someone else. 
  4. Work as a team. Underdogs don't blame each other when things get difficult, and adversity will bring them even closer together, rather than pulling them apart.
  5. Express thanks and gratitude. Underdogs are excited just to be on the journey, and aren't solely focused on the destination or the win.

Be the choice you want your customers to make

In deciding to do business with us, customers have to make a choice. To decide actually means to “kill off choice”. While that choice can seem like a good one in the beginning, over time, doubts and worries can start to creep in, which eventually can result in the customer making another choice; to move their business somewhere else.

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling into Melbourne CBD on public transport three days in a row, which is not something I normally do. While the morning trips were okay, two of the evening trips back home were an absolute nightmare.

On the first evening, the trip home went of without a hitch. On the second, the screen on the platform showed my train, stopping all stations, just about to arrive, so I got on it. At the first stop, the train started to reverse a little. I thought it had just overshot the station, but no. The doors closed and it sped back towards Southern Cross, the station I had just come from. Wondering what the hell was going on, I got out and took a look at the screen. Lucky I did. Suddenly this train was headed somewhere else and not at all where it said it was going originally. Hastily, I grabbed my gear and got off again. Eventually, another train arrived and I made it home without an unplanned detour to the outer southeast.

The third and final night was the worst. Standing again on the platform at Southern Cross, the screens promised a Frankston train coming in three minutes. When those three minutes had expired, the screen changed, and that train became a Flinders Street train. This switch on the screen happened three times in a row. No announcements, no explanation. Stuck in the city, without other options to get home, I stood there without a clue of what to do.

Half an hour passed without a train arriving, and finally I was forced to ask for help. Raelene, a friendly-looking woman who had just arrived on the platform, explained that I should go to Flinders Street and wait for a Frankston train there. Grateful for the advice, I asked my new transport buddy about my train-reversing problem from the previous night, keen to see if I was in fact going crazy. Apparently not. “That kind of thing happens all the time,” Raelene said. “Last week, I was on a train that said it was going to Frankston and actually ended up in North Melbourne (completely the opposite direction). I’d had a long day at work, and with my head buried in my Kindle, just didn’t notice the wrong stations whizzing by until it was too late.”

So, our train system is unpredictable. This in itself is probably not that surprising.

What really got me, though, is that the regular commuters on the platform that day didn’t seem shocked, like I was; they were just putting up with the bad service and working around it as best they could.

Eventually though, when it comes time for the government to renew the public transport contracts, I reckon these very same people will rise up like an army to voice their dissatisfaction.

Within every long-term customer relationship, there are niggles that everyone gets used to. People stop complaining about them, but that doesn't mean they're not there, and they can seriously derail your chances of winning the business for a second time.

If you'd like to explore this issue in your business, there are still a few places left in my one-day workshop How To Retain Your Most Important Contracts and Customers in two weeks’ time. Hope to see you there.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Do you have ambitious growth targets this year? Keen to win the business you REALLY want, at the margins you want, and have more fun doing it? Let me help you to design and build an offer that is so commercially valuable, your target customers would be crazy not to buy it. For a copy of the white paper Pole Position - How to Achieve New Business Success, email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.

Get out there and get on with it!

When it comes to new business development, there are a number of barriers that we will all face from time to time.

These can be internal barriers –the barriers that we make ourselves, or that come from within us – or external barriers, which come from outside of ourselves, including the barriers put up for us by customers and competitors.

One of the internal barriers is what I call “practical barriers”. This includes lack of access to product information, marketing collateral, competitor research, or any one of a number of other things that we think we "need" in order to get out there and talk to people about what we do and offer.

It can be hard to argue with practical barriers. After all, a thing either exists or it doesn’t.

However, when our reluctance to “do” business development is primarily about our lack of brochures, slide decks, white papers, and those sorts of things, what this really means is that we’re not yet sold on what we are supposed to be selling.

The first sale is always to yourself. If you aren’t sold, no one else will be.

