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Leadership

Bridging the confidence gap

In the past few weeks, we’ve been talking about our own internal barriers to business development (as opposed to the barriers that customers and the market throw at us).

Practical barriers are the things we think we "need" in order to get out there and talk to people about what we offer (product information, marketing collateral, competitor research). Structural barriers are the systems that we create – for what seem like sensible reasons at the time – and that actually end up holding us back.

Psychological barriers, however, come from several places; lack of confidence, too many comparisons to others, and the experience of loss and rejection.

Let’s look at confidence first. Confidence can be a barrier, because in other people’s eyes, confidence equates to competence. This, in turn, has a huge effect on our ability to turn opportunities into sales.

In The Confidence Gap, Katty Kay and Claire Shipman point to a growing body of evidence that shows just how devastating a lack of confidence can be. Success, they found, correlates just as closely with confidence as it does with competence.

While Kay and Shipman’s research related specifically to confidence issues affecting women, lack of confidence is a problem for anyone working in a profession where public performance and scrutiny are a regular part of the job – like business development and sales. 

To overcome a lack of confidence, we might try to “fake it until we make it.” Unfortunately, this doesn’t work too well.

According to Cameron Anderson, a psychologist at UCLA (Berkeley), extremely confident people genuinely believe they are good, and it’s this self-belief that is attractive to others. “Fake confidence just doesn’t work in the same way,” he says. No matter how much bravado we muster, Anderson explains, others will pick up on our shifting eyes, rising voice and other giveaways.

In 2009, Anderson undertook a study to find out why confidence leads to a perception of competence. He gave a group of 242 students a list of historical names and events - including some that sounded plausible, but were actually completely made up - and asked them to tick off the ones they knew. Some students ticked off the fakes as well as the real events, implying that they thought they knew more than they actually did. Afterwards, Anderson also asked the students to rate one another according to their social standing within the group. The students who had picked the most fakes also achieved the best ratings – in other words, those who had the strongest confidence in their abilities also had the highest social standing.

Real confidence only really comes from self-belief: from understanding our true value. When you have done the work to establish the worth of what you’re doing and saying, it’s much harder to shake your confidence.

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.

Top 5 summer reads on business development and sales

The summer break is a great time to get inspired by new ideas. And it’s often the only time we have all year to read a book straight through without interruptions.

Here are my top 5 business development reads for the summer break.

All are bestsellers in their own genre, so if you haven’t had a chance to check them out yet, now is the perfect time:

·      Start with Why – A modern classic by Simon Sinek that tells us that customers don’t buy WHAT we do, they buy WHY we do it. This book will spark ideas about the context of what you’re selling.

·      The Challenger Sale – Dixon and Adamson present compelling research that explains why customers prefer suppliers who don’t just give them what they think they want, but instead “teach” them new ways to compete better and do business better. This book will help you think about the content of your offer.

·      Selling To Big Companies – Jill Konrath’s practical, easy to read guide on how to navigate large organisations and sell more successfully. This book gives helpful tips to re-think how you’re selling.

·      To Sell Is Human – An engaging and approachable read from Dan Pink about persuading, convincing and influencing others. This book provides a useful re-frame for experts and technical professionals about why what we do is actually “selling”.

·      Hooked – Gabrielle Dolan and Yamini Naidu have written the definitive text on how leaders connect, engage and inspire with storytelling. This book will expand your right-brain communication skills and help you connect emotionally, as well as rationally, with customers.

Wishing you a safe and happy festive season and the best of success in 2016.

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.

Playing the Trump card

I've recently returned from the United States, where presidential candidate debates are in full swing and Donald Trump is a front-runner for the Republican nomination, consistently ahead of his nearest rival

And this is not surprising. 

Politics is theatre. While other candidates are talking about the same old “boring” stuff like healthcare and education, the audience is tuning into Trump as he sounds off about women, migrants, trade deals with China, Ebola, Obama and what he thinks about celebrities from Bette Midler to Rosie O’Donnell.

Time magazine recently chronicled a list of Trump-isms titled Here’s Roughly Every Controversial Thing Trump Has Ever Said Out Loud. Yet despite offending a great many people, Trump’s approval ratings continually go up. No candidate has yet been able to surpass him.

Why?

Trump sees business as a game, and his massive wealth simply as a way to keep score.

