Losing, when you thought winning was almost a certainty, is painful. Just look at the England team after their disastrous Euro 2016 match against Iceland. For the players the long term impact will be limited - they will still have the wealth and the fame.
But in business, taking your eye off the ball while an underdog nips in and steals a contract you should have won can be much more serious. Not only have you lost that particular contract, you’ve also allowed a competitor to establish a foothold in your territory - who knows where that could lead!
Here’s my brief analysis of where it went wrong for the England team. I’m not looking at it from a football tactics point of view (there are others far better qualified), but from an organisational and behavioural perspective. This is where the lessons for businesses and bid teams can be found.
Careless mistakes cost you business
The England performance featured many simple errors that international class footballers shouldn’t make. What does this say about the mental state and the preparation? Were they switched on to the possibility and implications of losing? Or did they think they just had to turn up and play and the inevitable result would come?
Of course mistakes will happen - but where was the leader taking charge of events to ensure that mistakes didn’t snowball into a disaster? In your bid team, who is the person that will get a grip on events and take charge of the ‘on-field’ motivation.
Right person, right role
The best team isn’t made up of the best eleven players. It’s the best eleven people at filling eleven specific roles. That way you don’t end up with Harry Kane taking corners and free kicks when he should be the one getting on the end of them.
In your bid team you have to pick the best people to cover the tasks that have to be performed. A critical bid isn’t a time for learning or experimentation. Ask people to play to their strengths and make sure they are clear about their role and what they have to deliver.
Know the Opposition
Iceland had a long throw specialist - who’d have thought it? Well, pretty much anyone who had watched any of their previous games for a start. What are the strengths that your opponents in the bidding process will try to use and emphasize? Think about how you can neutralise those strengths so they don’t puncture your ambitions.
Think about your defence as well as your attack, even if you are the overwhelming favourites to win.
Expect the unexpected
What’s your Plan B if the bidding process doesn’t go the way you’d imagined, and how quickly can you activate it? What about the predictable ‘surprise events’ that could easily happen: equipment failure, a ‘curve ball’ question during the interview that you don’t have an immediate answer for?
Iceland equalising so quickly after the England goal wasn’t in the plan. I’m sure England had been told ‘get an early goal and you’ll be fine because Iceland then won’t be able to park the bus in front of goal.’ They looked baffled when Iceland equalised and clueless when they scored a second. They couldn’t clear their heads and work out what they needed to do to regain the initiative - and nobody seemed to be providing the much needed leadership.
Play like a team
I’m sure the England players must have met before - they just didn’t play like they had. Too often there was nobody to pass to and no anticipation of what a teammate was going to do. Working for each other, supporting each other and playing off each other in the presentation and interview are really important. That doesn’t just happen, it takes planning, preparation and practice.
By contrast Iceland held their nerve throughout, despite the England bombardment, they held their shape, stuck to their tasks and sometimes went way beyond their role to help out a teammate or to release the pressure on their colleagues.
OK, they didn’t have to perform miracles to win, they did simple things, they did them well because they understood what was expected of them. They knew and understood what their teammates would do, and they believed that they would do their job.
Sometimes you will be bidding for a contract and be confident that you have overwhelming advantages. Maybe you’re the incumbent supplier and everything’s been going well; maybe you’re the acknowledged leader in your field; maybe you have a great relationship with individuals in the client management structure. Don’t be suckered into complacency.
Forgetting and forgiving when you lose a competition you should have won can be a long and painful process - and you might not have a millionaire’s mansion to console you.
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.