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Strategies for challengers

Are your proposals on life support?

In organisations that aren’t winning enough proposals, I find any number of processes and procedures that are propping up the proposal effort. This calls to mind the life support given to critical care patients to keep their vital organs going. Life support may help to sustain life, but it doesn’t deliver any kind of quality.

What would happen if you unplugged your status meetings? Tollgate checks? Draft reviews? Content library? What about graphics support? Would your proposals be able to live, breathe and take on a life of their own when they leave your door, and find their way in front of the customer?

Unfortunately, in many cases, the answer is “no”.

Your proposals live or die on the quality of effort, energy and enthusiasm you get from your people. They are the vital organs that give life to the body of work you want to do.

Does your team know how to build a pitch strategy that represents what the customer most wants, what you can best deliver, and what positions you most favourably against competitors? Can they analyse and answer the question behind the question in a customer briefing or tender request? Do they know how to structure their writing so that it is clear, convincing and compelling? Are they truly committed to making your proposals the best they can possibly be? If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, then you need to make this a priority.

Just like the human body, your organisation’s proposal effort needs all its vital organs working together. And when it comes to proposals, withdrawing life support is not an option.

You simply can’t afford to let your proposal effort pass away – there are millions of dollars riding on its success.

Once you get the life back into your proposals, everything gets better. You’ll start winning again. You’ll get to do the work you deserve to do – work that builds your profile, your bank account and your legacy. Your people will be happier and more enthusiastic about winning work.

And that’s an outcome worth investing in.

Why honesty is the best policy in a proposal

When writing a proposal, it can be tempting to ignore the areas where you know you’re going to come up short. What if you have less experience than competitors, or a less than stellar track record with a customer you are desperate to retain? Unfortunately, glossing over the issue isn't going to work.

A study by John Paul MacDuffie of Pennsylvania University, published in the Journal of International Business Studies in 2011, identified three types of trust in business relationships:

1.     Contractual trust;

2.     Trust in competence, and

3.     Goodwill.

Competitive tendering is built on the idea of “contractual trust”. In other words, as a buyer, I trust you if you meet my minimum standards; are prepared to sign a contract that binds you to these standards; and where I have legal redress if you don’t perform.

The other types of trust – competence and goodwill – are harder to establish, because they are based on how you operate on the job. While presenting past performance data does go some way towards establishing trust in your competence, it’s harder to foster goodwill in a proposal, particularly if you have no prior track record with the customer.

But there is a way to do it.

Recently the business media was all hot and bothered about a 22 year old intern from San Diego called Matthew Ross, who the Wall Street investment banking fraternity were falling all over themselves to hire. What was so special about Ross, who was just as inexperienced as the thousands of other American undergraduates that apply for internships? Here is how he sold himself:


"I won't waste your time inflating my credentials, throwing around exaggerated job titles, or feeding you a line of crap about how my past experiences and skill set align perfectly for an investment banking partnership.

 

The truth is, I have no unbelievably special skills...but I do have a near perfect GPA (grade point average) and will work hard for you. I have no qualms about fetching coffee, shining shoes or picking up laundry, and will work for next to nothing."


A proposal is a lot like a job application. Any time your proposal is not congruent with who you are and what you can do, it’s like an instant red flag that will send the buyer searching for other holes. There's a good chance you will spook them and never know why they suddenly went cold on you.

I know incumbents who have lost business simply because they haven't owned up to problems that are obvious to everyone.

Likewise, I have seen long shots win by being up-front and honest about their shortcomings, and by demonstrating a willingness to work and learn (just like Matthew Ross did).

Selling is a kind of energy exchange; it is always about people and what they believe about you.

Customers will expect you to have the right skills, products and services, but they place a higher value on attitude than you might think.

That’s because nothing is ever perfect. When things go wrong in the job, or the relationship - as they inevitably will - they want to know you're the kind of person they can work with to find a solution. 

This is tip no. 2 in my most popular e-book, 10 Easy Ways To Write A Better Proposal Today.

You bought a WHAT?

