Sales leadership

Buyers Expect and Buy Innovation - Even in Prescriptive Markets

Last month I wrote a piece titled Why Innovation Matters to Your Most Important Customers.  While this statement is true, it doesn’t always feel that way. In some markets, where the buyer sets the KPIs, tells you what to do and how to do it, and even how much they are prepared to pay, the relationship feels prescriptive; like a boss and staff rather than customer and supplier. Service delivery teams are so focused on delivering day-to-day — and are constantly told that they can’t do anything else, because there’s no money in the contract to pay for it — that innovation feels like it’s unimportant.  This, however, couldn’t be further from the truth.

Recently the Federal government held a Red Tape Repeal Day, scrapping more than 9500 regulations and 1000 redundant pieces of legislation. In commenting on this initiative in The Age, Malcolm Maiden pointed out that not all red tape is created externally. We create our own systems and structures to deal with problems and bureaucracy, and don’t always dismantle them when they go away.

In my opinion prescriptive contracts, which contain plenty of red tape, are part of this problem.

Fortunately, buyers in some prescriptive markets are starting to realise that if they prescribe everything, they may not get what they really need — even though they will get what they have asked for.

A good example is the current recommissioning of the mental health and drug treatment sectors in Victoria, which are undergoing wide scale modification to better align service delivery with changes in community problems with drugs and alcohol.  Another is the government employment services market, which is highly prescriptive but needs to be flexible to accommodate the broader political agenda and Australia’s economic needs.

If you operate in a prescriptive market, remember that you’re competing for the attention of tired bureaucrats who are wading through dozens or maybe hundreds of submissions that all sound pretty much the same. Behavioural economics theory holds that we tend to give greater weight to highly memorable things (a concept known as vividness).  Suppliers who are innovative and who are able to paint a vivid picture of how they will provide solutions to long-standing problems are rightly seen as a breath of fresh air, and are far more likely to be rewarded than those that offer a business as usual approach.

What Does It Really Take to Win Business through Continual Innovation?

Innovation is not a one-time thing – it’s an “all the time” thing.  Individuals and teams who keep thinking and keep innovating are always going to win more business than those that don’t. Bidding to provide services, in particular, is never going to be 100% transactional and all about price. It is always about something more. Buyers need help to navigate complex problems that weren’t conceived of a year ago — let alone 10 years ago — but some suppliers are still offering solutions that are well out of date. New solutions can come from anywhere; from a multinational in Texas to a small business from Australia.

For example, Birdon, a small-to-medium marine engineering company from Port Macquarie, was recently awarded a contract worth $A285m to supply the United States Army with 374 specialised boats.  Birdon won against global competitor General Dynamics in a four-year tender process. SmartCompany ran an interview with Birdon Group General Manager Iain Ramsay, in which he acknowledged innovation as the key to the bid’s success. Birdon had purchased an innovative marine propulsion system when it acquired another company, NAMJet, in 2011. Ramsay said  “Our boat design was superior to its competition… The innovation which went into it allowed us to win, even though we weren’t the cheapest on price.”

Innovation isn’t it just about the systems, products and services you build. It’s actually about having a process for continuing to generate improvement ideas.

There are formal, organisational innovation processes like the Ten Types of Innovation, and then there are things that we can each do individually to improve our ability to innovate. In an interview with emotional intelligence expert Daniel Goleman, Teresa Amabile — Director of Research in the Entrepreneurial Management Unit at Harvard Business School — identified the four key ingredients for continuous innovation by individuals as domain expertise; the ability to learn new things; creative thinking; and working hard. Domain expertise is about having a depth of knowledge and skill in the area you work in. Being able to learn new things — both inside and outside of what you do and know — will help with creative thinking and original ideas.  Hard work speaks for itself.

To me, this sounds like a pretty good recipe for career success. When innovation becomes a habit, you win, the team wins — and so does the customer.

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.

Why Good Performance Isn't Enough To Retain An Important Contract

When I work with companies who are looking to re-compete for important contracts that they know will be coming up to RFT in 12 months’ time, one of the things that the bid team most often talks about is their operational performance. Of course operational performance is important. It’s what suppliers are being paid to do. But it isn't always the most important, particularly when customers are deciding whether you're worth keeping around for another contract term.