In their book Conviction, Peter Cook, Matt Church and Michael Henderson explain that it is more likely to be the person who is doing the selling who has objections – ‘too pricey, don’t need it, not now’ – instead of the customer.

In place of “objections”, they say, what customers really have is questions, considerations, alternative options and time. These are all things that we need to manage when educating ourselves about what are selling, and all of it comes before we try to educate a customer.

According to a study conducted by B2B research and advisory firm Sirius Decisions, up to 70% of content and collateral created marketing departments in business-to-business organisations sits unused anyway.

Practical barriers aren’t really barriers – they are more like “objections” we have to the idea of getting out there and talking to people about what we do.

Worry less about how good your PowerPoint slides are and think more about the value in what you’re selling.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Had a tough year? Missed out on business you really wanted? Let’s make sure 2016 is different. The Pole Position program will position you to win the opportunities on your radar for next year. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.

How to avoid becoming a commodity

Buyers don’t commoditise suppliers. We do that to ourselves, by not giving them the criteria to make a better choice.

Warren Buffet once said that “price is what you pay, value is what you get”. While it’s a simple idea on the surface, there’s a lot to this concept of value.

Price is easy to understand, which is probably why we default to it so often. “Value” is much harder.  Value is both a subjective and objective concept. It exists in tangible and intangible form.

Value is like a snowflake – no two people see value in exactly the same way.

What creates value for me probably won’t represent value for you. That’s because we have different hopes, dreams, goals and problems to solve.

Acccording to the Harvard Business Review, value in business markets is the worth in monetary terms of the technical, economic, service, and social benefits a (business) customer receives in exchange for the price it pays for (your) market offering. The HBR authors, James C. Anderson and James A. Narus, point out that these same customers are increasingly looking to their purchasing or procurement departments as a way to increase profits, and therefore will pressure suppliers to reduce prices. (No surprises there).

So, they argue, if we are to have any hope of getting our customers to think about total costs rather than simply the cost of acquisition, it’s essential to have an accurate understanding of what our customers value now, and would value in the future. 

Because of this, I reckon the way we run new business pursuits is completely wrong. We wait until customers tell us what they want, and then, like everyone else, try to give it to them – for the lowest price. And all the while, we know there is a better solution for the customer – if only we could crack the commercial value that will make them sit up and take notice.

A recent study on sales execution trends by Qvidian found that only 63% of salespeople actually make their targets, with pursuits ending in “no decision” the major reason for the shortfall. While four in 10 salespeople thought that an “inability to effectively communicate value” might be behind their lack of success, only half of them also chose this as a skill they needed to work on.

Understanding what customers truly value is the only way to combat price pressure, and to avoid becoming a commodity.

There is thought and work involved – certainly more than sitting and waiting for a tender to cross your desk – but it’s the most worthwhile work you will ever do.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Had a tough year? Missed out on business you really wanted? Let’s make sure 2016 is different. The Pole Position program will position you to win the opportunities on your radar for next year. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.

Think like a challenger

Picture your most important customer.

Now imagine a world where you don’t have them, and never did. You have other customers like them, maybe not as big or as impressive. And you really, really want them. Your business would grow exponentially if only you could land them.

In this world, you think about this prospective customer all the time. You have lots of ideas to make their world better. You even have a one-year plan. And a three-year plan. And a ten-year plan.

I could go on, but I’m sure you get the picture.

Welcome to the world of your competitors, who are actively building exactly this kind of plan to steal the business out from under you.

Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi Nobel Peace Prize winner who pioneered the concepts of microcredit and microfinance and helped the economy of one of the planet’s poorest nations, understands how hard it is to get people to accept change. “My greatest challenge has been to change the mindset of people,” he said. “Mindsets play strange tricks on us. We see things the way our minds have instructed our eyes to see.”

Being the incumbent supplier of a big customer is like wearing a set of beer goggles that only let us see the best-case scenario. Because there’s so much at stake, we tend to look for evidence to “prove” that what we are already doing is good enough. As a result we are often blindsided when someone comes in with a more compelling argument that we just didn't see coming. 

