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.

Creativity Creates Opportunity!

While it's great to have an efficient and effective business that is meeting all the obligations you have today, grasping opportunities requires new thinking. It also means bringing new ideas to your customers all the time — and not just at tender time!

You know the feeling. Business is running along pretty smoothly. You're pretty much on top of your work load. Customers are happy. All’s right with the world.

But the next day, something disturbing happens. A juicy tender comes out that should have your name all over it, but it’s asking for something completely unexpected. You go to a routine meeting with a customer, and they pepper you with questions about a competitor. You meet up with an ideal prospect, and they raise a problem that you haven’t even thought about yet.

The opposite of reaction is not “proaction” — it’s creation. Actor Ray Liotta once said “As soon as I started producing my own stuff, I started getting other roles.” Action generates energy, and energy makes stuff happen.

Lately I have been talking to senior procurement leaders as part of a project I’m working on. All express frustration that their existing suppliers don’t bring them new ideas nearly often enough — in other words, there is just not enough value creation.

The more ideas you create that are of value to customers, the better your business development results will be. What are you creating right now?

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.

“We Have a Quality Process for Bids, so Why Aren’t We Winning Any?”

When I talk to revenue owners who are responsible for leading bids and proposals, one of the frustrations they often mention is that there has already been a fair bit of effort expended to document their quality assurance process for bids. Often this involves multiple stages and toll gates and is meant to be followed rigidly for every opportunity that they pursue. Now, I'm not knocking process. Following a process is important to get a replicable result.

My question is —what result are you modelling your replicable process on?

One of the problems with bid quality processes is that the result that we're looking to achieve is an elusive one. A successful bid strategy is like a snowflake – no two are ever exactly the same. Bid strategy can’t be pinned down just by following a series of steps, particularly when those steps don't provide enough instruction to actually help people to do the tasks within the steps.

For example, I've seen bid quality processes which just say "Step number 23 - develop win themes." Okay, that's great as a headline, but what if your team doesn't have a process to develop win themes? What will tend to happen is that everybody sits around in a room and kicks around the reasons why they think the customer should choose them. This then ends up in the document as some kind of laundry list titled "Why You Should Choose Us". This is rarely effective.

Developing win themes for bids is a creative process —it's not about producing a widget to a certain standard or tolerance. It's about being able to recognise all the factors that are going to shape and influence the customers' decisions; particularly what they most value, what we can best deliver and what positions us best against competitors.

A quality process isn't enough to deliver a winning bid, unless there are also instructions, training and practice built in for the people who will actually be executing the process. Some big organisations do this very well, but there are many others that need help to be able to follow a quality process effectively.

These days, I very rarely work with organisations on routine bids where their staff haven't first been through my Persuasive Tender and Proposal Writing Master Class Program. There are many techniques in that program that help to fill in the gaps of the quality process and actually give people the tools that they can use to follow instructions like "Develop win themes."

The May Master Class Program sold out early, but we are now accepting enrolments for July.

Contact me if you would like a detailed syllabus and overview for the Tender and Proposal Writing Master Class.

Earning or Learning? Separating Proposal Development from Proposal Skills

Are you looking for help with an important bid? Do you want to improve your proposal development skills or processes at the same time? Here's why it's better to separate these two objectives. When people approach me for help with bids, proposals and tender responses, the most common form that the enquiry takes is this:

"Can you come in and work side by side with us on a bid so that we can learn from you?"

There are two questions here, and the answer to both is yes - but not at the same time.  Here’s why.

Steven Covey’s classic time management grid introduced us to the idea of tasks that are important or not important, and urgent or not urgent.

  • Getting an important bid across the line is an important task that is also urgent.
  • Building your skills in bids, proposals and tender responses so you can win more business, more often is important — but not urgent.

Urgent tasks will always take priority over non-urgent tasks.

When there is an important bid coming up, everybody's attention and focus is on how can we get the best outcome for that bid — including mine. Even when I come in fully intending that you and your team will learn from me — and even if that’s your intention too —everything tends to be subsumed into the bigger objective, which is to get your important bid across the line.

In my experience, proposal skills development is a systematic process of enquiry and reflection that is best built away from the furnace of bid deadlines.

That’s why I offer public and professional Tender and Proposal Writing Master Class Programs that deliberately takes participants away from their day job — either for a couple of hours a week in the public program, or a couple of days in the professional program —to get the best results.

To improve your outcomes from bids and proposals through learning and development, I recommend training at least one senior person from your organisation who is going to be responsible for strategy and leading bids, and at least one other person who will be doing the proposal development, management and writing. These people need to work together and to support each other.  I have trained many proposal teams through the Master Class program, with great results.  The next public Master Class starts on May 2 and enrolments close on April 18.  Contact me if you’d like an overview of the syllabus for this very useful program.

Feel Like Your Workload is Taking Over Your Life?

You’re definitely not alone. According to a report by Kinsey & Co, cited in The Age recently, professionals now spend 28% of their time, reading, writing or responding to email, and another 19 per cent tracking down information to complete their tasks. Communicating and collaborating internally accounts for another 14% of the average working week, with only 39% of the time remaining to accomplish role-specific tasks.

That’s 61% of your time getting lost in email and information.

Not surprisingly, this ratchets up the stress levels to an untenable level.  In a study by the Institute of the Future (California), 71% of professionals said they feel stressed about the amount of information they must process and act on while doing business and 60% feel overwhelmed.

Senior managers, sales leaders, front-line managers and technical professionals often tell me that writing is a core expectation of their job role these days.

Unfortunately, after your day has been spent going to meetings, talking to customers, managing staff, and going out to site, there isn’t a lot of time left. So when you need to write something that takes longer than a few minutes, it probably tends to get done after hours.  And I’m willing to bet that you absolutely hate being chained to your desk writing.

