When the answers to the four questions that make up the qualification mantra – “Is it real, do we want it can we win it, can we do it?” – are “no”, salespeople often resort to an alternative attempt to justify proceeding with the bid…
“But it’s strategic!”
What does that mean in practice? Typically, they’re stating that – to paraphrase Baron de Coubertin – it’s the taking part that matters, not the winning. I can think of five potential scenarios to justify an “it’s strategic” bid – one where a rational evaluation of the usual questions would otherwise cause you to down tools:
Before heading down this route, be clear on what that future opportunity is and when it’s happening – specifics here, not “we think they’ll have stuff for us at some point”. And do a careful analysis of how this tactic will enhance your reputation with the client. The “pro’s” come potentially from the opportunities that arise to develop relationships through face-to-face bid discussions, from showing you can develop high-quality proposals and (potentially) from conditioning the client’s views / requirements for that future deal. The “con’s” are that being branded “unrealistic” or “losers” isn’t always a positive place to be.
2. Recovering credibility. Previous bid engagements with the client concerned have been a disaster. They think we’re unprofessional, inept, and don’t think we see them as an important client. They’ve extended an olive branch to us – and if we “no bid” this time, or bid badly, we’ll never be invited back.
Submitting and presenting an excellent proposal is part of a clear, wider plan to restore our reputation and re-establish positive personal connections with their decision-makers. We can’t meet their requirements this time, however, but we can share experience and insights that will help their project to succeed, and could potentially offer a non-compliant solution as a “fall-back” option should their “plan A” fail.
3. Market penetration. We have a new product, service or solution; perhaps we’re in a new country or new sector; maybe we’ve built up a relationship with an entirely new customer. We need to be seen as “players” and hence taking part – even if we don’t win – is key to building relationships and establishing our brand in the new area.
And we’re in stages one or two of the three-stage journey in customers’ inevitable progression from viewing us as “new, interesting and creative” to “we know they’re serious contenders in this market” to “they’ve been trying for ages and they never win – they’re risky”.
4. Competitive attack. We know we can’t win, but we’re not prepared to let competitors (and especially the incumbent) have a clear run at this. We’re going to bid, potentially at very low prices, to unsettle our competitors’ and (potentially) stop them making excessive profits from the deal – despite the risk that they’ll then do the same to us, and margins in the market as a whole will end up being degraded.
5. Desperation. The salesperson can’t answer “yes” to each of the four key qualification questions, but believes there’s a pot of gold at the end of every rainbow. There’s not much else in his/her pipeline (“I’ve not got anything better to do”), and they need to show that they’re busy. He/she would love to bid, as miracles do sometimes happen – particularly, if bidding comes at little or no personal cost (in other words, other people will do all of the hard work).
Of these, four tactics may potentially be viable justifications – provided it’s agreed clearly, in advance, that “losing well” is the goal – and that the bid / proposal strategies reflect this. The fifth, and the one that seems to be most prevalent, certainly isn’t an acceptable justification for proceeding with a bid – taking effort and energy away from other deals with a more realistic chance of success. Try forcing the salesperson to explain which of the other four scenarios their deal fits into – and be (friendly and supportive yet) robust in your challenges. Life it too short to be wasted working on no-hope proposals.
PS click here and then here if you want to read a previous thread on the qualification process