One of the things I enjoy most about speaking at events around the world is meeting with business leaders in different countries. As much as the leaders in each location believe they face unique circumstances, it's fascinating that they tend to face the same issues in Manchester, England as they do in Manhattan, New York, or Manhattan Beach, California. I spoke to a group of business leaders recently in Manchester, England. During the session one attendee asked me: "What should we do in situations where we are not given access to anyone in the organization who will answer any questions?" If you've asked this same sort of question, you are not alone.
I usually start my answer with a couple of questions. Feel free to answer the questions yourself as you read this article.
1) What percentage of opportunities a) do you win when you are denied talking with stakeholders in the organization who are impacted by the solution? And b) of the ones you win, what percentage do you end up delivering a successful result on-time, within budget, and profitably?
2) What percentage of opportunities do you win when you have an early conversation with the primary stakeholders impacted by the situation and solution, and then decide it is a good fit and submit a proposal?
No matter where you live, I've discovered the numbers stay pretty consistent: 1) Less than 10 percent for those without early contact; and 2) More than 50 percent for the ones where you get there early. How do your answers compare? My hunch is you also win 50 percent (or more) of those opportunities when you engage early with the client. The darn shame with chasing bad opportunities is that occasionally, circumstances change and you end up winning a deal in spite of yourself. Don't let that example lure you into bad behavior. Instead, walk away from unlikely opportunities and focus the same resources on getting into the right opportunities early.
Reasons You Should Walk Away
Quite simply, the most successful companies make the choice to invest their time getting there early instead of responding to solicitations you are not likely to win. For some companies, not chasing every new opportunity and deciding to walk away is tough to do. Let me give you three good reasons to walk away from deals when the client insists on keeping you in the dark.
1) I often hear, "The client sent it to us. We have to respond."
Let me help you out with this one... you don't have to respond. Nobody can force you to respond. If you feel you truly have a unique approach, then strive to have a conversation with the customer in advance. If it is a public sector procurement, you might not be able to have a conversation after the procurement process has begun. The best companies start these discussions with the customer far in advance of a request for proposal (RFP). But, saying you won't participate without a meeting in advance might help create enough interest for them to figure out a way to answer your questions.
2) Don't set yourself up for failure (lack of understanding)
There is always valuable information missing from the Request For Proposal (RFP). The client doesn't care that you would prefer to "speak with the decision maker." However, try using this approach with the client: "On a recent project that we won, we had to bid it blindly. After the project began, we uncovered additional information that would have allowed us to implement a better solution for less money. And the project incurred many change orders. Even though the client was happy with us, we felt we let them down by agreeing to proceed without an advance meeting. How can we avoid that scenario in this situation?"
The point is you need to demonstrate it is in their best interest to have a discussion about their project.
3) Get there early
As noted previously, executives consistently tell me their people work very hard. They also tell me that they win ten times the number of deals where they have conversations up front with the client vs. those they respond to after the RFP hits the street. Don't get caught in the trap. If you take all of the time you wasted responding to something with a wish and a prayer, you won't have time to do anything else. Instead, take the time to identify the right opportunities and meet with the client early in the process. You'll be amazed by the results.
Grow Your Revenue
Consider this, if the client is not willing to make efforts to give you information that helps you better understand their situation and solve their problem, is it really worth your time and resources? The key to successfully growing your business is to be on the same side with your customer. This approach results in you and your client finding impact for their organization together, focusing on delivering results that will secure their job, solving an important challenge, and growing your revenue.
It's Your Turn
What goofy scenarios have buyers asked you to follow, and how have you overcome those obstacles?
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