Picture your customer again, and imagine for a minute that you were pitching for their business for the first time.

·      Things to fix: What holes could you poke in the current service delivery? Where are the problems that you would want to magically disappear? What doesn’t work well that you could do better?

·      Things to build: What aren’t you doing that you really should be doing? What would the customer love you to do, that you’ve been resisting? If you were the customer, how would you like to see your business transform in the future, and how could you as their supplier make that happen?

Thinking like a challenger does two important things. It helps us get real about problems we don’t want to think about, and it also creates excitement about what we could achieve but haven’t yet.

So take off the beer goggles and have a good, long look at the future. It’s as bright as wechoose to make it.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.

Three ways to create curiosity in customers and prospects

We all like to buy low, and sell high; to make a good investment and do a good deal. But investing in potential comes with risk, which big companies and government, in particular, aren’t too keen on. Their risk-averse behaviour is what coined the old adage, "No-one ever got fired by hiring IBM"; in other words, that it is safer to hire a firm with a proven track record, even if it does prove more costly (both in dollars and lost potential for innovation) to do so.

The need to mitigate a customer’s risk aversion is one reason why, when trying to sell a customer on something new, we will almost always revert to our past achievements as justification.

Tender request documents issued by buyers also exaggerate the importance of credentials, by giving us points for explaining our experience in similar work.

But this isn't what customers are really buying. Solid credentials may be the price of entry to a competition, but what customers are really interested in is what is coming next.

In To Sell is Human, Dan Pink suggests that we are more likely to buy into something or someone "with potential" - that is, yet to reach their peak. Among other research, he cites a test of two Facebook ads for a comedian, Kevin Shea. The first ad said Shea "could be the next big thing", while the second described him as "the next big thing." The first ad, hinting at Shea's potential, generated far more click-throughs and likes than the second.

Curiosity creates possibility. Here are three ways to create curiosity about your potential, with the aim of expanding the conversations you’re having with customers or prospects.

  1. Describe new developments in your field.
  2. Talk about something you're tinkering with, or a pilot program you are trialling.

Disclose some of the new thinking you and your team are developing, and explain how this might offer new and improved ways to deliver results.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.

Could you fall victim to the Recency Effect?

Human beings have pretty selective memories. It turns out that we judge much of our life experience not on the totality, the average, or a glance back over the highlights, but on the basis of the last few minutes.

Have you ever walked into a customer’s office expecting to make a presentation about performance over the last month or quarter, and spent the whole meeting talking about last week’s non-delivery or a stuff-up that happened yesterday instead?

Welcome to the Recency Effect, which tells us that the most recently presented items or experiences will most likely be remembered best.

In Change Anything, a New York Times bestseller about the science of personal success, the authors conclude that much of what we feel about our daily relationships stems from only a few moments that overwhelmingly colour our perception.

The book relates a study by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, who asked colonoscopy patients to rate their level of discomfort during an unanaesthetised procedure. (Australians, give thanks that we don’t do things that way here. Ouch).

Not surprisingly, none of the test subjects gave glowing reports of their colonoscopy, but the comfort levels they reported had almost nothing to do with the total amount of pain that they felt during the awkward and uncomfortable procedure.

The only thing that mattered was how painful it was right at the end.

What do colonoscopies have in common with contract or service delivery? Maybe more than you think. For a customer, giving over control of part of their business to a supplier, it really CAN feel like being operated on without an anaesthetic.

Your job is to make whatever you do for them as pain-free as possible. And no matter how well you’re doing generally, take extra care for at least three months before you need to compete again.

This will make sure that one or two mistakes don’t derail your good work forever.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.

What Choppergate can teach us about customer expectations

Choppergate is a timely reminder that no matter how well documented and well-understood our work practices may be to us, customers could have very different ideas about what’s acceptable.

