Customer feedback

What do customers really want?

What do customers really want? It’s a tantalising question, and the central mission of business development. Get it right, every time, and you'll have more business than you know what to do with.

But like the Holy Grail, the answer to this question can be frustratingly elusive. There are many reasons why this is the case. Here are just a few of them:

Personal differences. Like you and I, customers are complex beings. They don't all want the same thing. It doesn't matter if they have the same problems, are in the same industry, or work for the same company.

Changing priorities. Even the exact same buyer may want one thing one day, but something else the next.

Invisible forces. We can never possibly hope to know everything there is to know about another human being. We can't see everything that's going on inside their world or their head.

People have tried many things to overcome these problems; asking customers what they want, poring over a customer’s mission and vision statements, and telling them what other customers have done in similar situations. Some of this can be useful, to a point. But it is not without its problems. 

For example, have you ever bought a present for a friend who admired something in a shop window, only to find that when you give it to them, six months later, they have no recollection of it and it’s pretty clear that they don’t really want it?

Market research can be a bit like this. It turns out that market research (asking customers what they want) is a poor predictor of what they will actually buy. According to AcuPoll, as many as 95% of new products introduced each year fail. Time Magazine lists the top 3 product failures of all time as the Ford Edsell (1957), which cost $2.9 billion in today’s terms; the Hewlett Touch Pad (2011), which was discontinued almost immediately at a cost of $885m in assets and $755m in wind-down costs; and Crystal Pepsi (1992). All were backed by expensive market research and extensive marketing campaigns.

One useful way to figure out what customers really want is to watch what they do, not what they say.

Yesterday, The Age reported that Spotless Group lost a 31-year contract at Suncorp Stadium to the much smaller O'Brien Group (which employs 6,000 people to Spotless' 30,000) as part of an international tender. Suncorp said that the winning O'Brien bid "best met all key criteria" and described them as innovators, with a bid that included a plan to redevelop Suncorp's 70 bars and restaurants. It can be inferred from this that Suncorp valued the winner’s investment of time and thinking about how to revamp their hospitality suites and overall customer experience.

What are your customers spending their time on? Their energy? Their money?  This tells you what they are valuing right now, and give you clues as to how to frame your own offer. 

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.

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.

Five signals that your customer relationship is running out of road

Customer relationships aren’t just about people anymore. We are moving away from an environment where personal relationships had a lot of power, to one where ideas and innovation are the primary currency that drives customer relationships.

 When I speak to senior people who are in charge of important customer relationships, there are two things they always tell me. The first is that they’re doing a good job. The second is that they have a “good relationship” with the customer.

Last week, I wrote about the risk of being a one-hit wonder; a supplier that isn’t invited back for a second contract term. Sure, you might think, that could happen – but never to me.

 So let’s dig a little bit deeper. How can we define a “good” customer relationship? What does it really look like? How do you know if you have one, or not?

 A good customer relationship is one where both parties are receiving equal benefit, and have equal interest in continuing. Here are five signals that your customer relationship may not be as good as you think it is, and is in fact at risk of running out of road:

 1.     You set regular performance review meetings with the customer, but they keep pushing them out or cancelling.

2.     Your service delivery plan looks exactly the same as the day the contract started.

3.     You're hitting all your targets or key performance indicators (KPIs) easily.

4.     You hear that competitors are in there pitching new ideas.

5.     There are changes coming up in the customer's business that you don’t know about, haven't thought about, or haven't developed a strategy to help them with.

These risks are easily avoided if you have a plan. You can call this anything you like; a retention plan, a growth plan, or a client service plan. I call it a “Ready to Re-compete” Plan.

What's important is that you actually HAVE a plan for change, and that you're not just delivering on the baseline of what the contract and the customer originally asked you 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.

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. 


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.

Why Making Assumptions Could Just Land You A Winning Bid

One of the reasons why sales people who are trained in consultative selling methods can find it challenging to write bids and proposals is because the writing process lacks the feedback loop that they are used to. On the other hand, bidders who are successful in picking up new business through formal bids and tenders — even with prospects they’ve never met or spoken with before — are great at providing insight into the problems and issues the prospect is likely to be facing based on what they know about the clients that they are already doing business with. These assumptions, based on their expertise, are what form the core messages of their winning bid.