There is a way to write more effectively that is easy to learn and won’t take a lot of your time — in fact it will save you time and also help you get better results.

  • The Persuasive Speed Writing Program will give you everything you need to write business documents that are twice as persuasive – in half the time you’re probably spending now.
  • You will also learn how to get your best thinking out of your head and onto paper wherever you are, without being chained to your computer.
  • You can learn how to do this in just two weeks.

This program starts on March 27 and enrolments close next week. For more information, go to http://www.winningwords.com.au/public-speedwriting/

"Trust Me – I’m A Professional" - The Limitations of Defaulting To Your Expertise

For technical professionals, such as engineers and project managers, getting a report or recommendations accepted often means getting the customer’s head around fairly complex concepts and problems that the professional understands a lot better than the customer does. Despite this, it is often difficult to convince technical professionals that they shouldn’t be peppering their technical reports with dense and impenetrable jargon that nobody really understands but them.

Last night, I had the pleasure of presenting a webinar to a group of 120 young engineers on the topic of Customer Focused Writing. It's always great working with groups of young professionals who are open to new ideas.

Getting people to actually adopt and integrate new techniques - as opposed to just seeing and hearing them presented — is one of the great challenges of a teacher, and particularly one who only gets to interact with trainees once and for a couple of hours, as was the case for me last night. Often the best that you can hope for is that people understand enough about the need to change that they are compelled to review and practice the techniques they have been shown, and to build upon the limited exercises that they get to do in a short training session.

One of the techniques we looked at in the webinar was how to present complex technical concepts. To illustrate the idea that densely packed technical language is hard to understand, I had the group analyse a piece of medical writing that was unfamiliar to them. This piece only contained 150 words, but most people could identify more than 20 unfamiliar terms. That’s almost 15% of the document that the audience had absolutely no hope of understanding.

At the end of the webinar, I was encouraged by comment that came from Paul, who said "You know, I write reports all the time, and I usually just present my recommendations. I never really think about just how much work needs to go into making them persuasive." I’m pretty confident that Paul does now, and that his career will benefit enormously as a result.

Think Like A Journalist When Planning To Present – by Simon Mossman

To be persuasive, you need to have a point of view, and then you need to make an argument that brings the audience around to that point of view. This is something that journalists do every day, and do very well.  I strongly believe that the more you read of what professional journalists write, the better your writing will be.

A friend of mine, Simon Mossman, is a former journalist, and he has written a Slideshare presentation on a related topic.

These days Simon is a media and communication advisor and presentation skills coach, working with business owners and corporate leaders to address their business challenges through communication. If you like this presentation, check out Simon’s blogs at www.commseilleur.com and www.confidencetricks.com.au


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

Proposal positioning tip: the tricycle for triplets

The other day I was walking around my neighbourhood when I saw something surprising - three identical 18-month-olds sitting on a tricycle that had clearly been built specifically for triplets. What a great idea! Our customers' businesses are full of opportunities like this; things that they need built to solve problems that they deal with every day, in this case how to manage three toddlers who all want to get on a bike at the same time.

What are the little niggles that your customers have, and that you can provide a solution for?

Not only will they love you for it, this is a great way to build competitive advantage by providing remarkable customer value.

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.

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/

Does the proposal you submitted last week sound like the one you pitched six months ago?

Join me for a free 30-minute webinar on Thursday 2 May 1.00pm AEST to find out to how build a great proposal library by harnessing the knowledge - and building the skills - of your subject matter experts. Pretty much every organisation has a ‘library’ of past proposals that they draw from when writing new ones. In theory, content libraries should help you answer the questions that come up - in one form or another - in all RFTs. These are core issues that every prospect wants to know about, including your past experience in similar contracts; customer references; capacity and resources; approaches to quality; approaches to Health, Safety and Environment; innovation; and risk management.

Proposal content libraries are important for knowledge management and to make the production process faster. However, the way that they are built and used tends to hinder – rather than help – the proposal effort.

Firstly, just the fact that the library exists tends to make people lazy. I see far too much cutting and pasting and not nearly enough thinking about what the RFT is asking and what the proposal really needs to say.

Secondly - let's face it - writing proposals isn't most people's favourite job to begin with, coming as it does on top of a mountain of other work. Because of this, I've seen many organisations employ writers to produce content for proposal libraries. But this is a bit like asking the cabin crew to fly the plane.

Good proposal content comes from experts who know what they are talking about. Passing the content development task off to ‘writers’ means that material is often superficial, because experts are busy and it’s difficult to get their time for interviews and reviews. The process gets drawn out and expensive, and leads to a one-shot outcome that is quickly out of date. Content is written descriptively, rather than persuasively, meaning that it lacks any expression of customer value. All of this leads to lacklustre proposals that lack insight and depth.

Writing persuasively is about taking what you know and putting it into context that the customer will understand, and that convinces them to see things your way. This is a skill that anyone can learn, and the process for doing so is actually very simple. If you missed the webinar, contact me to find out more.

Spitball, NEW business radio podcast series: The Changing Face of the Workforce

I've teamed up with Hamish Riddell from Kumbayah Consulting  and Bri Williams from People Patterns  to deliver a monthly business radio show, Spitball: http://spitballbiz.wordpress.com/2013/02/18/the-changing-face-of-the-workforce/

In each broadcast we'll be spitting out some ideas about what's happening in business and seeing what sticks. We do this when we get together anyway, so we figured we would let you eavesdrop.

This month Spitball focuses on the changing face of the workforce, specifically the rise of free agency; the decline of hierarchy; and the rise of informal learning.  Coming in April and June are programs about the changing face of consumption and competition. Tune in and tell us what you think about these issues.

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.