Recently the Federal Government in Australia was rocked by an expenses scandal known as “Choppergate”. While scrutiny over the spending of taxpayer money is nothing new, Choppergate has uncovered a systemic mismatch between what the voting public thinks is an acceptable use of public money and the internal policies and practices of the government that is spending it.

If you’re not in Australia, have been living in the outback or doing a digital detox for the last couple of weeks, here’s what has been happening:

  • Federal Parliament Speaker Bronwyn Bishop, a member of the governing Liberal Party, has been condemned for spending an excessive amount of money on charter flights, the most contentious of which involved flying the 100km between Melbourne and Geelong to attend a party fund-raising event.
  • While this was not considered official business, and the money has been repaid, other examples of Bishop’s prolific use of charter flights do apparently fall within the “rules”.
  • According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Bishop spent $139,196.01 on charter flights while a junior minister from January ‘98 to December ‘01, almost seven times the amount spent by Tony Abbott (now Prime Minster) and Joe Hockey (now Federal Treasurer).

The Choppergate scandal has inspired hundreds of memes on social media, including my personal favourite:

 (Source: http://mobile.news.com.au/national/politics/internet-skewers-bronwyn-bishop-over-choppergate-scandal/story)

(Source: http://mobile.news.com.au/national/politics/internet-skewers-bronwyn-bishop-over-choppergate-scandal/story)

Within important contracts and customer relationships, we have a set of external KPIs and contract conditions that we need to adhere to. Outside this, though, exist a whole raft of internal work practices and policies that may conflict with or contradict the intention of our customer agreements (whether they’re formalised or not). For example, I once worked with an organisation that had a small contract with a large government body and was seeking to win a bigger slice of their (substantial) business. However, despite their good work in meeting KPIs they were getting resistance from the customer that the management team couldn’t explain.

While unpacking their work practices, we discovered that their contract delivery team was sending 100 emails a week to the customer’s organisation – all of which required an answer. It’s no wonder the customer was getting frustrated, and management was getting stonewalled when they tried to ask for the new business they felt should be a natural consequence of their good performance.

What’s normal practice for us may come as a shock to customers, and could be the hidden barrier that stands in the way of doing more and better business together. Want to know if you’re vulnerable, and how to fix it? Join me at How To Retain Your Most Important Contracts and Customers in Melbourne on August 6 – I’d love to have you there. 

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.

Five ways to get your business promoted

By the time you're the CEO, General Manager or leader of a business, you may have already reached the level of promotion you hoped for as an individual. So self-promotion is probably not something that occupies your mind every day.

Yet the advice that helped you to get where you are today can be applied to promoting your business to your customers, in much the same way as it helped you to rise through the ranks in your career. Here are five principles to look at in a whole new way.

1.     “Volunteer for extra projects”. Take a look at what's going on inside your customer's business. What would they love to do, if only they had the expertise or time? Volunteering to take on an extra project that helps the customer to achieve their goals shows what you can do, as well as a willingness to work and to learn.

2.     “Get experience outside your job role”. People who work in other industries for a period of time usually come back with great ideas and transferable skills. Where else are you working already, and where else could you go, to bring fresh insights to the customer?

3.     “Come with a solution, not a problem”. Listen to what’s going on for your customer, and find people who can help in areas that you (and they) don’t have expertise. Don’t try to do everything: you’ll be more highly regarded for your own expertise if you can introduce complementary (not competing) experts too.

4.     “Make your achievements visible”. Promotions are often won by the employees who are best at “selling” their results, not necessarily delivering the best results. The same applies here. How are you using your access to the customer to tell them about the great things that you're doing for them, and for other customers?

5.     “Be indispensable, but not overbearing”. Not every great idea of yours is going to meet with a welcome reception. Doesn't mean it's a bad idea. Maybe it's not the right time, or there is something else that's competing with it. Avoid the worst of this by understanding what the customer’s 12 month calendar looks like - what's going on inside their business, what’s a high priority and when. Understanding when to introduce your argument is the key to having it land with a receptive audience. 

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.