One of my favourite sales experts is Jill Konrath, who wrote the book Selling to Big Companies and who writes an excellent blog on sales. She also has a lot of great ideas about successful strategies for achieving cut-through with what she calls “crazy-busy prospects”, who just aren’t interested in educating suppliers any more.

In this video, Jill has posted the best and most succinct example I’ve seen so far as to why making assumptions works in sales.  It will only take 90 seconds to watch and Jill has thoughtfully provided a summary as well, so you can read it if you’re not in a position to listen.

What to do when prospective customers won’t take meetings

One of the biggest complaints that I hear consistently from suppliers is that buyers won't take meetings any more. This trend has been growing for a long time, and now that professional procurement processes are firmly established in most organisations, it’s something that all of us are going to have to learn to live with. Suppliers in complex industries with drawn out sales cycles have long understood the value of content marketing; providing information to buyers when they need it to narrow down the field of potential suppliers and help them make their buying decision.

With direct contact with buyers proving more and more difficult to obtain, businesses of all sizes are now turning to content marketing to generate pre-sales activity.

In September this year, IDG Enterprise, a publishing company specialising in the IT market (titles include CIO, Computerworld and Network World) shared its recent study on pre-sales customer engagement.

What they found is that during the IT purchase process, IT decision makers download an average of eight pieces of content to help guide their purchase decision, ranging from product reviews, product demos and literature to feature articles and video. The study showed that video is becoming increasingly important at the beginning of the purchase process, and that these decision makers are watching interviews with industry experts and on the technology itself.

On the downside, the study showed that 82% of IT decision makers find it difficult to locate high quality and trusted content, and felt that much of the content they are consuming contains too much marketing hype and too many buzzwords. The study found that that independent, unbiased, and specific information elevates a supplier’s message and potentially results in their content being shared.

If you are finding it difficult to engage face-to-face with buyers, there is a message here to take notice of. Buyers are still out there looking for information about you —they're just looking in different places, and for different things, to what you're probably accustomed to.

Think about how you can equip your sales force with good quality videos, infographics, white papers, and other content to help drive the pre-sales process, and the optimum amount of content that a buyer will need to consume before they are amenable to direct contact from you.

Read more about the IDG study at http://www.idgenterprise.com/press/video-and-social-media-use-growing-in-connecting-it-buyers-and-vendors#CUSENG2013


Spitball May podcast: The Changing Face of Competition

What do we think about in business when we say “competition”, and what does it really mean to be competitive? In this podcast, I talk to buying behaviour specialist Bri Williams and organisational development expert Hamish Riddell about some emerging issues in business competition, including:

  • Sources of competition - It’s human nature to think of competitors as the firms or organisations that are the closest match to us. But does this baked-in view underestimate the field of competition, and how are businesses losing out by thinking too narrowly about competing solutions?
  • Constant disruption - Competitors come from everywhere and constantly with new and interesting ways of doing things. How much time should you spend looking out at what the market is doing, and how much just running your own race?
  • The rise of FREE - It seems everything new these days is free or low cost. In behavioural economics terms, “free” is actually a price on its own – so how can businesses make money from free? And what does constant price pressure mean for labour-based industries that don’t have a low-cost platform to work from?

Listen to the conversation at http://spitballbiz.wordpress.com/2013/05/16/the-changing-face-of-competition/

Proposal writing tip: etc = “oops, ran out of things to say”

Think your proposal is ready to go? Do a quick spell-check and see if you can find any instances of the abbreviation “etc”. This is one sign that the proposal isn't yet ready for the customer to read.

At best, finishing a sentence with “etc” looks like you have run out of things to say; at worst, like you have run out of interest in what you were writing about. It doesn't matter whether you were stumped, distracted or just ran out of time.  You don't want one little three-letter word to tarnish an otherwise great proposal.

Luckily, this is easy to fix even if you don't have a lot of time left before the deadline.

Look again at any phrase ending in “etc” and see if you have supported the main claim with at least three pieces of evidence ("...for example, X, Y and Z").  If you really had run out of things to say, consider deleting it.  The customer won't notice it's missing - but they will notice your use of “etc”!

Is your bid pricing methodology leaving money on the table?

