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Feeling like you’re stuck fighting to the death for big procurement contracts? Use these tips to develop a winning strategy.
The Hunger Games, the bestselling novel by Suzanne Collins, introduces audiences to a horrific, post-apocalyptic world. In the book–the first of a trilogy, and the inspiration for an upcoming movie)–a repressive “big brother” regime forces candidates from different districts to battle to the death for the entertainment of the regime, with only one victor allowed.
If you sell into companies that manage their selection processes for possible suppliers through centralized procurement or purchasing departments, this may all sound disturbingly familiar.
Having once written a book with the title “RFPs Suck,” my biases may be rather obvious. I believe that the structured buying processes required by many companies for their larger contracts are vampire-like and counterproductive. They force price-driven contests that eliminate viable candidates and snuff out opportunities for value discussions and innovation.
In the novel, participants are forced to play. You may feel the same way about your customers’ procurement games. I have seen companies try all sorts of strategies:
- Don’t participate
- Participate only when you are the incumbent or write the specifications
- Participate in all and try to get lucky
- Participate based upon how busy your response-writing people are
These are not real strategies for success, though. They don’t chart a course; they just respond to circumstances.
How to Win the Procurement Hunger Games
In a world where structured supplier selection processes are becoming the norm for commercial purchases, you need to have a better approach.
Large account sales success is 90% process and 10% MAGIC…
I spend so much time preaching and teaching “process” that I don’t spend much time in my blogs on the MAGIC that closing big sales takes. I am going to take the next few blogs to teach some of my magic tricks- those things that are not process, but still follow some understandable guidelines so that almost anyone can use these ideas to give leverage to your process and win more deals.
This one is known as “The 5 Myths”. This approach is used when you are in a highly commoditized marketplace and want to differentiate yourself with an experienced buyer. It is also effective when you are a small player and a large competitor has misrepresented things in the marketplace, but has used so much marketing firepower that the message has become the accepted norm.
Step 1: Establish the 5 Myths for your marketplace.
A myth is something that is generally held as truth in your marketplace but is in fact not true. Myths are often times created by big competitors who are trying to own the decision making reference frames of the marketplace and so they push these out into the market through advertising, brochures and other sales materials. The problem is that they work. Let me give a few examples:
- Myth 1: Price = Cost. Now, this is often times not true. When we look at the actual costs of a solution or product there are all sorts of factors to consider including, on-boarding costs, shipping fees, early mistakes and errors, training, hidden charges and so on.
By now you may or may not have purchased my new book, RFPs Suck! If you haven’t, you can purchase it here. It’s now in paperback. Call me biased, but I highly recommend it.
The latest stop on my book tour/media blitz was with Ian Brodie, one of the best sales consultants across the pond. Ian works with professional service firms–consultants, lawyers, accountants, surveyors, architects and coaches–to help them attract more clients and win more new business. You can check out the interview on his site, IanBrodie.com.
Ian Lurie of Conversation Marketing had a look at RFPs Suck! and decided the topic was worth an interview on his site. Call me biased, but I have to agree. He asked some great and important questions on RFPs and I’d like to share the answers with you here.
Below is an excerpt from the article. Read the whole thing here.
RFPs Suck-Don’t take my word for it…
RFPs are like a colonoscopy: Someone you don’t even know gets to inspect you from the inside out.
Sorry, I prefer to have dinner first.
Thankfully, I’m no longer raving alone. Tom Searcy has written an excellent book titled, guess what, RFPs Suck! How to Master the RFP System Once and for All to Win Big Business.
Unlike me, he provides excellent help to navigate the RFP process. In fact, I used some of his advice in an RFP, and are now in the running for the contract. So his stuff works.
Tom was kind enough to do an interview with me about the book and RFPs in general. Here it is:
1. What inspired you to write the book? I know why I’d write it – because RFPs really do suck. But clearly you’ve seen great success responding to RFP’s.
Over the past five years, governance requirements, aggressive cost-cutting measures and more powerful purchasing departments have been driving deals into the RFP process–even the smaller deals that may not have required one before. As such, the number of deals that require an RFP process has increased exponentially.