The challenge of comprehension

To be successful in competitive tenders, we need to skillfully communicate a message that goes only one way. So comprehension is the first hurdle. Does the buyer get it? Can they explain it? Could they sell it to someone else if they had to? The barriers we face here are surprisingly high.

Reading skills are foundational to the comprehension of long documents like proposals.

According to a 2014 study by the Pew Research Centre, nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. The University of Copenhagan suggests that multi-tasking with technology, like checking email while watching TV, is rewiring our brains and shortening attention spans – and 80% of us do this regularly. Add to this Australia’s significant problem with literacy and numeracy - - the 2006/7 Adult Literacy and Lifeskills Survey found that 46%- 70% of us have “poor” or “very poor” skills in prose literacy, document literacy and problem-solving – and you’ve got a recipe for misunderstanding and disinterest.

Our proposal will end up on a pile with many others. Reading every one of these is a daunting, difficult job – made even more difficult if reading isn’t the buyer’s strong suit. The way we write proposals doesn’t help either. If we are not yet sold on what we’re offering, proposals can come off sounding stilted, awkward and full of incomprehensible jargon.

One of my favourite clients has a wonderful expression for incomprehensible proposal writing – he calls it “guff”. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, guff means “foolish nonsense”. Harsh. But true. (Want to know if guff is poisoning your company’s proposals? Check out Bullfighter – a Word-compatible program that gives documents a Bull score based on how much jargon is in them.)

What happens when you combine a buyer who isn’t a great reader, with an offer that isn’t a great read? No deal. Comprehension is the first test of a winning offer. Get it focused, make it clear, and you’re on your way to getting it sold.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.

What’s your business development style?

There is no one “best” way to do business development. We all have a natural business development style that we are drawn to.  This is not based on any external methodology that helps us get the job done, but on internal preferences shaped by our personality and environment.

Your business development style sits at the intersection of your natural decision-making horizon - whether you focus short-term or long term - and your natural way of thinking, meaning whether you’re more comfortable dealing with abstract concepts or concrete facts.

There are four primary business development styles:

1.         The Dealmaker, with a short-term concrete focus. Dealmakers pride themselves on being good operators who make commercially smart decisions and are great at cutting through mental clutter to get to a result. To a Dealmaker, there’s no problem with a customer that can’t be fixed by sweetening the deal.

2.         The Ideator, with a short-term conceptual focus. Ideators love to come up with creative and innovative ways to change the world for their customers. Ideators sidestep roadblocks and problems by thinking up new ways to get others excited about the future. 

3.         The Producer, with a long-term concrete focus.  Producers are great at what they do, get brilliant results, and love to work on interesting projects that fit their expertise. Producers solve problems best when  “putting their heads together” with a team of like-minded experts.

4.         The Nurturer, with a long-term conceptual focus. Nurturers are great with people; they put in tireless effort behind the scenes and often pull deals out of the hat like magic due to their strategic, long-term work on customer relationships. Nurturers are good at collaboratively solving problems, with a knack for helping customers see past the immediate issue to the long-term goal. 

Within your team, aim for a diversity of styles to create stronger arguments and better business development outcomes.

Team members who share a thinking style (whether concrete or conceptual) will tend to gravitate towards each other as allies – Dealmakers to Producers, and Ideators to Nurturers.

Likewise, team members who share a similar decision-making horizon but differ in their thinking style can be useful creative partners to help each other fill in the gaps and point out what the other might have missed – Dealmakers with Ideators, and Producers with Nurturers. 

Those who think completely differently and have opposing reference timeframes are natural challengers able to point out the flaws and risks in each others’ arguments (and probably have a few, while they’re at it). Expect a robust debate between Ideators and Producers, and Dealmakers and Nurturers.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.

Learn to love the competition!

Nobody likes to think about competitors. We all want to believe that we are the only ones in the running. And when we actually ARE running, that's a good thing. Not so much beforehand, when taking an objective look at competitors - how they are likely to run their race - can actually help make ours better.

In developing a strategy to win business, we need to identify what the customer most wants, what we can best deliver, and what will position us most favourably against competitors.

