Think back to your failed pursuits. What did your main contact offer as the reason the winner wasn’t you? Maybe something like:
It was really close.
You came in second.
The other guys were a little less expensive.
Their solution was a little bit better.
You don’t have as much experience as the winners.
Though you’re disappointed, these comments might make you feel encouraged. But are they the truth? We’ve seen tons of winning pursuits. And the reasons given to the winners stand in sharp contrast:
We were impressed by your passion for our project.
Your team was consistently smart.
We loved the commitment you showed.
You understood what we’re looking for.
You really got us.
What do you notice about this? Losing teams are given “rational” reasons. Maybe the truth. Or maybe just an easy way to let someone down.
Winning teams are given the “real” reasons. Way beyond rational. Way beyond the solution. Way beyond the specs in the RFP.
And, importantly, very indicative of the importance of trust in client decision-making.
Trust: More Important Than Ever
As organizations wrestle with decision making in the world of COVID-19, they’re going to place more importance on trust. There’s more at stake now. The process of sorting among options is harder, with less personal contact. With less money available for projects, and fewer projects being approved, the risks of a bad decision are amplified.
The authors of this HBR article make the case that decision makers should place even more emphasis on long-term, valued relationships. Here’s one of the lessons they draw from their analysis:
Long-term business relationships built on shared values—beyond simple monetary outcomes—are more resilient (emphasis added) than ones built solely around transactional efficiency.
To us, this screams to pursuit teams about the importance of trust. Charles Green, co-author of The Trusted Advisor, has strongly advocated the increased relevance of low “self-orientation” and high “intimacy” as we maneuver through the pandemic. Both can be linked to the perception of shared values. I trust you because we share values.
RFPs and “Long-Term Relationships”
It takes time for a pursuit team to demonstrate shared values. You need lots of exposure to key individuals on the buying side.
So, if you’ve had little or no such opportunities with a prospect before you receive an RFQ or RFP, you’re a true longshot to win the bid. That’s because (1) you’ll have little chance to earn trust once the inevitable “cone of silence” descends around decision-makers, and (2) there are probably other firms in the competition who have worked with the buyer before and have already demonstrated shared values.
That leads us to one of the cornerstone beliefs at The Artemis Partnership: To win a pursuit, particularly in the COVID-19 world, you better start building trust with a prospect long before an RFP drops. There are ways to do that. They require a smart, focused business development approach. And strong coordination with marketing campaigns.
These strategies can be developed and executed with proper thoughtfulness, time investment, and discipline. They’re essential if you want to grow revenue during this uncertain time.
- Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, The Americas
Significant parts of the business world are starting to consider how they will emerge from COVID-19 circumstances. Some will recognize the need to get off to a quick start, earning the confidence of their people, their customers, and the market.If your company anticipates a relative rush of new business opportunities (perhaps not at pre-pandemic levels), you’ll want to get into as many of the right pursuits as you can and, of course, win them.
Winning won’t necessarily mean simply going back to what you did before the virus. The new math of the post-COVID-19 world (https://vimeo.com/421335106) tells us this strategy isn’t likely to work. Instead, take a very deep, hard, honest look at what you need to do differently.
Pursuits Before the Pandemic
Before the coronavirus wreaked havoc on lives and economies, many companies approached business development as a numbers game. Get into as many pursuits as possible. Receive - and respond to - as many RFPs as you can. This might have meant turning things around quickly, and leaning on materials that could be repurposed from pursuit to pursuit.
On a pure numbers basis, this was an efficient way to play. But if your win rate wasn’t what it should’ve been, this might be one of the major reasons.
The Role of Intensity in New Business Pursuits
We’ve spoken with hundreds of B2B buyers over the years. When we ask them to talk about their decisions, there’s a consistent theme that emerges. They can tell which competitor put legitimate, even extra, effort into the pursuit and which didn’t. There’s a high correlation between this observation and winning or losing.
We refer to this as “intensity.”
Intensity is more than the amount of time you put into a pitch. It’s the depth that you’re willing to explore to learn more than the other guys about the decision-makers and what really matters to them. It’s the perception you create that communicates your passion for the project and for the well-being of the prospect and their business. It’s the replacement of generic materials and decks with bespoke communications.
Ultimately, it’s how much you show that the entire pursuit was about them and not about you.
The Folly of Efficiency
Your prospect can tell the difference between the firm that had a high level of intensity and the firm that didn’t. They might not use the word, “intensity.” But it’s clear to us that that’s exactly what was meant, especially when we compare the feedback of the prospect with the activities and outputs of the pursuit itself.
“Low intensity” is usually the conclusion we can draw when we see a pursuit that’s loaded with generic materials. Where proposals and orals start with tons of information about the pursuing organization, not about the prospect. When pre-submission questions from the pursuit team are a mile wide and an inch deep. When there’s little rehearsal. And there’s plenty more.
Sure, the process was efficient. You could handle a lot of other work while still being on time with the proposal. But efficiency in new business is folly.
“High intensity” is obvious from the deep understanding the pursuit team demonstrates about the opportunity, the prospect, the issues that matter. It’s there in the discussion or document that feels like it was prepared just for that prospect. And from the well-prepared, confident, relaxed team that easy for the prospect to connect with.
Intensity might not guarantee a win. But a lack of intensity almost certainly guarantees a loss.
- Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, The Americas
Priorities for all of us have shifted dramatically. And rightly so. Our responses to Covid-19, and our recognition of and responses to systemic racism, will point us and our businesses in very new directions.
Somewhere on the priority list for our business activities will be the recovery of lost revenue. This week, Neal Foard, one of our senior advisors, brings you a video on business development win rates. Neal’s message: Your pre-pandemic win rate might be irrelevant when you look at “the new math” of new business.