He is successful, opinionated, with a massive online platform that includes 2 million Twitter followers and the TV show The Apprentice, which is syndicated in 25 countries and spawned the famous line, “You’re Fired!”

While the other Republican candidates are measured, professional and polite – behaving they way they think voters want them to behave - Trump runs rings around them simply by speaking his mind. 

Political debates SHOULD be controversial. As voters, hearing things we don’t necessarily agree with forces us to re-examine our opinions and beliefs and to define new ones.

Likewise, in our business relationships we shouldn’t constantly kow-tow to customers. 

Customers may hold the purse strings, but they also appreciate us – as the experts they hired – standing up for what we believe in, even when they don’t agree.

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.

How to “game” change

There are two types of change – change that is imposed externally, and the change we choose to make ourselves. Both can be difficult, but only one is inevitable.

In business, we have change imposed on us all the time. Company restructures, legislative change and compulsory competitive tenders are all examples of externally imposed change. This kind of change can shake us up in unpleasant ways and make us feel exposed and vulnerable.

The opposite of change is inertia. In physics, an “inert” object continues in its existing state, unless that state is changed by an external force. In other words, when something pushes us, we have no choice but to go with it.

Self-imposed change, however, requires US to do the pushing. This makes it elusive and harder to achieve – even when it is essential.

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, authors of Immunity to Change, found that desire and motivation aren't enough on their own to create change, and that change remains maddeningly elusive even when it's literally a matter of life or death. For example, they note that even when doctors tell heart patients they will die if they don't change their habits, only one in seven will be able to follow through and make the change successfully.

Inertia can trap us into under-performing, even when we think we are working hard and doing the right thing.

In Who Moved My Cheese? - one of the world’s best-selling change management books - Spencer Johnson suggests that most of us spend far too much time looking after our “existing cheese” (what we have now) and not going in search of “new cheese” (what we could have, if we only got off our butts and went looking for it). “Movement in a new direction helps find new cheese,” concludes Johnson.  “Life moves on, and so should we.”

The most successful suppliers know they need to overcome inertia to avoid being left behind. They aren’t content with just doing what the customer or contract says they should do, and are always looking for ways to add more value. In contrast, others – who have more of a “set and forget” mentality – don’t realise that they are setting them up to lose.

The good news is that you get to decide today which one you are going to be.

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.


Heroes, hard work and hope

Change is hard, and enforced change that is beyond our control is the hardest of all. But nature abhors a vacuum. Something else will eventually take the place of what was there before, and you never know, it could be even better.

I was very moved to read about the story of Detroit recently.

Detroit has lost half its population in the past 50 years, fuelled by a sharp decline in automotive manufacturing, the bankruptcy of General Motors and Chrysler, and a huge wave of mortgage foreclosures during the global financial crisis. When people could no longer afford to stay in their homes, they simply left them; one-fifth of the central municipal area is returning to nature, in neighbourhoods now known as “urban prairie”.  In 2013, Detroit experienced the USA’s largest municipal bankruptcy with $18 billion in debt.

But some in Detroit aren’t going to sit by and see their city crumble.

National Geographic magazine tells the story of Erika Boyd and Kirsten Ussery-Boyd, who invested $45,000 to open successful restaurant Vegan Soul on one Detroit’s many deserted streets, seeing an opportunity in a city with a huge obesity problem.

Financial services entrepreneur John Hantz has spent $4m buying 1,700 properties, clearing 500 lots and planting 15,000 trees – an investment that he says pays him back in “psychic income”.

Now new businesses are opening in Detroit every day, fuelled by a wave of young people priced out of other US cities and excited by the opportunity to own property and build a future there.

“Most people wanna save Detroit”, says former graffiti tagger Antonio “Shades” Agee, whose street art now adorns the buildings of Reebok, Quicken and Fiat Chrysler. “But you can’t save Detroit. You gotta BE Detroit”.

Slowly, Detroit is reinventing itself. It won’t be easy. But it already has the makings of a great comeback story.

We all have that opportunity. Loss is part of life, and is not always preventable. But we can choose not to let the loss define us, and making that choice generates its own power. 

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.

Take your power back!

For those of us old enough to remember, the golden age of selling in business-to-business markets was at least 20 or 30 years ago.  Back then, business was done on a handshake, relationships were king and suppliers had a lot of power. If you were running a business or doing any selling back then, you probably felt like you were in control.