Have you ever heard of a phenomenon called “digital distraction”? Here are some startling examples that explain why looking at the thing that’s right under your nose isn’t always the best idea:

  • In December last year, a Taiwanese tourist fell off the end of St. Kilda Pier in Melbourne because she was checking Facebook on her phone and not watching where she was going.  She was found by police 65 feet from the end of the pier, floating on her back in an attempt to keep her phone dry and safe — even though she couldn’t swim.
  • Likewise, in August, a man drove off a bridge in Texas after sending this text message: “I need to quit texting because I could die in a car accident.”
  • There have been some very serious cases of digital distraction, including a young child who drowned in the bath because the babysitter was looking at Facebook on her phone.

Of course, it’s not our mobile phones that are to blame — it’s the way we use them. It is very easy to be distracted by something that seems like it needs to be done in the here and now without looking at the bigger picture of what’s going on around us.

Likewise, operational performance is the most obvious and the easiest thing to focus on when delivering a services contract. But good performance is what we're being paid for - it's just a baseline expectation. As the RFT gets closer, the relative impact of operational performance is at its greatest and therefore maintaining performance tends to take up a lot of people’s time. There are, however, three other things that incumbents need to focus on — above and beyond operational performance — in order to retain important contracts.  And this work needs to start well before the RFT is released.

Every contract changes hands at some point. Whether it gets into your new, improved hands — or is snapped up by someone else —is really up to you. If you have an important services contract that is coming up for bid this year, contact me and let’s talk about what you and your team need to start focusing on now, over and above operational performance, to make sure you retain it.

Your Credentials Are Not a Sales Pitch – or Why Not to Fall in Love with Your Own Story

There’s more information in the market than ever before, but two things haven’t really changed.

The first is that customers really only care about their own pressing problems — the things that they are charged with figuring out or delivering within their own organisation.

The second is that the great majority of suppliers are, naturally, quite keen to sell their own products and services.

So, as a result, there is often a real disconnect in the way that suppliers deliver their message to customers.  Many “proposals” are really just credentials pieces that push the supplier’s story and assume that the customer will be able (and motivated) to read between the lines and see how that’s relevant to them. This is just showboating — it’s not an actual sales pitch.

The rise of competitive tenders has actually compounded this problem, because “proposal production” has become an assembly-line job that is delegated to the least experienced and least knowledgeable members of staff. A lot of the boilerplate information available to cut and paste into proposals is really just white noise to the customer, who is busy being kept awake by problems that suppliers don’t seem to understand and definitely don’t look like they have a solution for.

Too frequently, suppliers often become unhealthily attached to our own story, and it takes maturity and presence to know when it’s time to change a pitch we spent a lot of time and effort on.

In The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, authors Matthew Dixon and Brent Adams describe a pitch that a group of sales reps had spent six months putting together, and that they had to change on the fly to focus on the single issue the customer CEO had most on his mind the day they got a chance to see him.  It’s a good reminder that the sales pitch you prepared is not necessarily the one that the customer wants to hear — or the one that will actually end up closing the deal.

Dear Procurement: all I want for Christmas is…

Last December I ran this letter in the Winning Pitch, and it had the highest open rates of all my newsletters in 2012. So if you missed my Christmas letter to Procurement it, here it is again, with a few amendments to bring it up to date for 2013. Unfortunately, the bad news is that not much has changed in the buyer/supplier relationship in the past twelve months. The good news is that there is still room for improvement!

Here's hoping that the New Year brings more balance for all of us in the tendering system. No matter what side of the fence you sit on, I wish you a Merry Christmas and a happy New Year :-)

Dear buyers,

You need stuff done; we know how to do things.  We need each other, and we really want to work with you to do great things together.

Unfortunately, the tendering system is turning us into adversaries, not collaborators. Like us, you are probably drowning under a pile of forms and schedules, and you must be wondering if there is a better way to make buying decisions.  We think there is.  Here is how, with only a few small adjustments, we can change this system for the better.

