Tag Archives: Clive Smith

Chapter 5.5.4 Beating the Competition – Relationship

The relationship battleground is different from the Emotional and Political battlefields. What this is about is the quality of relationship that you as an individual has with one or more of the executives in the evaluation process.

What is important is that it is differentiated. Some customers are just very social or very venal. If you offer them a night out on the beer, or dinner at a good restaurant or a trip to the local striptease club, they will say yes. The question you have to ask is “do they also say yes if asked by the competition?”. Moving away from the question of strip clubs let me give you some examples of when Relationships have been differentiated. In a new business deal recently with a telecoms company I was a little late onto the deal and yet I had a very good relationship with the key technical evaluator.

I met with him and his behaviour was very different from normal in the meeting. For several days I could not get through to him and then he called me up and asked to meet for a beer. What he told me was that he had already made up his mind months ago that he was going to buy from the competitor, and that as soon as he realized I was on the deal he rushed through his recommendation, and the contracts were awarded to my competitor because he did not want me to waste my time! Not exactly the outcome I was looking for, but an analysis of the relationship battlefield would show that I had indeed a winning position in the relationship battlefield; I had just lost on all the other battlefields! Unlike in this example, having a good relationship with one or more executives is a very good indicator of a successful outcome. I have been coached by friends when my sales messages have been off target, I have been told who the most important executives to see are, and what the “real” agenda is.

The best kind of relationship with a customer is based on trust and respect of your competence (not on your ability to perform in a Karaoke parlor). This can be the most important battlefield if you are the incumbent in a major account. If you have provided good service over several years, you will be given every help to win the evaluation.

<- Previous Section Contents Page Next Section ->

Additional content will be published here every week.

Stay informed by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
Click Here to register today.

Chapter 5.5.3 Beating the Competition – Emotional

This is where you make a judgment on how well you have understood the company and the executives you are selling to. Read the section on The Customer as a Human Being again and the section on the Product – Spaced Benefits. List down the three or four most influential executives in the evaluation and decision making process and compare the way you positioned the Spaced benefits against the emotional profile of the customer. Given what you know about the executives and the meetings you have had with them and ask yourself – “Which way would they vote today?” An extreme example should help make this clearer.

In the final presentation you fly in the Evangelist for your product from San Francisco, he was dressed like Steve Jobs in jeans and a black tee-shirt and a flowing pony tail; he talked about how cool the product was and how the product strategy was cutting edge. The chairman of the customer evaluation committee is a 60 year old guy wearing a black suit, white shirt and red tie. Ok let’s look at another example that may be less extreme. A conservative bank is looking at outsourcing a business function. While you have the skills to do the job, this is a new account for your company and your competitor is someone like IBM, both a Market Leader and an incumbent vendor. This is the emotional battlefield. Is the customer looking for a Secure decision, or is he looking for a Performance decision. Is he prepared to take a risk on your proposal when you may be the better solution but your company is an unknown quantity.

<- Previous Section Contents Page Next Section ->

Additional content will be published here every week.

Stay informed by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
Click Here to register today.

Chapter 5.5.2 Beating the Competition – Economic

This is where you make a judgment on how well you have understood the company and the executives you are selling to. Read the section on The Customer as a Human Being again and the section on the Product – Spaced Benefits. List down the three or four most influential executives in the evaluation and decision making process and compare the way you positioned the Spaced benefits against the emotional profile of the customer. Given what you know about the executives and the meetings you have had with them and ask yourself – “Which way would they vote today?” An extreme example should help make this clearer.

In the final presentation you fly in the Evangelist for your product from San Francisco, he was dressed like Steve Jobs in jeans and a black tee-shirt and a flowing pony tail; he talked about how cool the product was and how the product strategy was cutting edge. The chairman of the customer evaluation committee is a 60 year old guy wearing a black suit, white shirt and red tie. Ok let’s look at another example that may be less extreme. A conservative bank is looking at outsourcing a business function. While you have the skills to do the job, this is a new account for your company and your competitor is someone like IBM, both a Market Leader and an incumbent vendor. This is the emotional battlefield. Is the customer looking for a Secure decision, or is he looking for a Performance decision. Is he prepared to take a risk on your proposal when you may be the better solution but your company is an unknown quantity.

<- Previous Section Contents Page Next Section ->

Additional content will be published here every week.

Stay informed by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
Click Here to register today.

