No One Wants to Be the First Loser

Everyone who owns a business finds themselves in competitive sales situations, RFP or not. Even when you think you’re not in a competition, buyers consider other options including not buying. And that’s why as a competitive person, I hate losing. There is nothing worse than being told my company has placed second, which just means I am the first loser.

We recently talked about the super fun RFPs offer small business owners. RFPs take incredible amount of time they take. In fact, all new business efforts takes time, a necessary part of running a company.

But when you come in second, it is the worst kind of failure. The win was within grasp. Some sort of internal failure to satisfy the customer caused the loss. That’s painful, folks.

When donned the second loser, you also have a choice. You can look within and engage in a post mortem to determine why you lost. Or you can embrace the loser status, and blame the client. Or outside circumstances. Or just accept that the other option was more attractive than what you presented.

Why They Say No

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The word attraction is important here. I find potential clients chose not to select my company because they just didn’t love what we had to offer. Or they loved something else more. Perhaps I failed to listen to them, and didn’t allay their fears. Or worse, I was cold and failed to build a relationships.

My friend Jack Vincent wrote a book, “A Sale Is a Love Affair.” It’s a great book, and I hope you read it. He talks about how sales are really about building relationships of trust and value. And like a love affair, if you don’t respect the other person and their feelings (fears, need for trust, etc.) then a sale goes awry.

I decided to forward a draft of this post to Jack and get his thoughts. “Sure, prospective customers want to know you’re competent and that your proposed solution is on the mark and that you can deliver it effectively,” wrote Jack. “But what often differentiates the winning pitch is the personal connection you establish during the pitch and the sales process. To this effect, winning new business has eye-opening parallels to finding love.”

While researching A Sale Is A Love Affair, Jack found that the advice given by today’s dating coaches and marriage counselors correlates directly with the best practices used by marketing consultants and sales trainers. “The mindset is actually a heart-set,” says, Jack. “It focuses on pulling prospects through their purchasing process, not pushing them through your sales process.”

So when I am the first loser, I always review the sale to see where it went wrong. Just like any relationship — marriage, friendship, parenting — business relationship skills can always stand to be improved upon. I need to know why I lost so next time, I can win the business, and more importantly, the fun project to work on with my new client and friend.

What do you think about close losses?

RFP: Request for Pain

Having done two mandatory tours of duty in the big agency world, I understand the RFP process. It’s a necessary evil to win most large accounts. However as a small business, I find them to be downright painful. An RFP ought to be called a Request for Pain.

As a small business owner, RFPs are extremely taxing. Consider that in a large or mid-size agency you have business development and senior staff dedicated to winning this kind of business. In a small agency like mine, you are basically pulling time from a very limited resource pool. Instead of focusing on local networking events, phone calls, building relationships online, and developing useful content, you spend 20, 40, 60 or more hours building a proposal and pitch.

The odds of winning RFPs are not good when you are small. I would say the same thing for a large agency, but is easier to dedicate the resources and mitigate the risk.

You almost always have to have a prior relationship, and get the RFP written to you, or intelligence to help you shape your pitch. There is almost always a favorite or two in the dance.

If you do not have a prior relationship, question whether it is worth your time. Many times the third through fifth firms have been referred as good agencies that might be able to do the job, but the odds are long. In the cases were the RFP is hard-wired, some or all of players three through five are asked because they can’t win. They have a glaring flaw.

In the case of a small agency, size is almost always in issue. In a wired RFP, a small agency is an easy kill. Scaling questions must be addressed to the client’s satisfaction. Sometimes this is overcome with a focus on niches, such as community management or social media content. With larger contracts, though, even the ability to scale quality niche work becomes an issue. Most large companies don’t want to deal with a network of consultants and small boutiques to achieve scale. Can you blame them?

People do business with people they like. So if there is no relationship, you have to become the darling of the potential client very quickly and get the same type of intelligence that the favorites receive. That can be hard to do. If the client is cold and distant during the initial RFP process consider it a clear warning that you are wasting your time.

I almost always decline to participate in RFPs because of these many issues. The pain is not worth it. At least for a small firm like mine. My time is better served networking and building relationships for projects and winning business with people that know and trust me (and my firm).

What do you think of RFPs?

Customers Don’t Care About Us

Bored?
Image by vmcampos

Let’s talk about sales. Customers don’t care about our online brand conversations.

The desire for customers to have personal relationships with brands remains the greatest myth pushed by today’s online marketers.

Then there’s the assertion that increased engagement will lead to stronger relationships.

Mmmm, not necessarily. Chatty versus cheap toothpaste, who wins the deal?

Social engagement can lead to customer loyalty or a win in an apples to apples situation (up to 15% of customers, says Gartner). But ultimately, if there’s a significant value difference between competitive offerings, the conversation won’t carry day.
Continue reading “Customers Don’t Care About Us”

The Mark of Great Salesmanship

Two for one peso
Image by lrargerich

Have you listened to someone defend that they are selling? How pathetic is that? It’s not that they are wrong, the entire economy moves on financial transactions, for profit and not. We are all salespeople at some point in our lives, even if we’re trying to get a job. What’s pathetic is that their defense deflects the real issue, which is shoddy sales skills.

The mark of a great salesman is simply that they don’t make you feel sold to; rather, the transaction is so natural it seems like an obvious action. You feel good about buying, because you needed or wanted the product or service. Opening your wallet was easy!

When a real salesperson hears an objection, they listen, ask questions, and try to meet their customer’s needs. If they can’t, they refer them somewhere else. To them a relationship between buyer and seller is built on trust and value. Salespeople foster that rather than simply garner transactions.

What they don’t do is defend themselves, or when their call to action is questioned, go into a hard sell. In essence, this is forcing the sale, the terrain of used car salesmen.

There is nothing wrong with asking. A great call to action is a specific ask. But when you get no, then keep asking, and people start complaining, pay attention. It has nothing to do with sales, per say. It has everything to do with the salesmanship. Don’t be a sales puke.

What do you think about salesmanship?