My previous post got the ball rolling on a list of thoughts on the qualification process. As promised, here are the rest of my “baker’s dozen” hints and tips:
- Use simple, memorable qualification criteria. We advocate four: “is it real, do we want it, can we win it, can we do it?” Pretty much all of the more detailed discussions you’ll need to have can be categorised under one of those headings – and there’s real power in having a qualification mantra that everyone involved in bidding understands and can repeat.
- Make sure your process has teeth. It’s not uncommon for me to be assured by a client during a benchmarking exercise that they do indeed have a qualification process – often a time-consuming and complex one at that. Yet when I ask what percentage of deals they qualified out of the previous year, they look blankly, and confess that it was a round number: 0.
- Treat the usual last-gasp tactics of salespeople (we can’t win, but we’ve got to bid because either “it’s strategic” or “if we don’t bid this time, we won’t be invited to bid on their next deal”) with healthy cynicism – even, perhaps, a degree of disdain. I’ve worked on bids that have fallen under those headings – but only after a particularly thorough review, and with a clear strategy as to what we’re going to do in our proposal, knowing that we won’t win and that doing so isn’t actually our goal.
- Be brave! Recognise that your qualification decision may change as the deal progresses – particularly, as you learn more about your competitive position. If something happens to convince you that you’re wasting your time, shout about it! Even on the most reliable airlines, flying the most modern planes, sometimes people need to listen to the safety announcements so that they know where to find the emergency exits!
- Subject to the above… make sure the client is always given a clear, consistent, early and honest view of your intent regarding whether or not you’re going to expect to bid.
- Handle any “no bid” decision extremely sensitively. Planning, scripting and rehearsing the feedback to the customer needs great care – as does coaching salespeople in how to handle the buyer’s likely objections (“but we do want you to bid: of course you can win” being shorthand for “if you drop out, you might compromise my purchasing process and / or my personal credibility internally”)
- Be clear on the role of the proposal manager in the process. Do you own the salesforce’s or business unit’s revenue target for the year? No? I thought not. So our role in helping those folks to achieve their goals is to offer advice from a proposal perspective (is it possible to produce an appropriate proposal in the timescales?), perhaps mixed with a sense of the deal’s “winnability” drawn from your bidding experience, perhaps blended with your ability to act as an excellent facilitator (and to be seen, perhaps, as an independent in the process, sitting ‘between’ the salespeople and the business). You have the right not to be expected to waste your time on lost causes. And yes, you may sometimes have to be the one that provokes the telling debate – given (1) above, salespeople are rarely the first people to jump up and say: “you know what – we shouldn’t go after this”. But, ultimately, it’s not your call.