Fast forward to today, and business of any size and scale is done through bids and tenders, procurement is king, and suppliers don’t seem to know what to do any more.

The world of sales has fundamentally changed. But some of us are still selling like it’s 1985, Wham is at the top of the charts and we are jamming out “Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go” on the Sony Walkman wearing our Choose Life t-shirts and fluoro cut-off gloves.

OK, maybe that was just me, but you get the picture. It’s chaos, it’s not pretty (truly) and it’s not working. Something has to change.

What’s really going on here is that we feel like we have lost our power.

It’s fair to say that not everything we’d like to control is within our control. We can’t control how customers buy. We can’t control what competitors do and say. And we can’t control how we feel about any of these things. But we can control how we exercise our CHOICE. And we can choose to think more broadly, to feel differently and to act despite our fears and challenges.

I reckon it’s an exciting time to be in business. Our world is full of possibility and potential. But this is underpinned by rapid and unrelenting change that brings many challenges.

Customers have these challenges too. So we’ve moved from a time where people and personal relationships had a lot of power, to one where ideas and innovation are the primary currency that drives customer relationships.

According to a recent study by TEC (The Executive Connection), a global network of company CEOs, the five issues keeping CEOs up at night are talent management and the need for cultural fit; the role of technology in re-shaping existing business models and creating new opportunities; the globalisation of markets; embedding an innovation mindset; and the perennial need to make good decisions. (Read the full report here

Do you have a solution for one of these? Prospects and customers want to hear about it.  

It’s time to take your power back, show them what they don’t know (but should) and build your customer’s future. This is what creates real and lasting customer partnerships.

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.

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.

The DNA of a successful bid team

A bid team is a living organism – a group of smart people who come together to apply their skills and knowledge to developing a functional solution that will win or retain an important contract or customer.

The most successful teams share a particular type of DNA. In very simple terms, DNA is a blueprint for how to build a living organism: it gives instructions to our cells about how they should grow and function.

Likewise, bid teams need the right mix of customer and technical experts, balanced by a Bid Leader with the authority to make commercial decisions, and the skills to draw out the best ideas and drive the organisational change necessary to win.

What often happens, though, is that it’s left up to the customer experts – the sales team – to run bids on their own. Customers have expectations and the sales team knows all about them: they will happily tell you what they are. Without the leadership and authority to implement these expectations, or the technical know-how to configure the systems and processes of the organisation to suit the customer, this knowledge remains under-used.

Building your team with the right mix of people creates a meeting of minds that will help you win. As you can start to see from this diagram, it’s at the intersection of these specialities that the magic truly happens. Customer experts provide information about customer expectations, which the commercial experts use to provide leadership to the technical people, who can configure a solution for the customer.

 Figure 1: The DNA of a successful bid team contains the right mix of specialists with commercial, technical and customer expertise

Figure 1: The DNA of a successful bid team contains the right mix of specialists with commercial, technical and customer expertise

Avoid letting senior leaders outside your team hijack the bid strategy, particularly if they don’t know the customer well or haven’t worked at the coalface for a long time. Often these people dominate the discussion with commercial concerns and big-picture competitive strategy, at the expense of valuable customer and technical insights, and can make disastrous decisions that undermine the good work of the people who really know what is going on. 

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.

Leadership lessons from the Boov

Dreamworks’ new animation feature Home stars Jim Parsons from Big Bang Theory as Oh, an accident-prone alien who believes “Oh” must be his name, as it’s what his fellow Boov say every time he enters the room.

The Boov are a tribe of intergalactic scaredy-cats who turn yellow when they’re afraid (often) and are experts in running away from their problems. After invading Earth and relocating all the humans to Australia – the most remote place the Hollywood scriptwriters could probably think of – their leader, Captain Smek (Steve Martin) is stumped as to what to do next.

Smek is a textbook example of every bad boss you’ve ever had. Bereft of ideas himself, he straps his fellow Boov to machines and orders them to come up with some. The ideas he likes, he takes as his own. Those he doesn't like, earn the thinker a clunk on the head with his prize possession, a scepter called the “shusher”, which Smek stole from the Boov's greatest enemies the Gorg (the scary-looking dudes the Boov are running away from, and also the reason why they’re chasing him).

