I always like to know when I have won an order why the customer chose me and my company and not another. Over the years I have developed a good understanding of what will be the deciding factor for the customers and prospects I have dealt with but sometimes things happen where I just haven’t appreciated the significance of a particular statement or action.
One such occasion occurred on a major project I was bidding for. I was up against an incumbent supplier for sales training services and the customer had a long term relationship with a large, well known supplier. I was David to their Goliath, a smaller training provider and an unknown to the customer other than my prospecting letter had landed on their desks just as they were looking at a new training program.
I was invited to meet them and promote what we could do and learnt that besides the incumbent supplier and ourselves there were an additional two companies bidding. My presentation was the fourth of the day and when I arrived one of the decision makers who I was told would be there had excused himself and wasn’t attending (not the best start). I focussed my pitch on things they deemed important but hadn’t necessarily seen or heard during the day already as well as a brief overview that we could meet the required elements I expected the other three suppliers had presented and I felt things had gone well.
We agreed to be in touch in a few days’ time when the four potential suppliers would be whittled down to two and when we spoke it was good news; we were still in the mix along with the incumbent supplier. Now there were additional questions, the request for quotation was issued and we were asked to submit our proposals. I was told the customer would consider the offers, choose their preferred supplier and the order would be placed. No further bids would be entertained and the decision would be made inside of two weeks.
Proposal submitted, I telephoned the lead contact to understand how we had fared as well as to offer any additional support / information and was disappointed to learn that they had postponed the decision for a further two weeks. Curious, I asked why this was happening and was told to my frustration that the incumbent supplier had said they would like to resubmit their proposal, having felt that they could have done better! Apparently their Managing Director himself had made the call and said he would be personally handling the revised bid. The customer explained to me they felt they had to extend the deadline under the circumstances (I must admit that when I calmed down I really admired their MD for having done this – it is to be applauded as he was fighting!). When told about the situation though I reacted with a question to my contact, “What could the incumbent supplier really teach your salespeople apart from how to reduce price to win business when faced with tough competition?” After all this was the only thing I expected the incumbent supplier to do, and I had worked out their MD must have been told they weren’t in a good position after the bid to do what he did. My contact said my question was an interesting one, but they had said they would grant the 2 weeks extension and they would honour this commitment. I asked if they needed anything else from me to which I was told they didn’t and I wasn’t sure if this was a good sign that I had done what was required, or that their response was limiting my chances of success.
When the two weeks passed we spoke again and I was told that I had won the contract. As I always do I asked my contact why I had won the business and specifically I asked if my question about what they could teach their salespeople had been the clincher (convinced that it had). “Not at all”, I was told. “We know them and have worked with them for some time and know they are a good business,” my contact told me. “We chose you because you had demonstrated that you really wanted our business and we would like our salespeople understand how to demonstrate they should be hungry for business. If they can learn this from you in amongst the other things in your program we feel they will be better for it.”
I wasn’t quite expecting that … interestingly though, I have made an extra effort to ensure I demonstrate that desire in every pitch since … and it has always stood me in good stead!