  • Let us talk to you again. A tender isn't the only way to scope the market and for complex purchases, it really isn't the best option. So let’s have a chat. Things change quickly and you might be surprised about what we can do for you now that you haven't yet heard about. And, while we’re on the subject…
  • Bring back Expressions of Interest.  If you want to assess potential suppliers on paper, why not use an EOI, rather than an RFT? These are short and reasonably straightforward for us to complete. They make us feel like we’re in with chance, and not like we are jumping over a very high hurdle for a very small likelihood of return.
  • Say what you mean. Years have passed since the introduction of competitive tendering, but the tenders themselves haven't changed very much in all that time. They are often hard to interpret, and the evaluation criteria don’t always match the questions. With better instructions, any supplier with a bit of common sense will be able to bid confidently. That’s good for you, and it’s good for us.
  • Timetable a response period that’s reasonable. We run a pretty tight ship these days; our staff are stretched and it can be difficult to keep up with complex RFT requirements and shrinking deadlines. Crunching us for time because you’re late to market only means you get rushed, poor quality submissions. On the other hand…
  • Don’t issue a timetable and then grant a last-minute extension just before the deadline. This unfairly disadvantages (and discourages) the suppliers that are prepared, and have made it a priority to respond to your RFT.
  • Please, answer our questions when we ask them. We think very hard before we submit questions about an RFT, because we don’t want to waste your time. But often, we don’t get meaningful answers (or sometimes, any answers). Better information will mean better proposals for you to evaluate.  And finally…
  • Have a heart - don’t drop a tender on 21 December.  We know you like to come back to a full inbox, but we would like to see our families too.

There's no doubt the tendering system could work better, and together, we have the power to make it happen. 

You know, at the end of the day, we are all just people. We all put our pants on one leg at a time. So come meet some of us; we bet you will like what you see and hear.

With hope and best wishes for a Happy New Year, Your Prospective Suppliers

Why Exam Swots Make Good Bid Writers

It's been a long time since I was last at school, but in some ways it feels like I never left because my job involves developing bids and responding to tenders. Answering RFT questions often feels like you are sitting an exam every day of your life.

I'm often asked about the skills that are most needed in a bid writer, and how to identify aptitude in internal staff who might be good at that kind of work. Probably the most important is an ability to understand what's being asked for in the RFT, and to respond accordingly. Therefore, a good predictor of likely success in such a role is how good someone is (or has been) at exams, particularly in subjects requiring a complex written response.

Getting good exam marks requires the confidence to understand and interpret and unfamiliar questions very quickly and under time pressure; to plan a response that addresses that question; to identify relevant content and ignore stuff that isn’t relevant; and to weave an argument or point of view throughout. Therefore, a member of staff who has a good academic record with high exam scores in complex subjects is highly likely to be suited to the task of responding to 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.

I’ve just finished re-reading the Number One Ladies’ Detective Agency series by Alexander McCall Smith. In it, there is a character called Mma Makutsi, who is famous for having achieved 97% in her final exams at the Botswana Secretarial College. Mma Makutsi is the Assistant Detective to Chief Detective Mma Ramotswe, and together they are a force to be reckoned with. Mma Ramotswe has fantastic intuition, where Mma Makutsi is the person who dots the is and crosses the ts. I am willing to bet that if they weren’t in the detecting game, they would make a great bid team.

Likewise, in your business there is an important role for staff members that aren’t academic and don’t think of themselves as “writers”.These people are often great students of life, are good at reading between the lines and have useful insights customer behaviour. Therefore they make great proposal strategists who are good at seeing the big picture.

You need these big-picture proposal strategists, together with great bid writers who are good at the detail, to form the core of a successful bid team.

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


Context vs content - using your proposal to fill in both sides of the sales conversation

When you speak to a buyer in person, you can tell by their body language and expression whether or not your message has actually landed.  In a proposal, you can’t – and that’s pretty scary. Like it or not, a large part of the sales relationship is transacted through formal RFTs these days, without the opportunity for a feedback loop.  This means your proposal needs to work extra hard to fill in both sides of the conversation – just as if the buyer were in the room asking questions and getting information from you.