Identity is at the core of every buying decision. Because we all buy things, we can all get better at persuading others to buy – otherwise known as “selling”.

Selling requires the ability to put yourself in another person’s position, and to appeal to their identity - whether you’re selling to consumers or to business buyers.

The “I Bought A Jeep” campaign is a good example of how identity affects purchase behaviour. This campaign, launched in 2012, has become part of the Australian cultural vernacular. 

The advertising firm behind the campaign, Cummins&Partners, discovered that although Jeeps were very popular with the people who already drove them, the brand was struggling to reach new customers with its previous ad campaign slogan, “Don’t Hold Back”.

Qualitative research with current Jeep customers showed that most of them had experienced an “incredulous” reaction from family and friends when explaining they’d bought a Jeep (“you bought a WHAT??”).

The big idea behind the new campaign was to dramatise this as “incredulous approval”. Therefore, the reaction to saying “I bought a Jeep” became “You bought a Jeep!”

Jeep’s brand values are freedom, authenticity, adventure and passion, and the ads tap into a customer’s desire to live those values - not just buy a car.

This campaign won two Silver awards at the advertising industry’s 2014 Australian Effie Awards.  The agency’s submission to the awards committee shows that the campaign had dramatically increased sales for the parent company, Fiat Chrysler, in a difficult car sales market. Since the start of the campaign, Jeep sales increased 156%, outgrowing the SUV category by 300% while also reducing media expenditure per unit by 45%.

Australia is now Jeep’s second largest sales market outside the USA. Talking about the success of the campaign, Cummins&Partners’ CEO Sean Cummins said:

“Our aim is to create enduring platforms for brands that inspire action. And this does both. In spades. What is exciting for us is that “I bought a Jeep” has become so idiomatic to Australians. This is the stuff brands dream of. And it is a sensational platform that could go for years…the work we do is not for the industry, it is for consumers. And they are buying Jeeps!”

Knowing what we know about how the ads play to the connection between Jeep’s brand values and the values of the customer, we could also add to this by concluding:

“…because we found a way to appeal to the buyer’s identity”.

This is an extract from my new book Value: how to talk about what you do so people want to buy it. To order your copy, go to http://www.robynhaydon.com/buy/

The problem with selling services

Do you work in a service industry or service-based profession? Many of us do. In Australia, services employ more than 8.6 million people, representing 76% of all employment.

If you’re drawn to this kind of work, you probably want to use your expertise to help others, to do good work, and to make a difference. But in the real world, we must first convince people that they need our help; we have to convince them to buy from us. And this isn’t always as easy as it should be.

Products are fairly straightforward to sell, because we can touch them, feel them, and understand through experiencing them how they work.

Services on the other hand, are not straightforward at all.  Like a product, a service solves a problem, but the problem is often hard to see, and may be completely unknown to the person who is experiencing it.

As a result, people are often suspicious of buying services, because they don’t understand them and are worried that they might never get the outcome that they were promised.

But these people – your customers - have real problems that you can solve, and they need your help. It's your duty and responsibility to get out there and help them, but this means getting past your own fears and biases first.

Doing is easy. Selling can be hard.

Back in Renaissance Italy, artists were supported by wealthy patrons who admired their work.  This system had benefits for both parties.

Artists received a living wage, access to luxury materials (such as gold and lapis lazuli) and commissions to produce art on a size and scale they could otherwise only dream of.  Patrons used the art they produced as a means of expressing and enhancing their social status. Without this patronage system, we wouldn’t have many of the works of brilliant artists like Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo or Raphael.

In service industries, we also need to find patrons – customers –who get what we do, and who see the mutual benefit in commissioning us to do it. This is essential if we are to have any chance of bringing our gifts into the world.

It’s easy to accept the excuse that it is all about price and that customers don't want what we have anymore. That isn’t really true. They may want it – and they probably need it – but like the rest of us, they are time-poor, risk-averse and battered by disruption and change.

Our job now is to give them extremely compelling reasons to do things the way that we suggest.