The discussion about competitors is usually the most challenging one for us to have. Most of us don't really want to entertain the idea that we might have competition. It makes us defensive, uncomfortable, dismissive, fearful and sometimes angry. 

I totally understand where this comes from. Obsessing about competitors isn't most people’s happy place. (It’s not mine either.) But in fact, understanding competitors helps us to judge what they might do or say. This can pay big dividends when we are under pressure.

For example, imagine you're sitting on stage taking part in a public debate. Your opposition has just made a fantastic point and the audience is cheering hard. You have 10 seconds to get on your feet to respond. Would you feel more confident having anticipated that point the night before, and having a response ready, or being forced to think on your feet?

Bishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner who has campaigned against apartheid, poverty, AIDS and non-democratic government, has seen more than his fair share of pressure in public debate and has some good advice to offer.

"Don't raise your voice," Tutu says. "Improve your argument."

Understanding competitors helps us to improve our arguments. In a formal bid or tender, the customer is actively seeking many points of view. Ours is just one of them. By understanding what others might do or say, and having a plan to combat this, we are giving our own arguments their best chance to shine.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.

Why buyers make the wrong decision

Competitive tenders don't always result in the best decision. Buyers go for what LOOKS like the best decision - on paper – which sometimes proves to be the wrong one.

If you've ever lost a bid you were certain you would win, been shocked by who the buyer actually DID choose instead of you, and seen that supplier go on to deliver (predictably) inferior work and results, you are definitely not alone. 

Professionals are often uncomfortable about parading their wares for money, and that’s what a tender can feel like.  In an ideal world, buyers would offer you an alternative way to show them what you can do – one that actually helps you demonstrate your best work.

For instance, if you’re an architect, how much more comfortable would you be if you were allowed to let your work speak for itself in a design competition, rather than preparing a 100 page tender response?

But of course, buyers often choose the easier option and run a tender instead.

Competitive tenders are an unnatural, artificial and uncomfortable way for professionals to sell themselves. Unfortunately, they are a reality, so we need to find a way to do our best work within them.

It all starts with your business development culture. The most successful business development culture for a services firm is one that feels natural and comfortable; supports how your smart people think best; and gets them energised and excited by the opportunity first.

When you do have to prepare a tender, think about creative ways to bring out the best in what you can do. Include infographics, use interesting case studies, and offer the buyer a taste of the great things that happen to people who make the smart choice to work with you. You'll win more business, more often, and have more fun doing it.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.

The risk of choosing style over substance

In a competitive tender, the evaluation panel needs to give your submission a score. What you will be evaluated on is the commercial value of your offer and the evidence you provide to support your claims – and not how nice your proposals look and sound.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about how to sidestep common mistakes that will prevent you from winning the business you really deserve to win.

The first step is to stop the bid sweatshop, and the second is to make sure your team is primed to do the right job – not just do the job right.

If you’ve taken these steps, but still aren’t winning, it’s time to make a bigger investment in your success. At this point, most people will bring in marketing experts to write standardised proposal copy and to design templates so that proposals look and sound better, and speak with a unified, on-brand voice.

Does this result in more wins? Unfortunately, no.

Scratch the surface of these “new and improved” proposals, and really they are just glorified brochures.

I understand why people feel the need to do this. Branding and marketing help to build a successful business that supports premium-priced services. However, branding isn’t a cure-all for everything, and bids and tender responses are not a marketing exercise.

A colleague who works on government evaluation panels once told me that her team of evaluators was briefed to be wary of over-elaborate design and copywriting, as these are devices that less qualified suppliers sometimes use as a way to try to bluff their way through the process. Ouch.

Remember that proposals are a one-on-one conversation with someone who is ready to buy. Worry less about the image your proposal is portraying, and more about how convincing the message actually is. 

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.

Don't be a one hit wonder!

It’s easy to lose sight of the REAL advantage of being an incumbent – the opportunity to delight a captive audience who has already chosen to buy from you.

