The second phase of the business development performance cycle – which I call “Tune” – is the most important if you are serious about winning large contracts. The work done in the foundation phase is the price of entry. Nobody will take you seriously if you haven’t developed a good product or service, if your people aren’t up to scratch, if you don’t have good references or if your brand isn’t well known. Take the “Tune” phase seriously and you will turbo charge your chances of success. This is about building influence and a solid relationship.
What’s involved if you want to be “in tune” with your prospect? The original view that the customer is always right has some merit – especially if you’re selling a commodified product like a tin of beans. However, it’s more than likely that you will be selling something more complex. As we move from a transactional sale to a more consultative one of a bundle of more complicated products – such as corporate health insurance or outsourced IT services– the individual elements of a commercial conversation get a lot more complicated. It’s not enough for you to be “in tune” with them, they also need to be “in tune” with you.
Get an audience
It’s impossible to build influence without getting to know your buyer, as well as the people who have influence over them. Don’t leave it until a month or two before the request for proposal (RFP) is issued. Try and get in their ear from at least six months to a year out. I appreciate that some buyers are hard to access, and I’ll deal with that in another post. But ask yourself if it is practical to try and do business with someone who has shown no interest in you or is too lazy to bother.
Listen and understand
You won’t be able to move with any power without first having an understanding of your prospect’s values, beliefs and concerns. The idea of understanding others’ beliefs and concerns is nothing new. It permeates tomes upon tomes on strategy. Dixit and Nalebuff return to this theme on a number of occasions in the excellent “The Art of Strategy” (2008). They write:
“If you are playing a game, then you have to consider how the other player will be acting and how those decisions will influence your strategy…You need to understand the other person’s perspective. You need to consider what they know, what motivates them, and even how they think about you. George Bernard Shaw’s quip on the golden rule was to not do unto others as you would have them do unto you – their tastes may be different…When you put yourself in others’ shoes, you have to take them as they are, not as you are.”
Do this well and you’re well on the way to building a solid relationship with your prospect. Why? Because you’ve shown empathy and that you “get them.” Here’s what the University of Houston’s Brené Brown has to say about empathy:
“Empathy is a strange and powerful thing. There is no script. There is no right way or wrong way to do it. It’s simply listening, holding space, withholding judgement, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of “you’re not alone.”
But listening, understanding their concerns and showing empathy is not enough.
Educate your prospect
The Challenger Sale (2011) is one of the most influential sales books of the last decade. Drawing on a large body of research Matt Dixon and Brent Adamson conclude that the most effective sales representative is the ballsy, inciteful and incisive “Challenger.”
“The Challenger rep is the rep who loves to debate. The one who uses his or her deep understanding of a customer’s business not simply to serve them, but to teach them: to push their thinking and provide them with new and different ways to think about their business and how to compete.”
The Challenger is the one who will kick the door in and work out if it’s worth doing business in the first place. They’ll develop a relationship that has resonance for both sides and craft offers that play to your strengths. They are your best shot at showing your prospect that what you do really matters.