Content is what you say in your proposal; it’s your message.  Context is what gives meaning to your message.  Content without context is easily misunderstood.

For example, let’s say you have arrived back in your office after two days on the road presenting new construction techniques to a major client.  Your boss buzzes you and says abruptly “Steve, come and see me right now.”  As you hang up you think “The client called, they hated my presentation, and I’m going to get my butt kicked.”

But imagine if your boss had instead said “Welcome back Steve!  ABC Developments called, and they loved your presentation. Their engineers have raised some questions about the logistics of the new concrete panels.  It’s not a big deal but we need to work it out and get back to them by the end of the week.  Please come and see me now so we can throw around some options.”

What a difference this would make.  Instead of thinking you’re about to get hauled over the coals, you’re straight away thinking about how to answer the client's questions.

Presenting content without context in a proposal is a bit like walking up to an attractive stranger at a party and talking about yourself for 15 minutes without pausing for breath. It's not a great way to start a relationship.

As the expert, you have all this knowledge in your head that the customer doesn't have access to. The buyer doesn’t know what you know; you have to explain it to them. Think of context as a carry-bag for content – context holds your content together and helps it make sense. Part of the work of writing a proposal is to anticipate the questions you are raising for the buyer, and make sure your proposal answers them.

Book Review - Hooked: How Leaders Connect, Engage and Inspire with Storytelling

Stories provide a human connection that is often lacking in a business context. Were accustomed to substantiating claims with facts, figures and case studies, but while these might provide justification for a particular course of action, they rarely uncover the emotional need that compel us to take it in the first place. Hooked - a new book by Gabrielle Dolan and Yamini Naidu - will show you how to articulate and use personal stories in a business context, enabling you to  better connect with others and to motivate true insight, discussion and change.

As someone who has always kept their personal and professional lives quite separate, I have found storytelling a rewarding way to share more of myself with my clients and build greater understanding of who I am and what I do.

Hooked is practical, easy to read and provides a useful methodology to create and share your stories. If you work in a sales or leadership capacity - and particularly if  you're more of a facts and figures person, and you're not getting the results you want - you must read this book. Your communication style will change forever, for the better.Hooked book cover

Building a re-election campaign for your most important contracts

In Australia, the federal election is just about to happen.  So for the last six weeks, we have been treated to a once-in-every-three-years display of politicking designed to win our vote. OK, a confession. I’m a bit of a politics geek.  I follow election night stats the way others follow football. And I have been known to engage in a bit of heckling on behalf of causes I believe in.  (I’ll leave it up to you to guess how I'll be numbering the boxes on Saturday!).

Combine my personal interest in politics with a career in business development and you get someone who just can’t help comparing political campaigns to the campaigns we wage (or don’t wage) to win and retain important contracts.

The election campaign takes less than six weeks (though at times it feels like much, much longer). During this time, our pollies have been tweeting, Facebooking, flying around the country and appearing on any TV program that will have them.  Case in point - the TV interviews that Tom Gleeson did with Julie Bishop and Pauline Hanson in his segment “I Hate You, Change My Mind”.  (Julie Bishop’s performance in that interview really did change my mind.  Pauline’s? Not so much).

What’s most fascinating to observe in an election campaign is the way that people behave when they know it’s make-or-break time. Our politicians absolutely understand that what they do now will determine the job they get – if they get one at all - for the next three years or more. Will they be elected? If so, will they be on the winning side or the losing side? How much impact will they really be able to have for their electorate and for the causes they believe in?

There’s a lot riding on how politicians perform in this campaign - and of course, in the weeks and months that led up to it.

In contrast, think about the contracts that you have coming up for bid soon. You’ll have four weeks to respond when the RFT comes out.

What are you doing to get your agenda in front of the customer now, before the probity period locks down? What are you doing to boost performance? To innovate? To leverage your incumbency advantage, and fence off the business from competition?  In most cases, if you’re honest, the answer is probably “not as much as we should be”.