Music industry charts are full of one-hit wonders; remember Soft Cell (Tainted Love), Dexys Midnight Runners (Come On Eileen), Nena (99 Luftballoons) and The Knack (My Sharona)? All of these artists produced plenty of other music, it’s just that none of it made the big time quite like these monster hits managed to do. There are many others too, who worked very, very hard for years and years to get their big break, rode on the crest of their one hit single for quite a while, but just couldn’t crack the top of the charts a second time.

Likewise, business-to-business markets are littered with incumbents who didn’t make it past the first contract term.

When you already have the business, it’s easy to get comfortable, and lose sight of the most important thing that's going to help you keep it.

One your biggest advantages as an incumbent supplier is ACCESS – you can get in front of the customer more easily, and go deeper inside the organisation with new ideas in a way that competitors would find very difficult to replicate.

As the incumbent, you worked hard to get to where you are. Let’s make sure you stay there.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.



Is your new idea meaningful for your customer?

Customers aren’t always rational in the way they buy things. Before we get too excited about our new, innovative offering, it is important to think first about the customer’s goals, pressing problems and their appetite for change.

Meaningful innovation resonates with your customer’s goals and solves one or more of their big, gnarly problems – particularly problems that no one else has been able to solve yet. New ideas that focus on opportunity creation can also be useful, but are harder to sell, unless you have a growth-minded customer and the potential of a big payoff or return.

The father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, suggests: “We will do more to avoid pain than to gain pleasure.” Most people are therefore much more motivated to resolve an issue that is keeping them up at night than they are to take a risk on a bright shiny opportunity that may or may not be better than their current reality.

For example, my family gave up its old ‘fatback’ analogue television only a month before the digital television switchover. We even took this 60kg TV with us to our new (two storey) place, where it was installed upstairs. Not long after, we found out that the analogue signal in our area was about to be switched off forever, rendering the TV useless. So we had to hire the removalists back to lug it down the stairs and take it away again!

As it turned out, my family wasn’t really that interested in buying a new TV to watch all the extra channels offered by digital TV (the bright shiny opportunity). We didn’t change over our old TV set until we were faced with the prospect of a black screen (big gnarly problem).

Before you rush out to talk to a customer about your bright, shiny offering, remember that while customers do expect innovation from their incumbent suppliers, no one wants change simply for the sake of change. 

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Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers.

Incumbency + innovation = guaranteed return on investment

Are you pursuing new ideas SPECIFICALLY to benefit your major customers?

If you are in a service business that is accustomed to getting paid for things before it will even contemplate doing them, chances are, you might not be.

Typically, we pitch for a contract and do the work later. The contract defines the scope and the performance measures, and everyone’s attention is focused on meeting these. In this environment, the thought of positioning new ideas and investing cash without a “guaranteed return” is often difficult for business development leaders get their heads around.

However, no matter how good your performance is, the biggest risk of losing a customer or contract is to do no more than focus on the day-to-day.

In my book Winning Again, procurement expert Neil Hubbard sums up the buyer’s perspective beautifully. “Don't wait until it's time to do a tender”, he says. “As soon as you're awarded the contract, your time starts. Be very conscious that in three years’ time, your contract will come up. Start working on innovation that will bring cost savings or benefits to our business and start telling us what you're going to do now.”

When you’re innovating in a way that is designed to help a major customer grow their business or to do business better, you ARE guaranteed a return: a better reputation and relationship with the customer that will help you to win again.

And there is another benefit too. When you start to think this way, you’ll find there are many people working in your business who would love to have an opportunity to do more for your major customers – provided that the leadership culture will support them.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.

Go wide for new ideas

When it comes to developing new ideas that will be meaningful to your most important customers, breakthrough insights can come from anywhere. Some evolve by thinking more laterally about what’s right in front of us. But others come from educating ourselves in ideas and disciplines that are outside our core area of expertise, our industry, or our life experience.