Join pricing consultant Greg Eyres and I for a free 30-minute webinar on Thursday 13 June 1.00pm (AEST) and find out how to use Evidence-Based Bid Pricing as a powerful strategic weapon to build more successful bids. Customers will spend if they get value in return. However, according to bid pricing specialist Greg Eyres of Inforvalue, most organisations have a bid pricing model that doesn’t consider value at all. “Your bid price speaks volumes about your company but the task of pricing is usually approached with a great deal of nervousness,” Eyres says.

Are you nervous about bid pricing? If you aren’t, maybe you should be. There’s a very good chance that your pricing methodology is losing you bids and is also leaving money on the table that could have been yours, had you advocated for it. Some of the telltale signs that your bid pricing model needs an overhaul:

  • You’re making a "guesstimate" of all your costs, adding on a margin and hoping for the best.  
  • You tend to leave pricing to the day before the deadline.
  • You’re always revising and whittling away at your price as a result of late information.
  • Your sales and finance teams constantly lock horns, with one advocating for what the customer will pay and the other insisting on cost recovery.

“Customers will pay when they perceive they get more benefit than they pay for - in other words, where the value justifies the price,” says Eyres. "A tendering environment, by its very nature, gives you the opportunity to get to these value drivers. During the tendering period, you have the ability to communicate regularly with the customer and to get a detailed understanding of their business model.  Through this, you can determine how you can affect the customer's ability to create value for its own customers and/or reduce its own costs. This not only gives you evidence to develop your pricing strategy, it also enhances the relationship you have with the customer.”

Greg and I are delivering a free webinar on Thursday June 13 where we will discuss how to use Evidence-Based Bid Pricing as a powerful strategic weapon to build more successful bids.

If you missed the webinar, contact Greg Eyres to find out more about Evidence-Based Bid Pricing.

Spitball April podcast: The Changing Face of Consumption

How much have consumers and their patterns of consumption changed, really? In the April Spitball podcast - hosted by Bri Williams – Bri, Hamish and I talk about what has and hasn’t changed in the context of today’s battle to win the sale. Here’s a summary of our major topics:

  • Information backwash - Unfettered access to information about products and services has shifted the relationship between consumers and businesses. But has the availability of information lead to a better informed market, or one that is more confused than ever? Is it now more difficult to make and live with purchase decisions, and how can businesses help?
  • Relationship with money - Cold hard cash is on the outer as mobile banking and digital wallets continue to rise. How has this impacted the concept of money and how consumers spend?
  • Authentically fake - At one end of the spectrum, we live in a disposable world of cheap cars, ready-made meals and here-today gone-tomorrow apps. At the other, there’s a counter culture move towards ‘authenticity’, artisanship, product re-use and permanence. Do businesses have to pick one camp or the other, or is there magic to be made somewhere in between?

Listen to the conversation at:


Two reliable ways to improve your proposal success rates

How do you go about continually improving your proposals? You may be missing out on valuable insights that could really make a difference to your win rates. Most people I talk to only pay attention to losses. That's understandable, but it is rarely helpful.

Yes, it hurts to lose. Your boss is probably breathing down your neck for answers. Maybe you want to argue with the prospect in the hope they'll change their mind.

Unfortunately, in most cases there is little value in seeking feedback on a lost opportunity.

If you're not the winner, the prospect has no interest in giving you rational feedback that you can actually use. You aren't the supplier they chose. They just want you out of their office and out of their hair. In a government tender debriefing, you will get the least possible information designed to protect the department’s probity position.

If you think that sounds a bit disheartening, it is. There's no way to sugar-coat it.

The truth is that there are only two reliable ways to build your proposal success rates.

1. Get feedback when you win. Every win contains a lesson and your mission is to figure out what that lesson is. We often tend to skip this step due to a little habit called "confirmation bias" which - according to Bri Williams, a specialist in buying behaviour -  is our tendency to seek information that confirms our existing beliefs. In other words, to assume that the reasons why we won the business are the reasons why we thought we should win it. Never assume; always ask. You may well be surprised at the things that the client liked most about your offer.

2. Get feedback from a friendly, long-standing client, even if they passed this time. They probably still like you and feel they owe you an explanation. For example, one of my most successful clients recently lost a bid that they were fully expecting to win. Yes, it hurt, but they were able to pull themselves out of the post-loss quagmire and really listen when the customer told them where our bid had missed the mark. These insights were the benchmark against which the bid team assessed everything we put into the next bid. The customer was impressed, and three months later my client was rewarded with a huge contract that was widely considered a long shot before we got the wake-up call.