Did you read the title of this article and tune in hoping for a magic bullet that would transform every presentation and client meeting into a sure-fire winner? Sadly, life is never quite that simple. The only advice I can offer to make sure you never fail is to never set objectives for the outcome in the first place.
Fortunately (or not), this is the approach that many businesses seem to adopt - even if not by design. They don’t set objectives for what they want to get out of a client meeting so, by definition, they cannot fail. But, even if risk of failure can’t be eliminated, there are steps you can take to make it much less likely.
Most businesses find it easier to accept the need to set objectives for what they want their clients to get from meetings and presentations. Most tell me this is blindingly obvious – ‘we are just presenting a business update,’ or ‘we want to secure the contract.’ Too often they are content to leave their measurement of success at these bland and non-measurable levels.
Accurately measuring whether a session was successful from the presenter’s perspective needs far more detailed consideration. The presenter will (or should) have put a lot of effort and preparation into the session. Probably there are considerable rewards on offer to them personally or their business. Defining what success would look like calls for a detailed plan of objectives that match the importance of the event.
What Might Your Priorities Be?
When it comes to priorities and objectives, it’s impossible to generalise. They will be specific to the client, contract and the depth of your existing relationship. The sorts of things you could target are these:
Itemise what you need to achieve from the session and you can then add appropriate trigger statements or questions to the presentation or discussion.
Structure Your Desired Outcomes
Instead of coming out of a client meeting and convincing yourself that it ‘went OK,’ try to add a bit more structure to your evaluation. The way I do this is to explicitly write down what I need to achieve – probably no more than 5-8 things – sometimes fewer!
I then rank these. I set myself a base of what I absolutely ‘need’ to achieve and I expect to be successful in realizing these at least 80-90% of the time. This sets the lowest level of success I would be satisfied with. It could be whether I communicated my key messages to the audience and confirmed this based on feedback (both verbal and non-verbal) during the session.
Assuming I achieve the base level of “Must” the next level up is my “Intend” level. These objectives should be achievable anywhere between 50-30% of the time; they are becoming much more of a stretch.
Finally, I have my “Like” level. These are the things that I only succeed in getting 5-10% of the time. When absolutely everything goes to plan and the audience or client I’m with is 100% attuned to what I’m saying. You could look at this as being the ‘magic wand, all the stars aligned level.’ But it still helps to shoot for the stars.
Hopefully, this type of structure will help you plan to get more value from meetings and presentations, and have a clearer idea of whether you’ve actually made progress.
And don’t forget, the same applies to internal meetings where your goal might simply be to elevate your profile and standing with colleagues and stakeholders. Understand the outcome you want and plan how you will make it happen.
Without diving too deeply into the murky waters of modern politics it might be profitable to reflect on some recent events and personalities if you want to understand how perceptions can affect your business and your chances of winning major bids.
At the extremes, managing perceptions can overpower evidence and reality in the battle to shape opinions and determine actions. How else do wealthy, privileged individuals become seen as anti-elitists?
And what was the purpose of the Trump and Kim Jong-Un meeting? To avert a nuclear disaster or as a PR strategy to alter the perception of both leaders on the world stage? Whatever you think of Trump, he certainly understands the power of perceptions.
On less controversial ground, why do great sports teams so often implode when the guiding force departs? Was Sir Alex Ferguson’s impact as a manager down to tactical genius? Or was it down to the aura, trust and belief he created among the squad and the sense of inevitable defeat he created in opponents?
This aura (and the perception of expected success) began to unwind almost as soon as he resigned as manager. None of his successors have been able to rebuild it, despite spending huge sums on new players. Yes his players were good, but the same players couldn’t produce the same results under a different manager.
In sport and in business it isn’t necessarily about being the absolute best to win. It’s more about the opposition (or in business, the client) believing that you are that matters most.
Are You Expected to Win?
How do your prospects perceive your business today? And what can you do to change those perceptions in a positive way?
One of the most powerful perceptions you can create is one where your client believes that you understand their needs and concerns better than others. Link this to a perception that you are focused on their needs and concerns more than your own and you potentially have a winning formula.
In reality, the technical solutions proposed by a range of bidders may be identical, but the extra value of having the client perceive that you understand their needs better provides the value that differentiates you from them. With all other things being equal this should win you the work.
Your client isn’t just looking at the details in the bid. They are also subconsciously asking: ‘What happens if our requirements change or unforeseen problems throw the project off course, who's going to respond in the most positive way?’
Is there a simple trick to get your client to perceive that you understand their needs? Not really. It comes down to proposals and presentations that talk about your client more than your outputs, achievements and awards. It’s also about the questions you ask, how you ask them, and how you respond to the answers.
In a recent article we looked at how the perception that your clients and prospects have of your business will affect their decisions. Their perceptions may not be 100% accurate but they exert a powerful influence.
Here, we are going to look at some of the ways that we’ve helped businesses to change the way that they are perceived to open up further contract opportunities.
First off, you don’t have to play fair. As well as changing the perception of your own business, the client’s perception of your competition can be also changed (especially if you have a direct relationship with the client).
Without being derogatory or negative (never do this!) it is possible to influence the client to see that your strengths are key to delivering the project and business objectives, and that the strengths of your competitors may be less so.
Play to Your Strengths
Emphasize how your strengths align most closely with those needed to deliver the project. Play up those criteria which suit your strengths best.
The Bid Coach uses a matrix to measure the factors that the client deems important versus your and your competitors strengths and weaknesses. Once you have this information (gathered as objectively as possible) it's possible to look for ways to make the factors that match your competitors strengths seem less significant. And you can improve the perception of your business in these same areas.
You might not need to score the highest in every single area (in fact, this would be damned near impossible), but if your overall score is highest then you will be in a strong situation.
Now you have some clear objectives to build into your communications, tender and presentation.
Next you have to translate this into evidence your client can measure and evaluate. This is the really challenging part. You must have a clear bid strategy with readily identifiable win themes. These MUST translate back to the client’s REAL needs as well as emphasize your strengths.
The key information needs to be easy to identify, clearly written, and in the required format. It must relate directly to the question that you’re being asked in the RFP and display a benefit for the client. Alongside these criteria you must think about the perceptions you are trying to build.
We often find that bid writers or technical writers focus too much on the technical elements of a question without addressing what things mean to the client. They equally get distracted by one element of a question. They are rarely trying to change a perception.
This immediately limits the mark they can receive because they didn’t answer the question fully or give the client confidence. This could be down to time pressure, carelessness, or lack of knowledge or understanding of what the client wanted. Perhaps a question wasn’t worded that well (yes this does happen).
Understanding Your Client
Misperceptions about the client are also a significant potential factor. Yes, it’s those pesky perceptions again.
The objectivity of an external resource can be valuable. We don’t have the same perceptions of your business or your client. We also don’t necessarily have the ‘political’ pressures that can affect internal resources. AND we may well have a broader understanding of what the client is seeking – given our business or client knowledge.
At the most basic level an external pair of eyes looking at a question can offer a different perspective. We may be better able to see how the answer may influence a client’s perception - negatively or positively.
We are experts at drafting answers that score well and help build the right image of your business. It’s part of what we do for a living. You may have had more hot dinners than the number of bids we’ve worked on, but it’s a close-run thing.
Photo by Caleb Minear on Unsplash
I have many years of senior sales and account management positions.
This experience taught me how to interpret exactly what clients are seeking, and what they need and expect to see and hear from the successful bidder. We draw on this experience to give your team an additional competitive advantage by building on their existing strengths while improving their team-working and self-awareness.