For example, one of the ways Steve Jobs came up with new ideas was to maintain a lifelong interest in learning and new experiences. While in college, Jobs took a course in calligraphy, which at the time had no practical application to his work. What he experienced came to life later in the Macintosh computer, the first of its kind to prioritise typeface, fonts and calligraphy.

When considering your team’s professional development needs, try to think more broadly than technical training that further entrenches the status quo. Technical training is an important way to keep staff qualifications up-to-date, but mostly maintains the baseline and isn’t the best way to deliver new thinking – especially when all your competitors are doing the same programs.

So help your team to learn more laterally. They can learn leadership from an explorer who has spent time leading a team in Antarctica, or learn better ways to relate to colleagues and customers by talking to a social worker who helps people navigate very complex personal or family issues.

Innovating in a long-term business relationship is fascinating and inspiring, but it’s also time consuming and difficult. New projects take time to deliver results and give us tangible evidence to talk to the customer about. Going wide for new ideas helps keep the fun in the game for your team, and ensure that innovation actually happens.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more here

Help your most important customers to build their future

Identifying how we can solve a customer’s big gnarly problems forces us to think beyond our own self-interest. In doing so, we are engaging in an activity that is highly correlated with long-term customer partnerships: delivering meaningful innovation.

When you deliver complex services, and do so through long-term contracts, what you are striving for is just as important to the customer as where you are today. After all, they are buying where you’ll be in three years’ time (or more). And if you’ve already been working together for a while, your customer will probably also need help to navigate problems in their business or market that didn’t exist at the start of your working relationship. As procurement expert Adel Salman pointed out when we spoke for my new book, Winning Again: “suppliers need to put forward a solution that addresses what we are becoming, not what we were in the past when you initially secured the business.”

You are the expert, and the customer expects you to be able to build a picture of how their future will look if they continue to work with you. However, innovating with the customer in mind is different to innovating for yourself. Here, you are acting as a ‘tastemaker’ – an expert who knows what the customer wants before they do.

Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Vogue’s Anna Wintour and Apple’s Steve Jobs are all tastemakers who became famous for their innovations. In a long-term customer partnership, the role of a tastemaker is to innovate AND collaborate. You’re still the expert, but the process you follow is more like taking a friend to your favourite restaurant and guiding them through the menu. To do this without straining the friendship requires consideration of their preferences, and compassion for their point of view, and of course the conviction that your expertise will guide them towards a good result.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers http://www.winningwords.com.au/winning-again/

Answer this question to avoid losing an important contract or customer

Everyone likes to win, and no one likes to lose. Yet we all lose business sometimes. Losses can be difficult to handle, but many are preventable, as long as we do the work and thinking that really builds long-term customer relationships.

This week, I read a very raw and personal story about a major account loss written by Aureus Asset Management CEO Karen Firestone. Here’s how she felt from the time her client requested an unscheduled meeting, until she got the news.

“In my purgatory hours, I reviewed the client’s holdings, their performance, our previous correspondence, and notes from our meetings; I found nothing alarming, but nothing particularly calming either. The phone rang at exactly 2:30 (and he) got straight to the point. It took less than a minute for him to fire us from the account, very matter-of-factly, with little attempt to acknowledge the eight-year relationship that had seemed (we thought, obviously, in error) to be very positive. (He) explained that they had hired another manager with a very strong track record who required a high minimum investment; they were redeeming from several other managers to meet that threshold. ….By the time I got off the phone and looked at my screen, the transfer information was already there.”

If you have ever lost an important contract or customer, I really feel for you. None of us are robots. We are people with feelings. Losing a customer or contract creates hurt and fear, both of which are huge drags on creativity, energy and enthusiasm — the very things that we need the most when we need to compete for the business again.

The good news is that it doesn’t need to come to this. If you have an important contract or customer in your care, show them that you REALLY care about them by bringing them new ideas today to help them operate or do business better. Here’s a simple question to spark some ideas: “What’s the one thing that would make us look like heroes to this customer, if we could achieve it?”

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers http://www.winningwords.com.au/winning-again/