Recently I was preparing for an in-house training program by interviewing a number of senior managers and business development staff within the client organisation – the Australian division of a multinational engineering company.
The company has a great team of experienced staff, and is well positioned for future growth within the industry sectors they serve.
But they have a problem. A major problem that is threatening to restrict future sales.
And this is the same problem I have seen in other organisations – both large and small.
The problem is … being reactive to sales opportunities.
Many professionals and technical staff think they just need to communicate the skills and experience of their team to win new business. But it’s never that simple!
Especially when your clients are large companies that have multiple stakeholders who have varying degrees of influence over the final decision, and where the decision making process is extended.
In most cases, your potential clients are seeking a reliable relationship – but not necessarily a warm, fuzzy relationship. What they do want is a professional business relationship that makes them feel secure and confident.
The most important thing to understand is that they want this relationship ‘before’ they engage your services. They don’t want to wait until the project is underway. They want to feel comfortable and reduce their perceived risk from the start.
So it’s rare that a prospect will select a provider they don’t feel good about.
And feeling ‘good’ involves more than just reading the CV’s of senior consultants, or reviewing case studies of other projects, or watching snazzy PowerPoint presentations, or receiving glossy promotional material.
Prospects feel good when they believe they have established a relationship with you.
Back to the problem of being reactive…
It is very difficult to establish a relationship when you are being reactive and are focused on developing a written proposal, tender, or quotation… reacting to a specific request the client has already formulated.
The client is now looking for an answer, not a relationship.
Once you are working at that tactical level – and responding to a specific request – it is hard to break out of that cycle because the client has already made certain decisions and has certain preconceptions about what they are looking for and who might be suitable providers.
In essence, they have asked you to compare yourself to their requirements.
And truth be told – in most situations, at this stage, the client is probably looking to achieve due diligence (cover their backside) by “getting three quotes” or will use your proposal to check against their preferred provider. They’re not really looking for an alternative.
The bottom line is you don’t have much chance of success because you are being reactive.
Here is a better approach
A much better approach is to work with the client in advance – to be proactive – helping them identify what they need.
But this isn’t always easy. To plant the seeds from which you can grow a relationship you need to:
- Think strategically.
- Make plans for major accounts.
- Spot opportunities to start making contact.
- Be bold in meeting new prospects.
- Follow up in a timely manner, even when there is no immediate project.
- Look for ways to involve other members of your team, spreading the relationship.
Beware: To be proactive requires strong management support to expect, and encourage, those sales behaviours that will plant the seeds and nurture future sales opportunities. Sales management must resist the temptation to put all effort only into sales opportunities with immediate returns.