and realities of requests for proposals (RFPs). He told the story of a firm
that lost a major potential engagement, even though the prospect had assured
the firm’s partners they would be awarded the business. Unfortunately, a
competitor “out-discovered” them and, in effect, rewrote the RFP to reflect
what the fundamental, underlying concerns of the prospect were in addition to
those described in the RFP.
Smart Business spoke with Krone to learn what happened next.
We recommended that the partners
make a personal visit to the prospect to learn why they lost out. Although not
their standard operating procedure, they made the trip about three weeks after
losing the RFP. What did they learn?
A new lesson in how personal
visits can pay off as relationship-builders
The prospect said: ‘We haven’t
seen or heard from the firm we gave the work to in the three weeks since we
awarded the contract, and you’re here, even though you lost!’
The prospect was no doubt
thinking: ‘This is impressive, but they’re not going to talk me out of my decision.’
How to play for the ‘next call’
Before their visit, we reminded
our clients that coaches often argue with officials over a close decision that
goes against them. They’re not necessarily expecting to change an official’s
mind on a specific call. But they are expecting to gain an advantage for the next call that might go either way.
Similarly, our clients were making
the trip not to argue for the business
they had already lost but to gain an advantage for getting business in the
future. They were going to ask the right questions in the right way to discover
the issue their competitor used to revise the RFP to their advantage.
Why they lost the RFP
Although the prospects did want to
solve the problem described in the RFP (an international tax matter), deep down
they were much more worried about how large the problem might turn out to be.
They had almost no idea, and the winning bidder discovered that worry and used
it to his advantage.
What their competitor did
He proposed a much less
expensive audit of the problem about 80
percent less expensive, in fact: $60,000 versus $300,000.
He revealed his expertise
by showing the prospects that as the seller he knew more about the implications
of solving the problem than they did as the buyers. (It’s important to
understand that buyers writing up RFPs usually don’t know all of the challenges
or beneficial outcomes.)
He delivered very real
value during the sales process by clarifying their concerns for them before he was ever paid a penny.
He positioned himself and
his firm to get the larger job for which the original RFP was written. After
performing the audit, he would know the issues inside and out and would be the
likely choice to take on the larger, more lucrative job of resolving the
What a slap-in-the-face lesson
about effective sales discovery feels like
Our clients returned from their
visit re-energized and continued to think of the company as a viable prospect.
But they did more than think about it. At our suggestion, and with our
assistance, they successfully stayed ‘top of mind’ with the prospect over the
next six months.
Many companies and firms
understand the value of keeping their name in front of prospects and clients
through regular communication. But too often it’s the ‘just checking in to see
if there’s anything we can do’ variety. That kind of communication does remind
the prospect you’re alive and kicking. But after one or two such reminders, it
begins to rankle. We recommend that a seller deliver value during the
process of staying top of mind.
So, what happened?
The competitor seller, though
clearly good at performing discovery, apparently wasn’t so good at doing the
work. After some frustration, when the prospect’s executives finally got a
handle on the size of the problem, they just called our client instead of
putting out a second RFP. The end result was that our client got the assignment
for which they were originally rejected. Plus, over the next few years, they
earned literally millions of dollars in fees from this company.
Understandably, companies can be
too embarrassed, discouraged, or even angry to engage a prospect after being
told ‘No!’ so emphatically. But we know from experience (our own and that of
clients we’ve counseled) that lost prospects can reveal more juicy secrets about
buying motives than your best customers ever can.
marketing consulting firm. Productive Strategies provides clients with
particular expertise in sales process development, lead generation and
appointment setting, marketing and marketing communications. Phil can be
reached at (847) 446-0008 ext. 1 or firstname.lastname@example.org.