Learn to Sell Yourself to Beat Competitors

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We are absolutely getting beat out on jobs. Even with referrals we are losing bids to a competitor who is doing shoddy work, making mistakes on estimating, installing the wrong materials and billing clients for significant upcharges. Obviously we need to be doing a better job selling ourselves. Help!

Thoughts of the day: Figure out if you’re calling on the right prospects. Help prospects discover your value through questions. Make sure you’re working with prospects who will do more than collect bids. Ask your referrals to get involved in more than vouching for you.

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Brace yourselves, growth is coming

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A major referral source for us is gearing up for a big summer push. That’s the good news. The bad news is that they are worried if we can we keep up. This is a great problem to have, but we need to solve it. How do we assure them that we can meet their needs? This will be a big leap forward for us.

Thoughts of the day: First, make sure you want the influx. Assuming you do want the work, build plans to gear up and assign people to implement those plans. Put someone in charge of monitoring workflow and quality. Meet with your staff to fill them in on what’s expected. Build in time to celebrate successes and let off steam.

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Dealing Effectively with RFPs

RFPs are rough. They’re not our forte. But we’re seeing more and more of them. How do we get better at winning our fair share?

Thoughts of the Day: Not all RFPs are equal. Building a team and a template will help things go more smoothly. Make a schedule to manage the time you have. Get good at doing RFPs and then figure out where to get more of them.

Some RFPs are going to be exactly right for your business. A lot could be a waste of time and energy. Ask these questions before jumping in:

  • Why is the RFP issuer going out for bid? How much will low bid be a factor?
  • Does anyone at the issuing company know about my company, or have reason to do business with us? If not, can we get intros to key players before the bid is awarded?
  • Is there anything unique that we do that increases our chances of winning?
  • Who has the business now? Are they bidding?
  • Are there any likely “inside bidders” who are well known to the issuer, who have the ideal solution, who have a fast track to the finalist list? Can we partner with them?
  • What is our goal: To get introduced for future consideration? To raise our visibility in the industry? To win the bid?
  • How much will it cost in time, money and effort to respond? Can we afford to make that expenditure and not win? What would we do with our time if we didn’t respond?
  • What will bidding and not winning do for our future prospects?

In addition to winning, bids can be a great opportunity to get exposure, to introduce your company, and to find out what other bidders are offering. Do keep in mind that your chances of winning, before considering any other factors, are 1/all bids – probably pretty small odds. If there’s an inside track and you’re not on it, your company’s chance of winning drops through the floor. Carefully consider all that you’ll have to go through to raise those odds.

On the other hand, some industries live on bids. Getting into the bidding game can be a way to add clients and increase revenue. They may get your company in the door and qualified for future opportunity.

Prepare to respond. Pull together a standard team – sales, marketing, operations, research & development, finance, human resources. Gather bids that have recently been awarded to your industry. Find out who won, and why. Cull through looking for common questions. Save time later by building persuasive boilerplate answers. Highlight your sizzle. Make your company’s advantages seem clearcut.

Ready to try? When you first open a new bid, make note of all deadlines. Bids usually have a due date for questions, specific bid conference date, and of course final submission time. Put these dates on a calendar and make sure everyone on the team knows them.

Assign people to read every page of the bid. Consider if your company has something unique that increase its chances of winning. Ask if you can handle the work if you win. Would an award take your company forward or would winning be a diversion? Identify key issues posed by the bid. List things your company knows about that would be valuable. Hold a meeting to debate the bid.

Resolve the question: should the company respond. Then lay out a plan of action for attacking the bid, including who, what, by when. Identify any specialists needed. Figure out if you should partner with another company. Hold periodic meetings to bring the bid team together for updates.

Looking for more bids? There are RFPs circulating all the time in most industries. Check your industry for bid lists. Ask customers and their peers if they ever use bids. Try government bid lists – state, county, local and federal. There are RFP monitoring services, and their subscription prices vary. Do an internet search for how to find RFPs, you’ll find a wealth of information.

