The topic of qualification – the “bid / no bid” or “go / no go” decision – has raised its weary head in several recent conversations with clients. It’s also one of the cornerstones of the APMP accreditation syllabus.
So I’ve put together a “baker’s dozen” thoughts on the essence of a good qualification process, in the interests of helping you test your own approach. It’s not a comprehensive list, by any means, but if you’re doing all of this stuff well, your qualification process is probably in good shape. In the interests of keeping posts here from becoming too long, I’m going to split the comments across this post and my next one, which will appear here next week:
- Be conscious from the outset that to “no bid” runs counter to the instincts of most salespeople. They spend their life trying to hunt out opportunities to win business; they engage the prospect in dialogue about a specific contract; they start to convey your company’s appetite and capabilities for the work. And then they’re expected have to decide – admit, even – that it’s not a good deal for them to pursue? This is an area that needs handling with particular sensitivity.
- Treat every opportunity as “qualified out until it’s qualified in”, rather than the other way round. For too many organisations, “bid” (“qualified in”) is the default setting – causing the proposal centre to be seen by sales as a ‘business prevention’ unit when debates start as to whether or not to pull the plug on the opportunity. But if your role is seen as helping the salesperson to gain support, resources and funding for their bid, you’ll suddenly be “on their side”!
- In the words of the APMP Foundation Level exam: qualify early and certainly well before the customer’s requirements document arrives. Clearly, an RFP (or the equivalent) provides a host of new information about the opportunity and the customer’s specification. But by the time it arrives, you should at least have “in principle” approval to bid, subject to certain assumptions that you’ve made turning out to be true once you’ve reviewed the RFP. And that final post-RFP-receipt endorsement of your qualification decision needs to take place rapidly after the customer’s document has landed – the clock’s ticking, and you don’t want to sit around waiting for approval.
- Involve the right people in the debate. Ever experienced a situation when a qualification forum has agreed on a “no bid”, only for the sales staff to escalate the debate to a more senior level and to succeed in having the decision reversed? If they’re that important to your decision-making, make sure they’re directly involved.
- Make sure that if you do reach a “go” decision, that does result in the definite and timely provision of the resources needed to chase the deal. Particularly, those involved in the qualification decision need to feel a sense of personal commitment to the outcome – if you’re party to saying ‘yes’, there’s an onus on you to make sure that your area of the business then plays its full part in making the bid a success. And if the people who control the necessary resources aren’t involved in the qualification process, it can be tough to then secure their buy-in.
- For too many organisations, qualification is merely a hurdle for the salespeople to overcome: “score 40% or more on the checklist and you can bid”. Guess what? If that’s the game, your typical salesperson will engineer their score to be at least 43% (allowing a small margin of error for decency’s sake, and in case they get challenged on a couple of scoring criteria). Adopt what we term an ‘active qualification’ approach, in which you ask the salesperson not only how they’re currently scoring on an issue (e.g. “strength of relationship with the client’s decision-makers”), but what that score could be by the time the customer reaches the date on which they’ll make their decision – and what actions would need to be undertaken to improve their score, and hence their win probability.
- As promised, more next time I post