Chapter 5.5.1 Beating the Competition – Political

The political battlefield is about access and power. What you have to consider and ask yourself is am I meeting the right people? Are my competitors meeting the same people or different people? If my competitors are meeting different people which group of people has more power (in terms of making this decision) the people I am meeting or the people the competition are meeting? These questions will tell you whether you or your competitor is winning the Political Battle. There are four logical answers – 1) you are winning, 2) the competitor is winning; 3) neither of you are winning because you both have access to the powerful people or 4) neither of you are meeting with the powerful people. The point is to understand whether you should take an action (meet new people with power) to help you beat the competition.

<- Previous Section Contents Page Next Section ->

Additional content will be published here every week.

Stay informed by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
Click Here to register today.

Chapter 5.5 – Beating The Competition

Until now I have avoided the traditional metaphors of warfare or sporting competition to describe the skills and activities of a salesperson, but when it comes to beating the competition it is appropriate because it is a zero sum game. Either you win, or the competition wins. Either you earn some immediate commission and build a bridgehead (first warfare analogy) or you lose territory to the enemy. This is warfare as known in ancient times, it is not ideological it is about taking home the gold.

All of the techniques we have discussed help you improve your skills and your ability to strategise a sales campaign (uncovering requirements, understanding differentiation) which all contribute to you winning more than you lose. This section shares with you two specific tools which allow you to assess how you are doing against a competitor, and suggests what you might need to do to win.

The first tool is a status of the battlefield tool. What you do is to look at five “battlefields” and you estimate your current situation. The five battlefields are:-

  • Political
  • Economic
  • Emotional
  • Relationship
  • Solution

Let’s look at them one by one:-

<- Previous Section Contents Page Next Section ->

Additional content will be published here every week.

Stay informed by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
Click Here to register today.

Chapter 5.4.2 Managing Opportunities – Part 3

If we now look at how to structure a proposal or presentation of a solution, what we have discussed so far is the Management Summary. The most important part of a proposal document and the most important slide of a presentation is the Summary. Why, because most people only remember three things from a presentation (and many executives only read the first three pages of a proposal) – you have to be able to make your compelling sales case in a very succinct set of points:-

  • Key Requirements
  • Key Solution Message (we provide a solution for all requirements)
  • Investment Summary (hopefully within budget)
  • Company credentials (good to do business with)

OK I know it is four points and the customer only remembers three, hopefully they will remember the solution – is within budget – and from a good company.

The rest of the proposal should definitely respond to all the points in any RFP; or if it is not a RFP response should have sections describing the project that buying the solution will drive, as well as expanded sections on the Management Summary topics of Requirements / Solution / Investment / Company but I have to tell you the majority of good business I have won has been on the back of Management Summaries, or simple letters confirming previous meeting agreements, or increasingly popular, Powerpoint presentations that are 7-10 slides long.

Final word on the content of compelling proposals; we are going to look at beating the competition a little later, but one point to consider while writing the Management Summary or Summary slide. If you have identified a need to which you have a Unique Selling Point or strongly differentiated solution – it is a strong candidate for being one of the three needs / solutions you highlight. You have to be sensible here, if the customer has a need and you have identified it as one you have a differentiated solution for but it would only rank as a minor need in the eyes of the customer, do not promote it to your top three needs / solutions. Remember it is the customer who decides what the important issues are.

The key is if you have the right message, make sure you deliver it to the right people. Even when the formal RFP process makes you write a 300 page proposal, always prepare a three page Management Summary and (unless it will get you thrown out of the evaluation, sometimes a risk in government bids) circulate it to all executives that you know have a vote. This is not a risk if you met them during the requirements phase, think about it a bit more if you have not met them, but on balance I would do it.

There are many resources including good websites that will teach you how to structure Presentations and Proposals. Just Google “Presentation Skills” or “Proposal Writing” and there will be templates that you can select from. Who knows, your company standard proposal template may be a good one.

<- Previous Section Contents Page Next Section ->

Additional content will be published here every week.

Stay informed by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
Click Here to register today.

Chapter 5.4.1 Managing Opportunities – Part 2

“Is this a company we want to do business with?”, should be easy. If your company is not a credible supplier then you should not be bidding. The proof statements about your company should be freely available (Market Position statements from Marketing, Annual Reports, etc.). This fundamental requirement does however still trip up even the best salespeople. Government contracts are often a good example of this. There may be unclear barriers to doing business. In some countries you can only do business with government if you are on a pre-qualified list of approved companies, or if you are willing to pay a huge bond, or if you are owned by locals, there are many forms of subtle protection. Occasionally the market throws up its own “fashionable” barriers to doing business. I remember in the early 2000’s there were a handful of “cool” Internet specialist companies. Their offices had Star Wars puppets hung from the ceiling; there were pool tables in common areas. If a company was developing a website they hired these bearded and sandal wearing consultants and ignored IBM and Accenture. Ten years later I cannot even remember their names, IBM and Accenture roll on but they illustrate the point I am making. Make sure you are not wasting your time, apply the three basic questions, including “Are we a company the customer would like to do business with?”.