BOOK RECOMMENDATION:
Looking for a good book? Request for Proposal: A Guide to Effective RFP Development, by Bud Porterl-Roth.

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Teamwork leads to better sales

One of our sales guys has a habit of not following through with customers. He does a great job opening doors, but he’s terrible at going back to ask for repeat business or referrals. What should we do?

Thoughts of the Day: Make sure you understand the new normal for your customers and appeal to that. Use a team approach to meet the total needs of the company. Lower the company’s risk by involving multiple players. Set goals for each participant that helps individuals play to their strengths.

The pace of business is constantly speeding up. 24/7/365 connectivity is the norm. Information is everywhere, and so are interruptions. Busy people are trying to get their jobs done. If you have someone on your team who can break through the clutter, make the most of them!

Expand the volume of what this sales person is good, ask them to focus on making connections and have others follow up. Opening doors to lots of prospects should be highly valuable to your company, so long as there’s a way to insure that someone else follows up to move the sales process forward.

Recognize that different sales stages require different attitudes and behaviors as well as skills. Sometime sales calls for a tough skin and fearlessness, other times it requires empathetic listening and relationship development. On the backend, sales requires writing skills, and negotiation and closing skills. Learn what each member of your sales team does well; figure out who does best at each stage in the sales process. Build a complimentary sales team.

Set up a team approach to sales. Have different people to research target accounts, approach the targets, gathers information about prospect needs, documenting the company’s offer in a proposal, and someone does the closing. Make sure there is someone to take over to negotiate the contract, to insure implementation goes smoothly. Don’t forget to circle back to ensure customer satisfaction.

One person owning an account, beginning to end, is risky for a company. If that person leaves, the client may leave, too. It’s better to have a network of relationships between your company and your clients. Involve several people in the sales process. Streamline your processes to ensure that prospects and clients are well managed at every stage.

People in the office can do research, answer questions, get out proposals, and provide customer and prospect support. People out on the road can meet face to face to gather insights on what the client environment is like, to explain complex concepts to customers and prospects and to go eyeball to eyeball when it’s time to make a final decision. Consider inviting your customer to visit your office in order to show that your company has the ability to service long term needs.

Build a top team of performers by helping individuals play to their strengths in a complimentary way. Set goals to meet the company’s overall needs for growth, retention and profit. Figure out what that means in terms of new signings, renewals, referrals to folks who don’t yet know about your company, etc.

Make sure that your sales team is up for meeting the goals you set. Ask the team to work up the details of how they think they can best meet the overall goals. Ask the sales team to be forthright it they have concerns regarding hitting the goals you’ve set. Brainstorm solutions with the group, in order to build confidence that the goals are doable. Be clear what the overall team has to accomplish, and what that means in terms of each team member’s responsibility.

Regularly evaluate each person’s contribution to hitting the total company goals. For example, opening a ton of doors is good, but only if those are the right kind of leads for your company. Missing the mark by spending time nurturing prospects that won’t value what your company offers can be a waste of time for everyone.

If you’re going to build a team approach to selling, make sure your compensation plan rewards team goals. Have a bonus that rewards everyone for achieving the master goal. Or, distribute profits based on total company performance. Make it clear that superstars are only valuable if they can contribute to a winning team performance.

Looking for a good book? Smart Sales Manager: The Ultimate Playbook for Building and Running a High-Performance Inside Sales Team, by Josiane Chriqui Feigon.

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How to Fend Off New Competitors

Getting ready to handle a surge in sales

The ball is rolling with a big, new competitor. There’s no stopping them — they’re getting everything they want. We’re already seeing a downward impact on our revenue and on customer price sensitivity. We’ve checked with our peers and they’re seeing the same things. This could be a game changer for our industry and we don’t have the resources to play in this competitors’ league. How do we deal with it?

Thoughts of the day: How do you defend and how do you grow are the same and yet different questions. Before going to war, do an inventory of what’s in your war chest. Sometimes it’s better to go around than it is to fight head on. Always be aware of market trends and customer options. Make sure your choices will lead to profits and future opportunities. Consider joining forces to strengthen your hand.

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