If you have an important contract that’s coming up for bid in the next 12 months, let’s make sure you have a re-election campaign to retain it.  Get in touch and let’s talk about how I can help you and your team to get ready to re-compete.

Spitball podcast: the changing face of positioning value

With so much competition out there, it’s no longer enough to simply keep providing a good level of service. Customers will always be looking for more - and unless you are going the extra mile to differentiate and to position yourself as the as the clear winner, you will find your competitors are pipping you at the post. As a business development consultant working on large bids and tender responses, I’ve seen first-hand the uphill battle faced by suppliers who haven’t put in the necessary work to position against highly motivated and methodical competitors. Unless you take the time to distill down your knowledge about your customer to what they actually need and value, your proposal or RFT response will be just another heavy tome to add to the pile.

In our latest Spitball podcast, Hamish Riddell, Bri Williams and I discuss “The Changing Face of Positioning Value".  Find out why we think that challenging the status quo and nudging the customer to step outside of what they know is a good thing - http://spitballbiz.wordpress.com/

What contract bidders can learn from crowdfunding – Part 2

Crowdfunding offers a new model of audience engagement that contract bidders can learn a lot from.  Here are my top four lessons from the most successful crowdfunders.

  1. Keep reminding the customer of what’s great about your offer. In crowdfunding, this means up to seven email follow-ups. In your proposal, this means reiterating your most compelling points and spinning them in different ways, not just burying them in the Executive Summary.
  2. Make it real. Crowdfunding projects that are supported by engaging video and visuals outsell other projects by a factor of 10 to 1. Successful crowdfunder Chris Thomas, who raised $110,000 through Kickstarter against a target of $10,000 to bring “sleep earmuffs” to market (yes, really), says that there is a direct correlation between “the quality of the video and the bids, and what you end up raising”. Think about how you can elevate your pitch above the usual boring wasteland of uninterrupted words.
  3. Make it stand out. In crowdfunding, successful projects tap into needs that customers didn’t even know they had. For example, Patient Zero raised $230,000 through Pozible to stage real life zombie battles, 23 times more than the $10,000 it was originally asking for. In a bid, you’re battling for attention in a crowded marketplace; if everyone can tick all the boxes in the RFT then what makes you any different? Be bold, be an expert, and show the customer a compelling vision of their future working with you.
  4. Give something extra. Crowdfunding isn’t charity, and successful crowdfunders recognise that people want to get something back to their investment. A while back, I invested $100 through Pozible in a community project that eventually raised its target of $10,000. In return, I was offered email updates, an invitation to the launch, and my name on the sponsor’s ‘roll of honour’. Rewards don’t have to relate to the project at hand; offer to share your expertise for free on another issue that you know the client is struggling with.

Evidence-based Bid Pricing webinar

This month I talked to Greg Eyres of InforValue about how organisations can derive more profit from customer contracts through a smarter approach to bid pricing. The resulting webinar on Evidence-based Bid Pricing is now available to view in Greg’s Resource Centre.

Greg is one of only a handful of specialists in the world that practice in the area of Tender Pricing and his work has dramatically influenced the bid success of some of the largest companies in the world, including Motorola, CSC and IBM. Greg has also developed a number of patents in this space and his articles on tender pricing have been published in industry publications including Informs Journal, Frontiers in Services and Shortlist. Recently, Greg developed KPrice - the world’s only evidence-based pricing tool suite designed specifically for tendering. A Chartered Accountant by training, Greg now consults on Tender Pricing issues around the Asia-Pacific region.

In this webinar, Greg shares a number of interesting case studies that demonstrate the dramatic effect of evidence-based bid pricing on the success of pursuits. For example, Greg and his team were once able to convince the client to increase their $60 million budget by 25%, due to the weight of evidence they had acquired about the true cost of providing the service.

The first sale is to yourself

What goes through your mind when you’re faced with a big, juicy opportunity that you would really love to win? Requests for Tender present exactly that kind of opportunity. The pot of gold that a huge contract might bring looks as shiny and enticing as a lotto win. On the flip side, there’s sky-high anxiety when teams are forced to re-compete for business already worth millions to them – and that competitors now also have the opportunity to bid for.