“Are there any reasons why we cannot go forward with this proposal?” This question is a real horror show. This question is the blow from left field that can floor the most professional sales campaign. There are some obvious issues like during the course of the buying / selling cycle all parties lose sight of affordability. The requirements scope becomes too big, the budget is too small. You should keep your attention on this one, but some of the reasons that have happened to me have been:-

  • Citibank underwent a global reorganization (into Consumer / Investment and Corporate Banking) while my proposal was going through approval. The user department that was recommending my proposal was split in two!! Aaaaargh
  • The Decision Maker – resigned, all projects put into a Hold & Review process from which it never emerged (the urban myth of the Decision Maker died has never happened to me, but I am sure it has happened to someone)

You get the idea. One of the UK’s Prime Ministers Harold Macmillan was asked in an interview what was the most difficult aspect of being Prime Minister, his reply was the wise comment “Events, dear boy, events.”. It is part of the Human Condition as it affects salespeople that even the best proposals do not always go ahead. As a rule of thumb I always tell my sales colleagues to have three or four times more deals that they are working on than they think they need to make their quota. You will win one, lose one, one will get delayed and one will just go away.

<- Previous Section Contents Page Next Section ->

Additional content will be published here every week.

Stay informed by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
Click Here to register today.

Chapter 5.4 Managing Opportunities – Part 1

  • Selling A Solution to the Customers Requirement

If you emerge from the Requirements Gathering phase with a viable solution then you are into the phase where you present the solution and proposal to the client. Again larger companies will have formal processes at this stage, but formal or informal process the skills required are the same.

Most sales campaigns have two ways of presenting back to the customer the solution to his requirements. A written proposal and a Powerpoint Presentation; 80% of the key content is common to both. The differences are about conventions and I will summarise them later.

What is common to both is the content that should form a compelling set of reasons to do business with you. What are the compelling reasons for doing business with you? Generally there are three tests that a customer applies to a vendor proposal and you should apply them to your proposal before giving it to the customer:-

  • Does it do the job?
  • Is this a company we want to do business with?
  • Are there any reasons why we cannot go forward with this proposal?

“Does it do the job?” is the most difficult to summarise in this book, as there are a world of requirements and a world of solutions, but the answer is three!

If during your requirements gathering you find three real business needs and state in the proposal that you meet those needs, it is usually enough. If your proposal is a cut and paste job from some internal brochure or standard proposal that has 97 benefit statements that is not what I mean. What I mean is that if you can summarise with clarity the top three business outcomes the customer is looking for and that your solution fully meets those needs, you will probably win.

Why? There are two main reasons, first most salespeople do not focus enough on requirements gathering and rely too much on the Request for Proposal containing all the information they need to select the appropriate brochures to enclose with their standard proposal; and secondly there are human beings at the customer side as well. The RFP is usually a document where standard Procurement & Legal terminology sits side by side with the “consensus requirements statement” which as in all organizations includes the main requirements (often well disguised and poorly stated) along with half a dozen or more “nice to have” or “we have to put this one in for to keep Fred happy” requirements.

Remember a camel is a horse designed by a committee.

There is no substitute for doing the needs analysis yourself.

<- Previous Section Contents Page Next Section ->

Additional content will be published here every week.

Stay informed by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
Click Here to register today.

Chapter 5.3 Stage of Sale – Timing

I strongly recommend you prepare at least 10 questions before an important meeting to ensure that the meeting gets going. Once a conversation starts it is easy to respond and ask the logical next question. The ten pre-prepared questions are to ensure you do not freeze and the meeting never gets started.

A good opener, after you have introduced yourself, and your purpose in having the meeting “ I am here to better understand your requirements related to ……” is just to ask “What is your role & responsibility”?

At some point you will need to ask “What are your key business outcomes you are looking for from ……” and / or “What process improvements will deliver these improvements”?

I can’t really help you much more than this. You need to think through, what is the Value Proposition that I am selling; what business changes would underpin that Value Proposition and explore with the executives (by questioning) the needs or requirements for change he is expecting from the procurement and implementation of your product.

To use a simple example a car salesman might ask a combination of the following:-

  • Is this going to be your first car or a second car?
  • Will you be using it or your wife? (Proceeded by “are you married?”)
  • How many children do you have?
  • Do you have pets?
  • What is the car for, every day use or for weekends?
  • What is your current car?
  • Why are you changing it?
  • Etc., etc.

