Sales leadership

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.

How to avoid becoming a commodity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three things that successful crowdfunders can teach us

Crowdfunding offers a model of audience engagement that contract bidders — who often believe we are talking to an audience of one, that’s already sold on what we do — can learn a lot from.

Crowdfunding is a social media phenomenon that combines networking with raising money.  According to Forbes, the crowdfunding industry now raises more than $5.1 billion a year worldwide. Some of the sites operating in Australia include Kickstarter, Pozible and Chip In (for non-profit organisations).

In the world of getting funding to do things, there is a definite hierarchy at work.

At the top of this are essential services, which governments or private businesses are ready to fund through contracts and agreements.  The buyer’s briefing is usually quite prescriptive and can take the form of a Request for Tender or Proposal.

In the middle there are grants, where hopefuls showcase their ideas and projects to a funding body, - generally a large corporation, charitable foundation or private donor - who may be prepared to fund something that piques their interest. The buyer's briefing here is far less prescriptive - more like a set of principles that need to be fulfilled. Because of this, grants are a bit like a beauty pageant. There may be money on offer, but it's harder to get, and difficult to predict who will get it.

Crowdfunding is at the very bottom of this hierarchy. Here, there is no buyer briefing at all. Crowdfunders put their project out to a wide audience that has no firm intention of giving money to anything. Therefore, a crowdfunder’s job is to inspire people to put their hand in their wallet and pull out their credit card.

Here are three things that anyone who sells through contracts and grants can learn from successful crowdfunders.

  1. Reinforce what’s great about your offer. In crowdfunding, this means multiple follow-ups after someone expresses interest in the project. In contract and grant proposals, make sure to spin your most compelling points in different ways; don’t just bury them on page 47 and 53 where they could easily be missed.
  2. Bring it to life. On the major crowdfunding platforms, projects that are supported by engaging video and visuals outsell other projects two to one. In contract and grant proposals, visuals are absolutely mandatory for conveying complex concepts, and to illustrate any kind of methodology.
  3. Be hot AND cool. When you’re sitting alone in your office putting together a grant or tender submission, it’s easy to forget that you’re actually battling for attention in a crowded marketplace. Crowdfunding is the very DEFINITION of crowded, so successful projects gazump the competition by being really, really hot right now. For example, Patient Zero raised $230,000 to stage real life zombie battles, twenty times more than the $10,000 it was originally asking for. You may not be pitching zombie battles, but there’s got to be something cool about what you’re offering. Grab hold of the zeitgeist, tap into needs the customer didn’t know they had, and show them a compelling vision of their future working with you. 
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.

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. 


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

How to Build Business-Winning Innovation in Your Services Business

Most service businesses sell to business customers — either exclusively, or in addition to consumers.

When you sell to other businesses or to government, and when you reach a certain level, you will be selling to procurement.

For example, Victorian government departments need three quotes for any purchase above $25,000. Above $150,000, they are required to conduct a formal tender.

Most businesses that sell at this level end up winning at least two-thirds of their business through some kind of formal submission. When you win a contract that way, you only get to keep it by competing for it again, generally, once every three years.

That’s a lot of revenue at risk through the procurement cycle.

When I talk to people who sell services, they often tell me that they are so busy working in the business that there never seems to be time to work on it. The marketplace is getting more competitive all the time, and the pace of change is so intense that it can be hard to keep up with what competitors are doing – let alone come up with new things yourself.

To make things even more challenging, there is the frustration that customers don’t really understand what you do, let alone value what you do.

There is a better way to sell services. If you’re struggling with these problems, I can help.

The Revenue Revolution: Building Business - Winning Innovation in Services Organisations is a program for owners and leaders of service businesses. Together, we will look at what your organisation knows, does, and delivers, to identify what you offer that is:

  1. Extremely valuable to customers, and has the highest currency right now;
  2. May be outdated, and of limited value to customers; and
  3. Can be built in order to create greater value to customers over the next 6 to 12 months.

At the end of the program, you will have a blueprint to develop services that will position you as the clear winner with customers or funding bodies.

Contact me for a white paper with more information about how the Revenue Revolution Program can help you grow your services organisation.

The Revenue Revolution: How to win and retain your most important business customers

The Revenue Revolution: How to win and retain your most important business customers

Friday 29 August at 12.00pm (AEST)

Sponsored by Bank of Melbourne

There is no doubt about it, selling services is tough.

Products are tangible and tactile; we can see and feel them. Services are invisible.

Products encourage two-way conversation; they can be pulled apart, debated and analysed. Services are harder to talk about.

Products usually have masses and masses of information to support them; customer research, data sheets, and product reviews. Services often don’t.

