Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The 'Five Hows' of Sales

“Mr. Gitou, my team worked really hard on this proposal,” said Verdi. “It was a huge disappointment when the client chose our competitor. But our team did really well going from last place to second. Do you really think we could have known we were going to lose before we made our proposal?”

“Yes, Verdi, I do,” Tyler Gitou said. “As I mentioned last time, being told you finished in second is meaningless if in the end you don’t get any business. Second place is last.”

“I get it,” Verdi said. “So help me understand how I predict in advance the outcome of a selection process involving multiple bidders, multiple decision makers and millions of dollars at stake.”

“It requires detailed analysis, Verdi. But a great way to start that analysis is by asking the ‘Five Hows’. If you don’t know the answers to the ‘Five Hows’ it is not likely you will make a sale.”

Verdi pulled out a pad and a pen. “OK, Deal Whisperer, let’s hear the ‘Five Hows’.”

Tyler laughed. “I appreciate your enthusiasm, Verdi. The ‘Five Hows’ are:
1. How does the client buy?
2. How does the client decide?
3. How else can the client achieve its goals?
4. How can we compete?
5. How can we win?

“Let’s start with the first,” Tyler said. “‘How does the client buy?’ This is a question about the buying and contracting process. Who runs that process? Is it procurement? Do individual executives have the authority to buy directly? Do those individuals have limitations on the sizes of deals they can commit to? These are all important questions because if you do not understand the process, you don’t know the rules of the game.”

Verdi nodded. “That seems pretty logical.”

Tyler continued. “The second is ‘How does the client decide?’ While this is another process question, it is focused on the client’s internal process as to how selection decisions are made. For example, does the client have a culture of consensus? If so, you need to understand who those decision makers are, their relationships and how that consensus decision gets made. If the client has a more entrepreneurial or hierarchical environment, key executives may be the final decision makers without the use of advisory committees. Also, it is important to know whether board approvals are required. You don’t want to hit the end of your sales quarter and discover the board meets in two weeks to approve your deal.”

“Oh, I have lived that nightmare before,” Verdi said.

“The third is ‘How else can the client achieve its goals?’ This is a BATNA question: what alternatives does the client have to signing a contract with you? Can they perform the work you are pitching on their own? Or can a competitor do it just as well as you? This can be a vital question if your solution is unique in its ability to achieve the client’s goals. If the client does not have a strong BATNA, that should influence your negotiation strategy, particularly around legitimacy.

“The fourth is ‘How can we compete?’ This question is tied to BATNA and probes how well we understand the client’s interests or ‘buyer values’. It also asks what levers we can pull to make ourselves more competitive. What are the limits for us on price, scope, risk and time? If we need to move one lever, how will it affect the other levers?”

“That’s a great question,” Verdi said. “Client’s always pull on the ‘price' lever and we often fail to consider the impacts on scope. We are so focused on ‘winning’ that we make price concessions without seeking some form of relief from the client on another lever.”

“Exactly,” Tyler said. “The last one is ‘How can we win?’ This is a complex question that really pulls in the answers to the other four questions and tests the level and quality of relationships with the client. Let’s talk about your last proposal. You said you started in last place and finished in second. Why do you say you were in last place?”

“We really had no track record with this client,” Verdi said. “We were trying to get a foothold against the incumbents.”

“What you’re really saying is you had no relationships with the decision makers,” Tyler said.

“At first,” Verdi said. “But I developed a great relationship with Larry, the head of procurement. In fact, Larry’s sister went to the same college as me and he’s a huge Jets fan like me, so we had a lot in common.”

Tyler nodded. “Building affiliation with a decision maker or influencer is a great way to start. Did Larry trust you? Did he trust your company?”

“I think he trusted me. I mean, I didn’t give him reason to not trust me. But my company? I don’t know.”

“That’s the point when you needed to ask yourself ‘How can we win?’ Not having relationships, not having trust, not knowing the buying process or decision-making process suggests you were destined to lose the bid. Larry may have liked you, but do you think that was enough for Larry to award you with a $5 million project?”

“I see your point,” Verdi said.

“Lesson learned,” Tyler said. “Unless you can use the ‘Five Hows’ to build an aggressive strategy that is going to result in a realistic chance of being chosen, you may be better served spending your sales pursuit budget on other potential clients.”

“Thanks for the advice,” Verdi said. “I never realized how much analysis I should be doing on my sales opportunities.”

“You’re welcome,” Tyler said. “Being a Deal Whisperer means being outcome driven. It’s important to have goals in closing deals with clients. It’s more important to know in advance how those deals will get done.”