This is an extract from my new book Value: how to talk about what you do so people want to buy it. To order your copy, go to http://www.robynhaydon.com/buy/

Claim + Evidence = Persuasion

The customer who is reading your proposal has many demands on their time and attention. Your proposal must entice them in, make the journey interesting, and ultimately convince them that what you are offering has real merit.

These days, it’s pretty hard to get people to read long documents. A recent study by The Pew Research Center confirmed that nearly a quarter of American adults had not read a single book in the past year. The number of non-book-readers has nearly tripled since 1978.

It doesn’t really matter whether we are reading for business or for pleasure – the barriers are the same.

Improving the evidence that supports your claims is an important first step towards making your proposal more readable and more convincing.

For example, in a tender evaluation, the people sitting on the evaluation panel have to give your proposal a score.  What sets apart the proposals that achieve high scores is the quality of the evidence that they provide.

Tender evaluators use a score sheet that has a built-in process for scoring the quality of evidence you provide in each part of your submission. To get a top score of 10/10 or 8/10, your evaluator will have to justify that ‘all claims are fully supported’ in the part of your proposal that they are reviewing.

If your proposal has even ‘minor shortcomings in scope and detail’ – and this is very easy to do if you make claims without substantiating them with evidence – the maximum you can score on an answer is 6/10. In a very competitive tender, even one score this low could put you well out of contention.

Evidence is often the first thing that suffers when your writing is challenged by competing demands from your day job, tight deadlines and even tighter word limits. Here’s an example of what I mean:

 

XYZ Road Maintenance is Australia’s leading provider of road cleaning equipment to municipal authorities and private cleaning contractors. 

Our highly experienced, results-driven research and development team has drawn on world’s best practice to develop our Road Maintenance Widgets, which are considered the most reliable on the market today.

 

This short proposal extract alone has five unsubstantiated claims. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. So how do we fix the problem?

For example, let’s look at the claim of “reliability”. Here is a better way to convince the customer that this claim actually has some merit. The first sentence makes the claim, and the rest provides the evidence.

 

Reliability is an important indicator of widget quality, as reliable widgets have a longer lifespan, better up-time and lower overall costs of ownership.

XYZ Co. offers a ten-year guarantee on the operational performance of our widgets, double that of most other widget suppliers. 

We supply more than one million widgets each year to 87 contract customers, including almost half of Australia's municipal authorities and eight of the country’s top 10 private cleaning contractors,. Our standard supply contract promises 98.5% up-time for each individual widget; however, we have consistently exceeded this benchmark, achieving 99.3% up-time over the past three years across all 87 contracts.

Reliable widgets require replacement less frequently, reducing costs. Broken Hill City Council saved $50,000 on its annual road maintenance bill by using our widgets and private contractor Alphabet Cleaning Services has more than doubled the useful life of its existing road maintenance vehicles by replacing Acme widgets with ours.

 

A proposal without evidence is like a fairytale; ultimately, it's very hard to believe. Unlike a fairytale, though, reading such a proposal doesn't even have the benefit of being entertaining. It's disorienting, exhausting and the reader will most probably cast it aside without ever finishing it.

So stop cutting and pasting your proposals.

Slow down, really think about the message you want the reader to see, hear and feel, and find evidence to support every claim you want to make. You will find that you’re even more convinced about your offer as a result – and this conviction will lead to better results and more sales.

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.

Re-Engage is my training and coaching program for organisations with multiple major accounts. It will give your people the framework, skills, and confidence to lead contract renewals with your existing customers. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.

Who moved our cheese?

It takes time and effort to build new products and services, and to position for new business – all without a guarantee of return. So when times are good and the work is flowing in, it’s tempting to push this down the list of priorities. But fortunes can change quickly. And when they do, having a solid backup plan can mean the difference between hope and devastation.

During the week, the business press announced that supermarket giant Coles was replacing Bega, its current private label supplier for cheese, with a new supplier, Murray Goulburn, in a five year deal worth $130 million.