84% of Australian small businesses operate in the services sectors. Most service businesses sell to business customers, either exclusively, or in addition to consumers.

If you sell services, you have probably had at least one experience of talking to a prospective customer about what you do where you’ve been met with polite nods (at best) or blank stares (at worst). Unfortunately, the sale of services often stalls at the presentation stage.

These days, a formal bid, proposal, submission, or tender response is often the only way to win work with business customers. Customers often see only the very transactional parts of what service businesses do, and it is dangerous to keep responding to an agenda that is based on this limited knowledge.

This Friday I’m running a free 30-minute webinar for the Bank of Melbourne to help celebrate Small Business Month. If you run a service-based business, please register and come along.

The Power of Positioning

When we are in the service business, positioning is what helps us fulfil our true potential. If you do great work and want to do more of it, having people recognise your unique talent and the contribution you make to the world is an essential precursor for success.

The worldwide outpouring of love and gratitude on the passing of Robin Williams demonstrates the powerful legacy we create when we fulfil our true potential.

In an industry that loves to typecast, Robin Williams was that rarest of things — truly unique.

Williams not only had a huge talent, but was able to deploy that talent in a way that touched an astonishing number of people. If you liked comedy, Robin Williams was your man. If you liked drama, he had that covered too. Robin Williams didn't look or behave like anybody else, but he did great work —and lots of it — in a career spanning more than four decades.

When we leave the world behind, we're not going to be remembered for the boxes we ticked. We will be remembered for our uniqueness as human beings, what we contributed to the planet, and the legacy that we leave behind.

Last week I talked about the stress and pressure that many who work in service industries are feeling about the need to conform to the customer’s agenda and to be measured against what everyone else is doing (Whose Prescription Are You Filling?).

Your point of view is important —it is what makes you uniquely you. And point of view comes before point of difference.

In my experience, the service businesses that are the most successful are always those that offer something that is much better than the customer is expecting, and that break the deadlock of conformity.

So what gets you out of bed in the morning? What are you truly passionate about achieving? What are you convinced will make your customers’ lives immeasurably richer? Once you know and pursue your own agenda, you will be well on your way to winning the business you deserve and developing the positioning that will create your great work and ultimately, your legacy.

Whose prescription are you filling?

Lately, I've been spending a lot of time talking to owners of service businesses and people who work in professional services firms. Most have spent years building up their expertise and knowledge, only for prospective customers — who know a lot less about the topic than they do —to turn around and ask them to do things that they know will not deliver the best outcome. Some are feeling frustrated and even depressed about what they do as a result.

This must be what doctors feel like when patients arrive in their office having consulted Dr Google and diagnosed their ailment themselves. In most cases it takes six years to become a GP, and a further six if you plan to specialise. Doctors have to spend 10,000 hours understanding how human bodies work. But because we all have a body, we figure we can click on the search button and work it out ourselves. A 2013 study of doctors’ mental health by Beyond Blue found that doctors report substantially higher rates of psychological distress and burnout compared to other Australians (professionals and otherwise). Though the study didn’t specifically conclude that patient behaviour has contributed to the problem, it can’t be helping. Imagine how tough it would be for a GP to have to justify herself 20 times a day to patients who think they know just as much about the human body as she does.

Like doctors, many professionals — who have spent years building mastery in what they do — also feel like they're wasting their time filling someone else's prescription. This is what happens when we get trapped at the bottom of the positioning cycle, responding to the customer’s agenda rather than creating our own.

Customers often see only the very transactional parts of what service businesses do, and it is dangerous to keep responding to an agenda that is based on this limited knowledge. This is what makes us into commodities.

All service businesses need to invest in regularly reviewing their knowledge, platforms, and programs to help customers understand the value in what we do. Without this, it isn’t just our revenue that is at stake.

How to Build Business With New Markets and Customers

When it comes to winning new business in complex services markets, what got you here won't get you there. In other words, the offer that helped you win the contracts and customers you have today is not likely to be what brings in future business.

Often, lack of good ideas is not the problem. Smart, successful people in service businesses often have little difficulty in coming up with lots of options for new things that they could sell.

The issue arises when it comes time to sort those ideas into what’s going to make the biggest impact (selection) and then figure out what to do to make them actually happen (implementation).

We all have a blind spot when it comes to our own stuff, and getting someone to help you look at all your ideas and help you select the ones that are most valuable can save you hours of wasted time and effort. It’s a lot like the way that a gallery owner works with an artist. The gallery owner helps the artist to see what is most commercial about their work, and that customers will want to buy. The gallerist’s process is called “curation”. This is very similar to the process I follow with my clients when we choose the best ideas to work on.