Because competing for business is so stressful, pretty much everyone’s first reaction is to start babbling about themselves and why they deserve to win. Left unchecked, the proposal will reflect that kind of shallow, self-centred thinking and the underlying current of anxiety it came from. This is very off-putting to buyers, who - like the rest of us - are wired to tune out at the first sign of a sales pitch.

Jakob Nielsen, an expert in website usability, did an experiment to measure the way that writing style affects selling on the web. He concluded that “promotional language imposes a cognitive burden on users, who have to spend resources on filtering out the hyperbole to get at the facts. When people read a paragraph that starts ‘Nebraska is filled with internationally recognized attractions,’ their first reaction is ‘no, it's not!’, and this thought slows them down and distracts them from using the site.”

Therefore, when you’re writing a proposal to convince a buyer, the first and most important sale is to yourself. It’s essential to take the time to define your proposal strategy - what the customer most wants, what you can best deliver, and what positions you most favourably against competitors. This gives you access to the most powerful competitive weapon you could ever have; belief in your ability to make a difference for the customer.

Despite this, most organisations don’t have a good methodology to define proposal strategy. It’s common to see less than 5% of proposal development time devoted to strategy, and this usually amounts to kicking around “our points of difference” - the output from which then gets translated into the proposal as some kind of laundry list titled “Why You Should Choose Us.”  Unfortunately, our enthusiasm for ourselves will never be as compelling as enthusiasm for what the customer wants to achieve and how we can help them to achieve it. Or as Dale Carnegie puts it in How To Win Friends and Influence People, "the only way on earth to influence others is to talk to them about what they want and show them how to get it."

The Persuasive Tender and Proposal Writing Master Class provides many valuable tools and techniques to help you to develop your proposal from the customer’s point of view. For example, you will be trained in my Bid Strategy and Purchaser Value Topics Development Methodology, which is licensed and used by organisations in very competitive industries that consistently win almost everything they bid for. Watch the video to find out more.

Nine ways to slice and dice competitors

Competition is a reality of business life. As long as there are contracts to be won, deals to be done, and money to be made, you can bet that there will be others apart from you who will be interested. Pitching for business is always a stressful exercise. Much of the stress actually comes from the fact that we are being judged against others and might be found wanting, rather than from the more obvious pressures of meeting the deadlines and the customer's requirements.

It's not always possible to know exactly how many competitors you are up against, or the strength of that competition, but one thing you can be certain of is that you won't be the only supplier in contention for the job.  When you already have the business and want to retain it, this thought can be terrifying.

So while it’s tempting to pull the covers over your head and hope they'll go away, these particular bogeymen could stand in the way of a lucrative contract. Let's shine a flashlight in those dark corners to see what might be lurking there.

When I work on bids with my clients, I’ve noticed that almost all of them think of their competitors as the firms or organisations that are the closest match to themselves – what I call “peer competitors”. Often there is a tendency to underestimate the field of competition as a result. So here are nine other ways to slice and dice potential competitors that might pose a threat to your ability to win:

  1. National firms, if you are local
  2. Local firms, if you are national
  3. Much larger or much smaller firms
  4. Firms that already work with your customers in another capacity
  5. Firms with expertise in an area of current or future interest to the buyer
  6. Firms with expansion plans that include your market space
  7. Potential partnerships among competitors, including joint ventures and consortia
  8. Offshore and multinational competitors, and
  9. The buyer themselves – they might do nothing, spend their money on other priorities, or decide to do it themselves.

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/

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:


Is complexity killing your sales model? New study by Bain & Co

Bain & Co. recently looked at nine years of income statements from 200 large companies and found that more than half have increasing sales and marketing expenses, and aren't getting scale benefits from their growing size. According to the study, customers increasingly demand a tailored solution anchored in expertise about their industry or a specific function; expect providers to solve their business problems; measure value based on outcomes, not the lowest price; and have more competitive, disciplined bid processes that trump ‘relationships’.

This is consistent with what I see in my practice and the detailed report makes interesting reading.