Loss of a contract this size isn’t great news for any company, especially a publicly listed one. However, Bega's CEO Aidan Coleman was on the front foot quickly with an explanation to the market about how Bega planned to replace the loss of revenue.

Supermarket private label contracts typically have low margins, although the contracts may be longer than usual (five or ten years).

In announcing the change, Coleman explained that Bega had been preparing for the loss of the Coles business, and was driving its brand towards higher margin and higher value added products.

For example, in late October, Bega announced a joint venture with Blackmores to produce infant formula. If you've been following the news recently, you will have seen that retailers have had to ration the sale of infant formula in Australian stores due to high demand from people buying to export back to China, following health scares in China with locally-produced formula.

Infant formula generates substantially higher margins and value add than private-label cheese products. Bega thinks it will be able to divert about $60 million worth of cheese inventory into the infant formula business, potentially compensating for the loss of the Coles contract. And although losses always hurt, at the same time, you can feel how excited Coleman is about the future of his business entering into this new market.

Only work you love and want more of is going to grow your margins.

Good, solid bread and butter work – although I’m sure you appreciate it – probably doesn’t fire your imagination any more.

And “marginal” work, like this private-label example, often doesn’t generate a good enough return compared to the productive capacity that is expended in delivering it.

We can’t control everything in business, but we can chart a course for where we want to go. 

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.

Structural barriers to business development

Legendary management guru Peter Drucker said that the purpose of a business is to create a customer. But in practice, what many of us spend our time doing seems to run contrary to this purpose.

Last week we considered the idea that there are thee primary internal barriers to business development – practical, structural and psychological – and looked at the practical barriers. These include 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 offer.

This week, let’s look at the structural barriers. These are things that we have created - usually for what seemed like a sensible reason at the time - that actually end up getting in the way of our business development success. Here are a few examples:

·      Treating business development as a function, rather than a goal. This is what happens when we employ a salesperson or business development person and expect them to carry everything, while the rest of the business sees their responsibilities as simply to “deliver” on what they sell. This just doesn't work anymore (if it ever did). The most successful businesses are those where everybody is responsible in some way for business development. There’s no way that one person, or even a small group of people, can do everything that's necessary to create, present and deliver value for a customer.

·      Process for the sake of process.  Particularly in larger and older businesses, it’s common to see processes that have been set up to suit the business, and not the customer.  When someone says "this is the way we've always done things", it's a sign that this is an area that has become internally focused and is probably detrimental to delivering value for a customer. Processes should make things easier, but in fact often make them damned difficult.

·      The way we spend our time. Most of us spend way too much time on things that actually aren't very important, and not enough time on things that are. How much of your day is spent answering email? In meetings? Completing reports? Resolving problems for other people? Now, how much of your time do you get to spend on actually building new things, and creating value for customers? When we spend all our time reacting to things, we’re not creating anything new. And when we’re not creating anything new, we are not building anything valuable for customers to buy.

Is your structure holding you back from achieving the success you deserve? Peel back some layers and ask whether they are creating, or inhibiting, value for customers.

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.

What is the legacy of short-term thinking?

Short-term targets and short-term thinking are stifling the growth of too many businesses that should be doing much better than they are.

Last week, SmartCompany reported the results of MYOB’s most recent Business Monitor survey, revealing the top 5 pressure points for small and medium enterprises. The top two were “attracting new customers” and “pressure from competitive activity”. Not surprisingly, pressure on profitability and price also rate highly among businesses that have experienced a decline in revenue this year.

There’s no doubt that conditions are challenging, and probably will be for some time. According to Deloitte Access Economics, economic growth here in Australia is expected to remain below its long-term average until 2017.

But short-term thinking is not the answer. There are opportunities out there, as long as we are prepared to do the work and planning it takes to land them.

Remember The Young Ones on TV in the 1980s, with everyone’s favourite hippie Neil earnestly explaining that “We SOW the seed, nature GROWS the seed, then we EAT the seed”?

It’s funny because it’s so obvious, and as it turns out, much easier to say than to do.

