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
Our decisions and actions are driven by perceptions. Sometimes these are accurate, sometimes not. Perceptions are hard to change - we tend to look for evidence that reinforces, not challenges them.
Your clients and your prospects will have their own perception of your business. How they view your strengths and weaknesses will heavily influence their judgement about the types of contract you could deliver and the value you add as a business. The perception might not be accurate. And who knows how they formed it (could even be hearsay). But in their minds it’s real and it affects their decisions.
Once businesses grasp the importance of perceptions they are on the road to more successful bidding. They can then understand the evidences, proofs and language needed to change those perceptions in their favour.
Can You Really Change How Others See You?
The good news is that it is possible to change how a business is perceived. Think about Skoda in 1990 compared to Skoda now. It isn’t easy or instant and it needs consistency.
Here are a few pointers:
Face to face meetings. With the right kind of positive relationship you can have a frank discussion. With careful questioning you can tease out how your organisation is perceived and why. You then have something to work with and specific perceptions to target.
In my experience few organisations want to face up to these questions or will have the persistence to go beyond bland responses. Those who do so tend to be more successful. Getting expert external support to help plan, structure and role play these conversations will help enormously.
Subsequent meetings then have another purpose - to reinforce the perception that you want to create.
Documentary evidence. Every communication and every piece of marketing collateral can either help build the perception you want to create or reinforce what your client already believes. Look for evidence that supports the perception of the ‘real you,’ perhaps projects you’ve executed for other clients (it’s so easy to get pigeon-holed).
Make sure your information reaches the right people, especially those not directly involved in the decision but who may influence it.
Professional help with the content and phrasing of your tender submissions and supporting material can help accelerate the perception-changing process.
Presentations. The appearance, content and delivery of your presentations are vital aspects of building the right kind of image. It’s all too easy to unintentionally send out the wrong messages, which is why an ‘independent eye’ can be so valuable. And there really is no substitute for rehearsal and constructive feedback.
Has Your Business Suffered from Inaccurate Perceptions?
When you previously put a lot of work into a tender that you didn’t win, did you find yourself saying: ‘they just don’t understand our business’? Consider this: your prospect can only measure potential contractors based on the evidence that gets put before them in the RFP documents. Perhaps they were seeing what they expected to see because you didn’t try hard enough to help them see something different?
In the next article we’ll look at some of the practical ways you can help your clients form a more accurate and positive perception of your business.
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.