Once we have this sorted, the way to implement projects that matter is to “fight for three”. This is an idea introduced by Peter Cook in his book The New Rules of Management, and recognises that we all have a lot to get done in our day jobs. When it comes to doing something new on top of that, we need to choose only the three projects that are most important to blasting us out of our status quo. New things are hard to find the time and energy for, and it’s easy to lose momentum. That’s where external accountability can really help get you where you want to go.

Are you trading on ancient artefacts?

If you have 300 years of combined experience, that’s a heck of a lot of knowledge sitting in your organisation that the customer would love to take advantage of. The problem is, you can't show them how in just one sentence.

There are basically three things that we can trade on when we sell.

Products.These exist in the present. Products, including service-based products like programs, are what we have available right now that the customer can take immediate advantage of.

Precursors. Precursors exist in raw form in the present, but have a huge impact on the future. In chemistry, a precursor is a compound that creates a chemical reaction and produces another (often more valuable) compound.  In business,  precursors are the things that we're working on right now — the innovations, the pilot programs, the new initiatives that we're bringing to the customer that will ultimately result in goodwill, good relationships and good outcomes for us and for them.

Artefacts. Artefacts belong very firmly in the past. An artefact is an object of cultural or historical interest. In business, artefacts are the projects we’ve done, the contracts we’ve delivered, the systems and processes we built years ago. And our 300 years of combined experience.

When you’re bidding for a long-term contract of three years or more, the most valuable things you can trade on are your products and precursors.  Precursors are particularly valuable, because they are the inputs to future products; the essential compounds that help you create what you will deliver in the future. And most of us don’t have nearly enough of them.

Make no mistake, when you are pitching for a long term contract, you are not just selling what you have today. You are selling what you will have in three years’ time, or even further into the future.

A Contract Isn't a Gift for Life!

Winning a contract is really just a licence to keep doing good work. Even when there is an option for the buyer to renew the contract, it’s dangerous to assume that the renewal will happen automatically.  Think of your contract end date as more of a “use-by” date — a hard deadline by which you need to have a compelling strategy win the customer all over again.

As consumers, most of us have contracts that we would rather not put too much effort into.  These often roll over automatically, or are renewed with very little effort on our part. I once went three months before I realised that my phone was out of plan, and therefore the handset was fully paid for. I had to call Optus to get my rate reduced and my money back. Likewise, when insurance is up for renewal, we are often happy enough just to pay the invoice, rather than researching other options.

The businesses we buy from set it up that way, and good for them – they are the ones who are really in charge.

But when you are the supplier, selling to procurement, the situation is very different. The buyer sets the contract and the terms. Even when there is an option to renew, it’s their option, not yours.

Because of the way we see contracts operating in our personal lives, we sometimes tend to assume that “renewal” means “rollover”, but this is a mistake.

Consider for a moment how you think about use-by dates on food. Do you throw out food that is past its use-by? Is the use-by date a hard deadline for you, or more of a flexible one? I was once given a gigantic Toblerone, which I was hugely excited about, at least until I bit into it. The chocolate was crumbly and awful, and it turned out that it was 18 months past its use-by.

No one really wants to test their intestinal fortitude with food that old. In effect, though, this might be what we are asking our customers to do when we treat the renewal of a contract as a given, rather than as a genuine opportunity to win their business again.

Rather than a “rollover”, a more useful way of thinking about your contract end date is that it’s an opportunity for renovation, redevelopment, and reinvigoration. Competing successfully as an incumbent means working on projects that will create customer value, and this project work needs to start well before the contract use-by date.

Take More Risks and Create a Stronger Competitive Advantage

By definition, competitive advantage doesn’t mean doing exactly what everybody else is doing. But it does mean taking risks and moving away from what we know — something that is neither comfortable nor easy to do.

Have you ever seen movies where the hero swings across an impossible impasse, runs up the side of a building, or does a backflip off a dumpster? Then you’ve witnessed parkour, where adventurous types get from A to B using only their bodies and their surroundings to propel themselves. To avoid injury, parkour practitioners must look at their environment in ways that most of us can’t even imagine.

When it comes to the competitive landscape, I reckon we could learn a lot from this idea. We tend to see our market as a familiar track we have run around many times before, rather than as an exciting playground full of new things to try.

For example, in Australia, professional football is big money, and all AFL clubs are looking for an edge to win a premiership flag.