Pressure to attract new customers, coupled with increased competition and fewer market opportunities create the perfect environment for a game of chase-your-tail.

It’s one thing to be powerfully motivated to move away from what we DON’T want. But until we have a clear idea of what we DO want, we may see a lot of activity, but also a great deal of fear and confusion that will hamper results.

This year, the stock value of Amazon.com ($248b) overtook the stock value of America’s largest bricks-and-mortar retailer, Walmart ($233b) for the first time. Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon.com, doesn’t take this for granted. “If we have a good quarter, it’s because of work we did 3, 4, 5 years ago. It’s not because we did a good job this quarter,” he says.

The work we do today on our business model, products, services and customers may not bear fruit immediately, but without it, there will be little to harvest in the long term.

The downtime over Christmas and New Year is the ideal opportunity to reflect on the rewards you’d like to reap next year, and what you can sow now to make it happen.

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 get more of the work you REALLY want

When I talk to people in professional services firms, and organisations who compete through bids and tenders, something I hear often is that they are flat out just keeping up with the opportunities they need to respond to.

It's a struggle to get time to think about the work they really want, and they are frustrated that opportunities they know would be perfect for them are passing them by.

What many are hesitant to say, but know is an issue, is that they are operating in an environment that is designed to commoditise, and to force prices down, and that doesn’t play to their strengths or vision.

Because of this, shrinking margins are a problem in most services businesses.

According to CSIMarket.com, the professional services industry is achieving net margins of only 11.24%, while construction services are at 7.31% and transport and logistics are at a meagre 4.55%.

At the moment, within your business, there are probably four different kinds of work that you are doing:

1.     Work you love, and want more of

2.     Good, solid work that pays the bills and keeps the lights on

3.     Marginal or painful work, and

4.     Work that’s sending you out of business.

Unfortunately, most of us spend way too much time on the last three, and not nearly enough on the first.

That’s because the way we run new business pursuits is completely wrong. It delivers more of the work we DON’T want, without any of what we really do want.

If this is an issue for you, contact me and I’ll send you a copy of my new white paper Pole Position – How To Achieve New Business Success.

In it, you’ll learn why the future belongs to the “makers”, and how you can become one.

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.

Time to re-set your sales plan for 2016!

How has your year been? Brilliant? Pretty good? Not so good? Terrible?

As we hit December, we are already calling time on 2015 and making a mental checklist of what happened, what didn’t happen, and what we can do differently and better next year.

·       If you had a brilliant year, how will you make next year just as brilliant?

·       If you had a pretty good year, how can you make next year really rock?

·       If you had an average year, how do you break through patterns that are getting you less-than-ideal results?

·       If you had a terrible year, how will you get a lock on what’s going wrong, and come up with a plan to fix it?

The beauty of a new year is that we get a fresh start. 

In The Power of Focus, Jack Canfield says that we make our own luck through great preparation, good strategy, and focusing our time and energy doing the things we are truly brilliant at.

So what’s on your new business wish list for 2016? There are lots of opportunities out there. These can be yours if you really want them, know why you want them, have a strategy to go out and get them.

This is easier said than done, when most of us are so crazy-busy. And it’s heartbreaking to see opportunities pass by that you know you would be perfect for.

Let’s make 2016 your best year ever. My new program, Pole Position, will help you to design and package an offer that is so commercially valuable, your customers would be crazy not to buy it. I have only three places available in this extraordinary program over the December/January period. Contact me if you'd like to know more.

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.

How to “grow” your own proposal writers

In a proposal, what you say is more important than how you say it, and making sure the people in your team contribute their knowledge is very important. This means getting everyone involved in proposal writing, even if they don’t see themselves as “writers”.

Proposal writing is a skill that can be taught. Everyone in your team who has knowledge to share can learn to be more effective in proposal writing.

However, some people will be more suited to proposal writing as a regular gig than others.

Responding to tenders can feel like you are sitting an exam every day. People who were good at exams at school or university and who quite like the challenge of sitting exams (yes, it happens) are ideal for this type of work.