What you are trying to do is build up an understanding of usage requirements and then you can start asking:-

  • Do you have a particular budget in mind?

It is no different whatever you are selling, understand the usage requirements and then the willingness to spend and then you have the information you require to either craft a solution proposal or walk away from the business. Why walk away? if after a full and professional requirements gathering process you cannot achieve the outcome they are looking for at a budget that is acceptable – walk away. If you cannot change one of the two dimensions Requirement Scope or Price Expectation so that your company is happy to do business with the customer and you have a reasonable chance of satisfying the customer. Walk away. In the long run it is better. One unhappy customer has the same impact on your reputation in the market as ten happy customers. If you explain why you are walking away to the customer in terms that they can appreciate; “I cannot satisfy your requirements with my current product at a price point that will give you an ROI.” Then at least next time you will have a reputation for professionalism and honesty.

<- Previous Section Contents Page Next Section ->

Additional content will be published here every week.

Stay informed by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
Click Here to register today.

Chapter 5.2 Finding Opportunities: Qualifying – Identifying Requirements and Defining the Opportunity – Part 2

Requirement Identification is very often done badly by salespeople, often because they do not feel able to do it well. Let me give a few reasons why you might want to do it well, you have to invest the time in the skills necessary to do this phase because:-

  • Gathering Requirements is a perfect excuse for meeting executives that will become harder to meet once a formal procurement process (RFP) gets under way. Access to executives tends to be in supervised formal meetings not conducive to forming relationships. If you think it might be helpful to have a friend or two in the account, you may want to do a thorough Requirements Gathering process
  • Requirements Gathering gives you a perfect opportunity to build credibility with the same executives. A professional call on an executive will give him confidence that you and your company can and will deliver a successful outcome. If he is faced, three months later with a choice between two very similar proposals and one vendor has met with him and left him with an impression of competence it is clear which proposal he will vote for. (The opposite is true, if you give him the impression you are not competent then……)
  • Requirements Gathering is a perfect opportunity to help the executives understand that there might be other requirements that they are not aware of. This is what is called shaping the requirements. So after you have gathered the usually short list of features & benefits the business is looking for you have an opportunity to add credibility to yourself and your company with statements like” when we did a very similar project with ACME Corporation we helped them to achieve some real value by also doing XYZ at the same time”. The best position to have with a customer is “trusted advisor”, someone who not only can ask the standard consultant question “What do you want” but someone who by experience elsewhere can offer advice on best practice.
  • By the Way – adding value by suggesting an additional feature or benefit is an opportunity to get the customer to value a product differentiation. I am not very keen on the phrase Unique Selling Proposition as very few of them are Unique. However if you can get one or two of your product’s differentiated features in the Mandatory or Top Ten Requirements you will discomfort your competitors.

Enough reasons why you should do requirements gathering? I hope so. So how do you do a Requirements Gathering interview? Clearly you will have to do some work yourself as each product needs a different requirements gathering process. However the resources you should go to, and the basic approaches to developing one are the same everywhere.

In a well organized company the department responsible for implementation will have key questions they need answering before implementation. If you are working in a capital equipment market then go talk to your engineers or consultants. They will probably be very helpful; most of the issues they encounter in implementation come from poor requirements gathering in the sales phase. Who has not heard that classic sentence “Who sold you that then?”.

The second place to go for insight is again an existing customer. Either at the first lunch you took him (see Business Development above) to or a second one you can ask him what were the objectives of using your product, what conscious requirements they had at the beginning, what worked, what did not work, where there any unforeseen benefits or pitfalls. Again remember you are trying to educate yourself so that you can act as an advisor – be opened minded and allow the conversation to go where the customer wants to take it. This works as a source of information for a car salesman as much as a salesman selling 10 million dollar consulting engagements. Input like “I really appreciate XYZ because it comes in handy when ABC” should be incorporated into your conversation with the next customer who has similar requirements.

If you want to get really professional then there are courses, books and resources on Business Analysis that can help you develop a questionnaire for any product or Service.

One important skill here is the deceptively simple skill of asking questions.

One of the changes as you move through the requirements gathering – opportunity definition onto the solution presentation stage is that over time your behaviour needs to change. Initially you are mainly asking questions and listening (requirements gathering); in later meetings you confirm understanding (defining opportunity); and towards the end you present the value proposition (solution).

<- Previous Section Contents Page Next Section ->

Additional content will be published here every week.

Stay informed by subscribing to our monthly newsletter.
Click Here to register today.