In April, The Age ran a story about Peta Searle, who gave away her job as a high school PE teacher 7 years ago to become a full-time football coach. Searle worked as assistant coach in the VFL (the amateur league), where she built the competition’s best defence back line at Port Melbourne. Port won a premiership in 2011 and came runner-up in 2012. Unfortunately, Searle was paid only $5,000 a year in the role, and needed a job with the AFL to make a decent living. Despite her outstanding track record, she couldn’t get one, and had to give away her football dream.

From a purely commercial standpoint, this is crazy. Searle is a proven performer. If she had been a bloke, her results would have started a bidding war.

Fortunately, Peta Searle’s story has a happy ending. This month, St Kilda recruited her as the AFL’s first female development coach. I’m guessing that St Kilda will have one of the best backlines in the competition before too long, and with it a sustainable competitive advantage.

If you’re pitching for a multimillion dollar contract, you will be in a competition of equals who can probably do the job just as well as you can. Often, it’s the very small things that will tip the buyer over the edge to choose a winner. What will yours be?

Point of View Comes Before Point of Difference — A Tale of Two Big Winners

There’s a lot of talk about unique selling propositions, but clients often see far less difference between suppliers than we think they do. It takes work and commitment to identify your point of view about a new business opportunity, build an offering and a strategy around it, and be rewarded for it. Last week, two of my clients were announced as big winners in the Department of Health’s sector reforms of mental health and alcohol & drug treatment in Victoria. One, a consortium headed by UnitingCare ReGen and Odyssey House, grew their business in all the metropolitan Melbourne regions that they pitched for.

The second, the Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO) won intake and assessment services across both drug treatment and mental health services in regional areas of Victoria, a significant chunk of new business that adds 30% to their annual operating budget and means they can employ more than 50 extra staff. Both had been setting the ground work and scaffolding that led to these wins for a long time. I worked with Odyssey and ReGen for six months before the RFT came out, and have now been working with ACSO’s business development team for almost a year. All are great people who do great work that helps a lot of people take back control of their lives, and I am beyond thrilled for them. (Congratulations guys!!).

In The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson set out a solid base of research proving that clients value suppliers who challenge the way they think about how they operate and compete. “Customers appreciate it if you can confirm what they already know to be true”, Dixon and Adamson say, “….but there is vastly greater value in insight that changes or builds on what they know in ways they couldn’t have discovered on their own.”

When the client has bought a service before, every formal tender is a red flag for change. It doesn’t matter whether the Request for Tender explicitly spells out an agenda for change (as the Department of Health’s did) or not.

“Improvement in the status quo” is the underlying expectation that sits behind every Call for Submission, Request for Tender, or grant proposal request you will ever see. It’s a warning for incumbents to up their game, and an opportunity for challengers to come up with something new and exciting for the customer to buy.

Busy Is The Enemy Of Successful!

Imagine that you are speaking at a conference in 90 days. There will be a thousand people at that conference, and ten of them have the power to put you straight into your dream job. What will you do? Most likely, your subconscious will go into overdrive and you will obsess night and day about your presentation. (And freak out — a little or a lot.)

These days, it’s impossible to have a conversation with anybody in business without them mentioning at least once how busy they are. “Busy” might feel like a source of pride, a marker of how much we are doing. But busy is also an excuse. It's a conversation blocker. And often, it’s a barrier to achieving what is most important to us.

Last week, I suggested that without realising it, many of us are playing a finite game — an endgame —with our most important contracts and customers. This article was inspired by the fabulous Dr Jason Fox, an expert in motivational practice, and his new book Game Changers.

This week, I had the great pleasure of hearing Jason speak. One of the key points I took away from Jason’s presentation is that overcommitment is the noblest excuse for failure. It's an alibi that excuses us from poor performance.

In her book Mindset - How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, psychologist Carol Dweck also notes that “it’s one thing for a four-year-old to pass up a puzzle. It’s another to pass up an opportunity important to your future.” But often, by being overcommitted, that's exactly what we are doing.

No one will argue that bids take a heap of time and effort. You’ve just finish one and the next one rears its head. It’s tough to pursue new business while you’re running the business. And it can be hard to know what to do proactively, when it feels like it’s all about waiting for the RFT.

When we are speaking on a stage, we are acutely aware that all eyes are on us, but in fact bids are no different. Just because a lot of competitors are at that event does not make it any less about you. When the prospect’s rating your proposal, you are the only person they are looking at.

Great presentations happen when passion meets preparation. This is your time to shine.  So don’t wait! Start planning now. Proposals that emerge as the clear winner are really just the bid leader’s grand passion brought to life. Let me help you find yours.

Are You Playing a Finite Game with Your Most Important Contracts and Customers?