Bid writers need to quickly understand what’s being asked for in a Request for Tender and know how to respond.

Likewise, getting good exam marks requires the confidence to understand and interpret unfamiliar questions very quickly and under time pressure. It means being able to plan a response that addresses that question, then identify relevant content and ignore stuff that isn’t relevant, and weave an argument or point of view throughout.

A team member who has a good academic record with high exam scores in complex subjects is highly likely to be suited to the task of working on tenders. It doesn’t really matter what kind of subjects they were good at – it’s their pre-existing aptitude for this kind of work that is important.

But proposal writing can be a lonely and demanding job, often leading to exhaustion, frustration and burnout. When someone does choose to take it on, make sure that they get proper training, supervision and support – or their time in the job will probably be short-lived. 

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.

The gift that just stopped giving

In an environment where business is subject to competitive tender, giving and receiving gifts and hospitality is fraught with problems. It’s a fine line from appreciation to bribery, and it just got even finer. 

Last week The Age newspaper ran a story investigating gifts, benefits, and hospitality offered to buyers in Victoria’s Government-owned water corporations.

According to the Auditor General, there had been a 40% increase in gifts and hospitality to water corporations in a single year. Staff at City West Water received more than $90,000 over a two-year period, and at Southeast Water it was almost $70,000 over five years.

While the water corporations apparently refused to release their gifts registers at the time of the Auditor General's report, and details only emerged following a freedom of information request by the newspaper, it was not good news for suppliers. 

The Age article mentioned at least a dozen suppliers by name alongside the gifts they had given to their customers, including $5,542 for a conference in Florida, $3,700 for conference tickets in San Francisco, $500 in shopping vouchers and gifts cards and large amounts spent on Australian Open tennis tickets, AFL Grand Final tickets, and many other types of hospitality.

Due to concerns about the appearance of impropriety, independent auditor RSM Bird Cameron was asked to investigate. In this case, they found no correlation between the gifts, benefits, and hospitality offered and the results of tenders.

However, Victoria's water minister has now asked all of Victoria’s 19 water corporations to review and update their policies so that any gift or hospitality worth $100 or more is declared and approval sought before it is accepted. Introducing a new culture around gifts and hospitality is going to be one of the first tasks of the new boards at all water corporations from October.

If gifts and entertaining have always taken the lion’s share of your marketing budget, it’s time to re-think your strategy. While modest gifts and hospitality, will always have a role to play in showing appreciation to customers, what they really value is what’s inside your head.

Business development is still all about relationships, the way those relationships are transacted have fundamentally changed. We’ve moved from a time when people and personal relationships had a lot of power, to one where it’s ideas and innovation that are driving the customer relationship.

Invest in continually bringing your customers insights into how they can compete better, do business better, or move closer to their goals. That is truly the best gift you can give them.

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 momentum of continual improvement

The most successful suppliers fall quickly into a pattern of continual improvement as soon as they win a contract or customer. Unfortunately, others – who are really just doing no more than keeping up with the basic requirements – are probably setting themselves up to lose.

Newton’s first law of motion – the law of inertia – tells us that An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.”

When it comes to important contracts and customers, the procurement process is the “unbalanced force” – something outside ourselves that propels suppliers into a kind of recurrent stop-start motion.

Bid, deliver, and then bid again.

But that doesn’t make this a pattern for suppliers to aspire to.

For incumbent suppliers, what happens in the delivery phase – which is usually the longest and most significant in the relationship – is what sets the stage for winning again.

What customers usually see from a supplier is this.

Energy over time bid_before.png

There’s the initial flurry of excitement when competing for the business, followed (usually) by a short lull while the customer makes up their mind. When we win, it’s a steep climb to get everything set up right, and then we settle back into a comfortable level of delivery until we need to compete again.

But what they EXPECT from us is this:

Choosing the path of continual improvement is what really helps to sustain a customer relationship over the long term.

That’s because not everything is within our control.  We can’t control how customers choose to buy, and we can’t control what competitors do either.

But we CAN choose our own state of mind.

