Most sales proposals quite rightly focus on the company’s strengths. But is it ever right to acknowledge areas where the customer may have concerns? Nobody wants to cast doubt on their own capabilities but there are occasions when it’s worth discussing things the customer may be worried about.
A few years ago we got down to the last two on a bid to deliver a High Performance program to a large, public institution. We were a relatively young organisation and still small. Up against us was one of the largest consultancies in the world; an organisation that needed no introduction. We were confident we could do a great job, and clearly by short-listing us the client was taking us seriously too.
However, a key focus for us (and something we coach our own clients to do) is to put ourselves in our customers’ shoes. If we were them, what would we be worried about? If we were the client, what might make us select the other guys?
This clearly takes us into tricky waters. Do we want to highlight our shortcomings? Do we want to cast doubt on our own abilities or plant seeds of worry with the customer? Of course not. But if there is a fair chance that the customer is going to have concerns, or ‘anxieties’ as we call them, then surely these are worth facing head on.
With our bid that I mentioned earlier, we decided that if we were them, we would have some concerns about a smaller organisation’s ability to manage such a large project with a high profile client. It’s easy to envisage a procurement committee nodding in agreement as they all decide to take the safe choice and select the well-known name. So we took it head on. We acknowledged that anyone making this decision could well have those concerns, and we addressed them. We referenced other large high profile clients we worked with, and of course offered to make introductions to them, to substantiate what we were saying.
As you can guess (I wouldn’t be using this example if we’d lost!) we won. In the wash up, the customer specifically made reference to this, and their observation was that it indicated we truly understood them. They did have this concern, and rather than avoiding it, we met it head on, which they took to be a strength.
Of course, this does not mean you need to highlight all the things you’ve done wrong or messed up in the past. Nor does it mean you have to raise doubts where they don’t exist. But it is worth putting yourself in their shoes and asking yourself, ‘what we would be anxious about if we were making this decision?’
By Andy Coughlin, who works with international blue chip companies in the UK, US, Europe and Middle East. He delivers progams that enable clients to perform better under pressure, in the areas of sales and customer service.