Today’s marketplace requires dynamism and agility. Buying organisations are becoming increasingly knowledgeable about their options and much more challenging in their expectations. Service providers have to prove their competitive credentials more rigorously than ever before.
The traditional sales approach, predominately rooted in relationship building, is no longer the key to success. Service providers need to be far bolder in their approach and start suggesting to – rather than asking – their target customers what’s keeping them up at night.
So are you in tune with your target customers? Are your proposals winning you enough business? Do you ever misread a customer need and pitch something they don’t want? Do you understand the mindset of the people who review your proposals and why they ask for the information they do?
Service providers develop proposals and buying organisations receive them in a multitude of different ways. Often this comes down to the experience of the people involved and, in particular, their own opinions on what they think they need. This is not an exact science and the bottom line is that service providers will only be consistently successful if they are in tune with how their target customers want to buy from them.
These are my top tips:
Be prepared to unlearn what you know
Old habits die hard. Far fewer buying organisations need help to define their need. They don’t necessarily need a free health check or audit or situational analysis and they know these tools are your Trojan horse. Instead, focus on understanding how they have arrived at their perceived need, challenge their analysis with expert knowledge and demonstrate why you are the best option available to meet that need.
Know why you really are the best option
Service providers are often quite poor at answering the ‘why us’ question. “We are an established business, we have a track record of success, we will deploy our best people etc” these are merely table stakes to a more knowledgeable buyer. What makes you the benchmark? Why would you buy from you if you were the customer?
Properly tailor the message
In his book the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey uses an analogy where people struggle to reach the top of a ladder (i.e. their goal) only to find at the top that the ladder is leaning against the wrong wall (i.e. wrong goal). This analogy can also be applied to service providers who focus on telling what they think is a brilliant story only to find that the recipient needs that story told through a different lens. Take sufficient notice of the role your ‘buyer’ has within the organisation and any other key influencers on the decision. Make sure you tell your story through the right lens.
Avoid inevitable death
I once oversaw a procurement exercise to engage a new quality audit firm. During the exercise I received a bound proposal from a company previously perceived as the favourite. They were selling quality as their specialism but they couldn’t write, they certainly couldn’t spell and half the pages had been printed out of alignment. That may be an extreme example to illustrate my point, but it was true nonetheless. Respect your buyer’s time by giving them something that is readable, focused on delivering the outcomes they require, contains the strongest possible case in your favour and has been through the spellchecker!
Service providers now operate within a much more challenging environment; hopefully these tips will help navigate your way to success.
Global Head of Services Procurement, Hays Talent Solutions
Paul has experienced the management consultancy landscape as a buyer, client and service provider, firstly through a series of senior roles with BT and then running his own consultancy practice helping a variety of different organisations to buy and sell business services more effectively.
Currently Paul is globally responsible for how Hays Talent Solutions support their clients in engaging of statement of work based services including management consulting. This accumulated know-how, underpinned by the practical insights gained from leading a variety of transformational change initiatives over the years, makes him ideally suited to offering our readers a buy-side perspective on our industry.
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