Steve Martin plays Captain Smek for laughs, but we can empathise with him. Smek has a lot on his plate, and we all grab for the “shusher” when we are under pressure.

For a leader responsible for a big project like a major bid or pursuit, the pressure to win or retain millions of dollars worth of revenue and hundreds of jobs is daunting, unrelenting and sometimes toxic. Under this kind of stress, we sometimes shut down a team member who has something important to say. We might inadvertently hijack an idea that actually came from someone else. It’s easy to rush in with our own ideas at the expense of someone else’s.

None of us can control what customers decide to buy. We can’t control what competitors do. It’s hard to let go of the little control we DO have over a competitive process. But trying to do it all ourselves can cost us – big time.

In an important bid, the energy and enthusiasm of your team is your most precious asset.

Preserve it by engaging an external facilitator to help you develop your bid strategy. You’ll get to contribute your valuable knowledge, support your team’s energy, nurture their great ideas, and have a sounding board to develop your own. And you get to retire the shusher.

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.

Do the right job – then do the job right

Last week I explained how bidding less can actually help you to win more. While being more selective helps position you to be more successful, it’s not enough by itself. It is also important that the people who are writing your proposals are true subject matter experts – people who really have the knowledge and experience to really understand what the customer is asking for.

When professional services firms want to grow and win more work, they’ll usually assign a team of proposal writers to produce bids. These teams are often made up of administrative staff and junior consultants who don't yet have a great deal of field experience and might otherwise be underemployed.

While this approach might save money, or be more efficient, it certainly isn’t effective. Proposals lack depth of knowledge, and are a signal to clients that your firm really just sees bids and tenders as paperwork, and not as an opportunity to be of service to them.

To win, you need to convince the customer you’ll do the RIGHT JOB; not just do the job right. That’s why the subject matter experts in your firm will always be your best proposal writers. However, they do need support to do this. Their comfort zone is writing reports, not proposals. They have day jobs to do as well, under significant time pressures.

And let's not forget that your experts are rarely in it for the money. To be more successful, inspire them with the intrinsic rewards they'll achieve by winning work they really want to win – don't just make proposals an extra task they have to do. 

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.

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

Failure is not an option, but it is a reality

This is a truth rarely acknowledged in the world of sales and business development, where the only conversation you will ever hear is the one about winning and success.

Yet the prospect of loss is the ugly spectre that hangs over everything we do, and past losses we haven’t grieved for and learned from can actually prevent us from doing our best work with the customers we have today.

In my line of work I have spent years up close and personal with people while they grapple with the anxiety-inducing task of re-competing for business that they already have.

This anxiety presents in many ways that mask what it really is: fear that derives from a sense of powerlessness, in this case because the customer is going to market whether we like it or not.

In boardrooms and in bid team ‘war rooms’, I've seen anxiety show up as arrogance, bullying, lying, dissembling, blind faith, or bluster. While understandable, none are helpful when it comes to winning again.

There is no doubt about it – losses hurt. I have worked in this game a long time and see many people struggling with unacknowledged grief for past business losses. 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 our creativity, energy and enthusiasm — the very things that we need the most when we need to compete again.

If you’ve ever lost a piece of business that was important to you, please give yourself the opportunity to grieve for it. Really feel what happened and then let it go with gratitude.

There are lessons in loss, and one of the most important is to be thankful for and work hard to retain the business that we have today.

The role of a Bid Leader

When you’re in charge of a bid for an important piece of business, you are an important role model for your team and your organisation.

The amount of energy and enthusiasm they will display for the bid is directly correlated to how you feel about it yourself. Is this something you really want to win? What will it mean for your role, your team or your business if you win? What about if you don't? What are the great things that will happen if you win? What are the consequences of a loss?

Bid Leadership is an active project leadership role where it is important to lead by example.

When leading a bid, you are neither a figurehead nor a task master. You need to be right in there, actively working with your team, and supporting them when they need it most.

When you do, you will find that your energy and enthusiasm are contagious.

Make sure that you share what you are doing among the informal power networks inside your organisation so there is a groundswell of support. Enlist the help of other line managers, if you need to, to get help with your projects and extra resources to cover for you and your team while you are deep in delivery of the bid.

