Sunday, April 21, 2013

Treated Unfairly by a Customer on a Bid? To Protest or Not! That is the Question!

Treated Unfairly by a Customer on a Bid? To Protest or Not! That is the Question!

Treated Unfairly by a Customer on a Bid? To Protest or Not! That is the Question!

While formal bidding processes are common in the public sector, many commercial/enterprise customers use formal bidding processes (like Request For Proposals - RFP's) to evaluate and select products, services and companies.  Even when bidding processes are informal, many buying organizations still have structured procurement policies for large capital purchases.

If you've encountered these types of competitive bidding situations, here's some advice based on 20 years of experience dealing with formal bidding practices:

  • If you haven't been involved with the opportunity BEFORE the RFP is released - forget it.  It's difficult for any salesperson to walk away from any situation in which somebody is going to be a winner.  After all, in most formal bids, the customer is going to buy something (most of the time).  Unfortunately, the bid requirements are usually developed far in advance of the release date of the bid.  Somebody (or some company) is usually "behind-the-scenes" influencing what those requirements are.  If that person isn't you, your chance of winning are extremely low.  Avoid bidding unsolicited RFP's.
  • Create an "angle" which gives you an advantage.  In responding to a competitive bid, don't try to add extra value.  Don't put things into the RFP that they don't specifically ask for.  If in doubt, leave it out. If there is a formal question and answer period, be careful on what you ask.  Remember, most times, your competitors will see both the question and the answer.  Did you just create a way to differentiate your response - or level the playing field even more, resulting in having to lower your price further.
  • Details matter in your response.  Remember, you many not have another opportunity to explain more about your solution/product/company.  Assume that your response may be handed to somebody who has never heard about you or your solution.  This is your opportunity to shine.  Creativity, grammar, color, simplicity, style all count here.
Protesting a Bid
Lastly, let's talk about a sticky situation in which you've been notified that you were not awarded the deal.  Most formal bidding processes have written guidelines on "protesting" the bid itself, or the bid results.  Read these sections carefully.  Many protest policies provide only a limited amount of time to submit a formal protest.  Many require specific information in a specific format.  Now the question is:  Should you protest?

While there is no black and white answer to the question of protesting a bid, there are definitely times when you should NOT protest:  never protest out of anger, fear or retribution against a competitor or customer.   That probably takes care of 80% of all the reasons why you feel you should protest.  What about the other 20%? In these cases, you must have extraordinary evidence of unfairness or compliance.  After all, you're about to tell the customer they made the wrong decision.  It better be a pretty compelling reason.  Even if your reason is extremely compelling, ask yourself two important questions:  1) What is the expected outcome of your protest?  2) What are the negative consequences of protesting?

In most cases, you won't get what you think is the expected outcome.  Organizations rarely just say, "OK, you're right.  We'll pick you."  Even if you got the customer to throw out the bid, perhaps the project dies right there.  Perhaps the customer will release a new RFP that's even more difficult for you to win.  Lastly, companies that commonly protest may be perceived by the customer community as "difficult to work with."  You may be labeled as the "trouble-maker" and your business may suffer consequently.  Is this one opportunity worth losing the customer for good?  Think carefully.  Protests are usually a lose/lose for both the customer and you.

One final suggestion regarding protests.  There may be other ways to get your point across without protesting.  Many times, I have simply called or emailed either purchasing or my contact, and explained the situation to them.  I let them know that we have no intention of protesting, but wanted to make sure the organization had all of the information they needed to make the best decision.  You'd be surprised how often this type of strategy works.  Of course, you have to have a real reason to make this call in the first place. 

Good Selling Everyone!

Sunday, April 7, 2013

What 6th Graders Know about Salespeople and Technology

What 6th Graders Know about Salespeople and Technology

What 6th Graders Know about Salespeople and Technology

I recently had the pleasure of speaking to my twelve-year-old's classroom.  One of his elective classes is "careers," and my son asked if I would come to school and talk about my job.  While I accepted the invitation months ago, I had no idea what I was going to say until moments after the students entered the classroom.

I spoke about two things:  Salespeople and Technology.  I was actually nervous and hesitant to talk to the class about being a salesperson.  I knew that my son had heard from plastic surgeons, professional baseball players, attorneys and other fathers that had fascinating careers.  How was I going to make an impact on my son's class?  Sure, I could down-play the whole "sales" thing, talk about how cool the technology I sold was, and come up with some flashy ideas that would leave an impression.  Instead, I thought about asking this group of 30 twelve year-old kids, "What do you think about salespeople?"

I've done this exercise many times before in sales training classes.  We all know the answers people give.  This time, however, I was unsure how these students would answer.  Would they somehow reply differently to the preconceived notion of "pushy, dishonest, money-centered individuals?"  I wrote their answers on the whiteboard in the classroom as they blurted-out the same challenging adjectives that everyone shares.  What surprised me, however, was that there was no difference whatsoever between these kids and adults.  Even at twelve years of age, these kids thought salespeople were horrible people.  

When I asked for a show of hands of how many kids wanted to be salespeople, I got the usual "zero" response.  Of course, I did my best to break the stereotype for the class.  I reiterated the importance of caring about customers, about helping people make informed decisions.  I'm unsure whether they believed me or not.

The second topic I discussed was Network Technology. Here too, I was surprised to see their interaction with me, but for a different reason.  Nobody in the class understood what the internet really was.  Nobody knew how information flows from their laptops or iPad's to a server in another state.  One child, after I was using the work "network" for several minutes, asked me "What is a network?"

I asked my son that evening what the class thought about my visit.  He said that the class loved it and was very interested in what I had to say.  I guess I connected in some way with the students.  What he didn't know was how much I learned by the experience.  Here's my two big take-aways:
  1. We will always have to strive to break the sales stereotype.  It happens early in our lives.  Even twelve-year-old kids have been indoctrinated to think negatively about salespeople.  Every day, every interaction and every communication must be a conscious effort on our part to become a trusted adviser, a buying facilitator.
  2. Never assume the knowledge set of anyone.  Something as ubiquitous as the Internet or a "network," may be poorly defined.  We need to explain what we mean.  We need to seek that understanding.  It reinforced how important it is to set forth a foundation of language with our customers, and speak to them about what really matters to them.
Happy Selling