Retaining business is a game of strength and stamina, but it often doesn’t feel that way. The milestones imposed by the procurement cycle put invisible limitations on the way that we approach the job of selling, particularly to existing customers. In his new book Game Changers, Dr Jason Fox —an expert in motivation and game design for meaningful work— says there are two types of games we can play; finite games or infinite games.

Finite games are played for the purposes of winning, while infinite games have no fixed outcome — only the sense of progress.

I reckon this is a neat way of describing how we view the game of pursuing and retaining business.

Most new business pursuits are treated like finite games. We win, or we lose, and we move on. Wins are inherently motivating, while losses have the opposite effect. There is actually a third outcome that some find even more demotivating than a loss; no outcome, despite a lot of effort. I can remember two such situations. Years ago, I worked with a large professional services firm on a bid for a multinational client. At what was supposed to be a celebration dinner for the bid’s lodgement, the lead partner told us that the bid had been pulled due to competitive concerns from an international office. Two dozen faces around the table dropped like stones. On another occasion, I was working on bid with a team from the UK when my father-in-law died. Due to the deadlines, I was the only person in the family who couldn’t take time off to support my partner or help with funeral preparations. Months later, we heard that funding for the program we were bidding for had been cancelled due to a policy change. In both cases, thousands of hours of work went down the drain.

Thinking of new business pursuits as a finite game is okay up to the point where the contract is won, but what happens next? Nurturing and building relationships with an existing client is an infinite game – a game of patience, possibility and progress. But because the procurement process introduces artificial milestones — because we know we have to re-bid for the contract every three years — this makes it feel like a finite game. As a result, we spend too much time using the existence of the Request for Tender as an excuse to procrastinate, instead of making progress. This is a losing game for us and for the customer.

If the contract signing is the whistle signalling the first bounce at a football game, the first RFT is just the first quarter siren. Even when competition is tough, and change is endemic, there’s no reason your relationship with the customer can’t extend for all four quarters — more than a decade — and for years and years after that. The game of serving a customer needs to start the day the new contract is won, and it is a game that doesn’t need to end unless you want it to.

Is There a Gender Difference In The Way We Pitch for Business?

There is no question that men and women can both be very successful in sales and business development roles. However, the way that they go about it can be very different. In general, men seem comfortable with taking more risks, while women seem comfortable doing more work. 

In fact, both risk-taking and hard work are equally important to getting a result with an important bid or proposal.

  • Taking risks is important, because pitching for business is very competitive and we need to find a way of coming out on top. Clear winners take risks without fear of loss, and are prepared to stand out and be different.
  • Doing the work is also important, because we need to build innovation, best practice, and continual improvement so we have something to sell. Hard workers deliver on these promises, and are very good at driving bids and putting proposals together.

One way to support both these factors is to aim for gender balance in your bid team. If your team is full of guys, you might find a bias towards taking risks and generating ideas, but the actual work and follow-up might be lacking. If you have a team with many women, you might have a lot of willing workers, but they might need some encouragement to take more risks and overcome any perceived fear of failure.

It’s also a good idea look at your own preferences and make sure that you put people around you — of both genders — who can do the things that you find a challenge. If you're a risk taker and big picture person, you need detail people around you. If you are great at getting things done, and good at the detail, you might need help with the bigger picture, and encouragement to be bolder when making decisions about the opportunities to pursue.

Your Contract Delivery Team Is Your Primary Selling Team

The rise of procurement has fundamentally changed the way sales relationships are transacted. Your contract delivery team becomes your primary selling team as soon as a contract is signed. Clients are mentally marking your team on every interaction. And with so much contract communication done in writing, the risk of damaging a client relationship through poor communication is greater than ever before.

Contract delivery teams have a huge influence over how the customer sees not just your day-to-day performance, but how well you are managing customer communication, best practices and innovation over the life of the contract. Because they work at the coalface every day, team members are also in an ideal position to identify how to make more money and to reduce profit leaks.

Contract delivery teams usually contain a mix of technical and operational people, each of whom is very clever and knowledgeable in their own area of expertise. However, many of them don’t really think they can sell, or don’t see it as their job to sell.

Through working on bids and tenders with dozens of contract delivery teams in many different industries, I have seen first-hand how the lights go on when these smart people realise what an enormous contribution they can make to a winning bid. I am really passionate about seeing that effect last when they get back to their day job, and giving them the tools, the techniques and the confidence they need to not only deliver the contract with excellence, but to step up into their selling role.

How much more business could you retain, how would your reputation improve, and how much influence would you have with customers if your contract delivery teams communicated with more authority?

My Client Leadership Program gives operational, technical and front line delivery staff the confidence, clarity and communication skills to act as an effective selling team. Contact me if you would like a white paper with more information about this program.