We do get to decide how much of our energy, enthusiasm and ideas – in short, how much of ourselves - we’re prepared to commit to making sure our work gets better and better. 

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.

Why “ticking all the boxes” often isn’t enough to make the sale

Imagine how much productivity is lost in businesses, and how many problems remain unsolved, just because buyers don’t have the balls to make a decision and sellers don’t push a solution when they actually have one.

Ever poured your heart and soul into a huge tender or proposal that went nowhere? Unfortunately, this is not uncommon. And it’s not just sellers whose time is wasted: it’s buyers’ too. A loss to “no decision” wastes everyone’s time and energy.

Indecision and waste are everywhere in complex sales. And not just in business.

Take real estate for example.

Escape to the Country is a British reality-TV show that helps hassled Londoners to buy property in the picturesque English countryside.

It’s highly aspirational, but not very practical, as very little property actually changes hands on the show. Most of the time it’s a lovely tour through some beautiful homes accompanied by tinkly music and a soothing voiceover.

While I like a good property stickybeak as much as the next person, I find Escape to the Country frustrating, as so few people actually BUY the gorgeous homes they look at.  Instead, they wander off “still searching for their dream home”, while the poor home owners trying to sell the place are left polishing the andirons in their inglenook fireplaces.

Why don’t these property buyers, seemingly so keen to escape to the country, actually buy? I reckon it’s because many come on the show with a massive laundry list of likes and dislikes. They are shown three homes, and the first two tick all their boxes. Ironically, it’s often the third house - the “mystery house” - that gets the best reception, as it challenges the buyers’ preconceptions and gives them something different (and better) than what they asked for.

Business buyers are exactly the same. They think they know what they want, but they don’t REALLY know until they see it.

So don’t just tick the boxes. Use your expertise, and offer them something that will surprise and delight them. That’s how you will emerge as the clear winner.

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.

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.

Five drivers that inspire new business pursuits

Talk long enough to any smart professional and you'll find that their goal is to do meaningful work that gives them a creative charge. Responding to tenders is the opposite of this. As a manager, this is why it can be so hard to get your professional staff to work on tenders - no matter how great the project on offer might seem to you.

As Drake Baer wrote in a career development piece for Fastcompany, there are five things that drive us in our working life:

1.     Cultivating craftsmanship or “mastery”;

2.     Uncovering a vocation (or purpose);

3.     Finding personal and professional alignment;

4.     Sculpting a lifestyle; and

5.     Identifying our ethic (or values).

If you want to engage your team with the idea of pitching for a project, here are some questions that leverage these career drivers and will help each individual to make a personal connection with the work on offer.

Career driver 1: cultivating craftsmanship or “mastery”. 

Questions to ask your team: what do you want to be the best at? How could this project help you develop that? What would need to happen for you to get the maximum career benefit out of this project?

Career driver 2: uncovering a vocation (or purpose).

Questions to ask your team: why did you decide to do what you do? How does that relate to what the client really wants here? How could this project help you to make that difference to them, and be commercially smart for us?

Career driver 3: Finding personal and professional alignment

Questions to ask your team: What did you love about working on (past/current) project? What is it about that assignment that made you feel like you were doing your best work? Does this project feel good to you too? If not, why?

Career driver 4: Sculpting a lifestyle

Questions to ask your team: Offer a list of benefits that might be possible from working on this project and see which ones your team members respond to. Does the project offer opportunities for travel and adventure? Autonomy? Connecting with other experts? Publishing findings that will influence peers?

Career driver 5: Identifying your ethic

Questions to ask your team: what do you think the client is trying to achieve here? Is this something you would aspire to achieve personally? Are there any aspects of this project that worry you or don’t feel like a good “fit” for us?

How do I know these questions are necessary? I’ll let you in on a little secret. I don’t love bids and tenders either! (Weird, right?!). The creative charge I get from MY work results from seeing smart, capable professionals light up at the prospect of solving a problem that is meaningful to THEM.

So if you have clever people who "don't do” business development, try this approach. You might be surprised at the results.

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.