Just a quick note to let you know that my new book RFPs Suck! How to Master the RFP System Once and For All to Win Big Business is now available on Kindle. If Kindle is your format of choice, well then, please go forth and order!
The Kindle edition is available HERE.
Thanks and enjoy!
Well, everyone, a collective sigh of relief just left the Hunt Big Sales headquarters (or “clubhouse” as we prefer to call it). Why? My new book—which you are all no doubt familiar with, thanks to your immense help in choosing the cover—just came out!
RFPs Suck! How to Master the RFP System Once and for All to Win Big Business is now available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble and a slew of other places. In about a week, it will be available on Kindle so if that’s your format of choice, just let me know and I’ll send you an update when it’s ready. And if its mere existence isn’t enough to convince you to grab a copy, you can find more details about the book at RFPsSuckTheBook.com.
Hardcover: 160 pages
(Yeah, it’s a bit more than your average run-of –the-mill book but that’s because it’s not your average run-of-the-mill book. And anyway, your boss should be buying this for you.)
Publisher: Channel V Books
How you can help:
- Refer it to everyone you know.
- Buy it for everyone in your office. (Hey, it makes a great stocking stuffer!)
- Leave an online review at Amazon or Barnes & Noble if you’ve read the e-book or after you read the full length version. (Links are above.)
- Vote on other peoples’ reviews that are particularly helpful (on Amazon).
- Think happy, positive thoughts about it every now and then.
As many of you know, this book is the extended version of my e-book Landing Big Sales with an RFP.
In the spirit of RFPs (the topic of my upcoming book RFPs Suck! –the cover of which many of you have helped me choose over the past few days–thank you so much), I want to share an article I recently wrote for Home Business Magazine. While the magazine may not speak to some of you directly, I think the article will. Or, at least, I hope it will…
With a primary focus on winning government contracts (read: stimulus money), the article discusses the ways in which small businesses can win contracts by:
- Solidifying their corporate images (both in reality and in the RFP).
- Identifying opportunities, whether through RFP databases, government project or grand sites, or various matching services.
- Joining forces. This could mean simply getting your internal departments together to work on this as a team, or it could mean partnering with a larger contractor who needs your services, and go in on the deal together.
- Attending open meetings. Because government contracts = proceed with caution, you should attend open meetings to gather new information, but make sure not to overshare.
- Being the safe, clean option. Despite the promise of change, one government position always tends to remain the same: “Always go with the safest option, even if it’s not the best option”
- Speak the language with clarity. Those who know that approaching mammoth prospects requires a special language will not be surprised to hear that approaching the government requires much of the same. In particular, speak in terms of Time, Money and Risk, and make sure you have a solid theme to weave throughout your response.
Friends of ours (not the Soprano’s version of the expression), recently participated in a large RFP. They lost, but under the category of “You can’t make this stuff up,” here was the standard issue response they received from the company that issued the RFP [names of all companies and people omitted for obvious reasons]:
This is beyond classic…
What is a sales team’s likely response when their buyer involves a bunch of people in a sale who don’t know much about what they’re buying?
“These people are IDIOTS!”
[Paraphrased from frustrated sales people the world over, dealing with “new” buyers at their big targets…]
When big companies lay people off, the functions of those people get stacked on top of the already-full desks of other people. These new responsibilities most often don’t come with training, a manual, or any relevant experience on the part of the recipient. And these new job requirements just show up. Often times, one of these responsibilities is to be the buyer of products and services with which the “new” buyer is very unfamiliar.
So, what do these people do with their new responsibility? Most of the time they choose one of the following:
1. Do nothing. They don’t buy anything- they just put it off
2. Stick with the incumbent.
3. Buy from the lowest-priced vendor.
In the rapidly-shifting organizational charts of companies dealing with downsizing, ignorant buyers can be dangerous to your sales process for new accounts. Face it—there are a lot of options that are easier and safer than going with a new provider like you.
Getting these new buyers to sway away from the three easy options listed above will require you to adjust your approach. Here are some recommendations…