It’s fine to ask your team to work longer hours on project delivery or bid delivery, as long as you are doing this yourself. Use the opportunity to give your people extra responsibility and make sure they are rewarded for it.

Own your role as Bid Leader, and you will own the bid’s success as well.

How a “pre-cation” can help you deliver a more compelling bid

Lately, I’ve been talking about the ways in which energy and enthusiasm power our bid efforts. Unfortunately the way most organisations handle bids is rapidly depleting these precious resources.

Team members need to be inspired to do their best work on proposals, and pretty much everyone is stretched and hassled and working on the bid as well as their day job. Worse still, there are no thanks or recognition for contributing to proposals. All staff really see is a mountain of thankless work that they don’t get paid for and that eats into their personal time.

If your organisation cares about its win rates, and more importantly, about employees and their wellbeing, it’s time you did something about this. Here is an idea that will definitely win you points with staff, and probably on the proposal too.

While it’s common to give time off after a bid to compensate for the extra workload, a better way to generate energy and enthusiasm is to give your team at least part of this time off in advance.

Technology employers Atlassian and 42 Floors noticed that new staff members often came into their organisation exhausted from their previous job. To solve this problem, both now offer staff a “pre-cation” (paid holiday) before they start with the company.

This is a great way to make sure that people show up for work fired up and ready, not tired and burned out. Atlassian is now considered an employer of choice in an industry where competition for talent is high, and regularly rates a mention on lists of "best places to work" in both the US and Australia.

If you’re about to start work on a must-win bid, offer your team a “pre-cation”. It could just mean the difference between a proposal that really hooks the customer, and one that lies there as lifeless and exhausted as the people who wrote it.

How Job Sculpting Can Help You Deliver a Better Proposal

Recently I explained why energy and enthusiasm are the fuel powering a bid effort.

When the people working on the bid bring the best of themselves to the job, they are more likely to do their best, most inspired and most creative work. Without their energy and enthusiasm, there is a real risk that the proposal will lack personality and be flavourless and dry.

In a Harvard Business Review piece about job sculpting, Timothy Butler and James Waldroop explain that job satisfaction depends on how well the job reflects the individual’s “deeply embedded life interests”. These are long-held, emotionally driven passions, intricately entwined with our personalities. While life interests may not determine what we are good at, they do drive what kind of activities make us happy. “At work, that happiness often translates into commitment. It keeps people engaged, and it keeps them from quitting,” Butler and Waldroop say.

Delivering job satisfaction to the bid team – as well as a winning bid – can be a challenging task for a Bid Leader.

Bid teams often operate outside traditional reporting lines and boundaries, and team members are usually stretched and hassled and working on the bid as well as their day job.

Notwithstanding this, the principles of job sculpting can help here too. If you have a person on your team with a passion for something specific, like designing a technical solution, let them get on with it. Another person, who loves seeing things done correctly, will get satisfaction from form-filling, project management and production tasks.

Knowing what people's preferences are and the jobs they would enjoy doing, as opposed to just the jobs that need to be done, is an important role for a Bid Leader. When everybody is working on what they are great at, and what they love to do, the energy and enthusiasm that the team contributes will elevate the quality of the proposal.

What is your proposal personality?

Personality plays a large part in the unconscious decision that buyers make about whether proposals make it to the Maybe pile or the No pile. Bringing our real selves to proposals helps customers decide we are worth doing business with.

This week I met with a new client and we were talking about how they can improve their bid capability and success rates. One of the questions that came up was about presentation — what their proposals look like and the first impression that they make.

This organisation bids for business through competitive public tenders. In a competitive tender, presentation is important. It’s a crowded environment where a buyer will be assessing many tenders — sometimes a handful, and sometimes hundreds. Public tenders are a bit like a “cattle call” auditions in the entertainment business; show up on time, respect the judges, wear your biggest smile and most sparkly outfit. Sure, in a business environment, sequins may not really be appropriate, but quality presentation is still a sign of respect for the process.

Lately I've come to realise that there is another reason why we need to pay particular attention to presentation. Presentation equates to personality. When we are selling services, and our people are our prime saleable assets, we want to look and sound like people that the customer is going to want to work with. Make your proposals sound charismatic and enthusiastic, not professional and detached. Use photos of your own staff, not stock pictures. Make sure you can hear the voice of real people coming through in the way the proposal is written.