It doesn’t matter how smart you are, at some point or other in your career you are going to make a bad decision. Understanding and influencing how decisions are made is a critical piece of the engagement process; it provides an opportunity to reduce frustration and help actualise profitable results.
I imagine that we have all been part of a process where you spend considerable time guessing what it is that the client really wants, putting elaborate presentations together to deliver that message and presenting in front of people who are not decision makers. The net result is increased costs and time spent on potentially non-value work.
To improve our success we should focus on 3 areas: articulating and influencing the decision process; gaining access to key stakeholders; and understanding decision criteria.
Articulating and Influencing the decision process
Imagine you were engaged with a customer who would tell you anything you wanted to know about the company’s decision process. What would you ask?
Who is going to make the decision? Who is going to influence the decision? Who signs the cheque? What do I have to do to win?
There’s a lot to find out, so we use a structured approach to ensure we get all of the information that we need;
- Find out the steps involved in making the decision
- Find out what decisions get made in each step
- Find out when they will decide
- Find out who is involved in each step and
- Find out how each person involved will decide.
One of the key outcomes in this process is to find out the “how” directly from the “who”.
When we talk to the “who” we explore the opportunity from their point of view as well as their criteria for making the decision. Those criteria will include how they will decide between alternative solutions – the competition.
This process can be summed up in this useful diagram:
Gaining Access to Key Stakeholders
It is difficult, if not impossible to meet the needs of the client if we have not talked to stakeholders. Unfortunately, buyers are typically influenced by the bad experiences they have had in the past and would therefore rather have a “less than optimal” solution if it means that they don’t have to deal with ignorant, arrogant or incompetent salespeople. You will have been in that situation yourself, when you walk in to an electronics store to browse and simply brush off the “Can I help you?” question from one of the sales assistants. When we deal with our clients, we need to break through this negative opinion if we are going to be able to find out the information which will ultimately allow us and the client to be successful.
If you simply ask to see the people who will be making the decisions, the most likely answer is “no” which may or may not be backed up with a reason; “because they are too busy”.
Rather than asking, we need to present our requirement to talk to decision makers as part of a best practise process; “we want to provide you with a solution which precisely meets your needs…these people are the key stakeholders…so I can deliver you the best proposal I need to talk with them…how do we set that up?”
It should be seen as a major yellow light if you are not given access to decision makers so that the time invested as a supplier in constructing the proposal is an appropriate investment.
Understanding Decision Criteria
Now that we have been granted an audience with the decision makers, we need to be clear about what we are trying to achieve.
In the time available, we want to accomplish the following:
- Understand the opportunity from each persons perspective; stakeholders on the same project have been known to have conflicting requirements
- Understand the stakeholders’ criteria for deciding between alternatives; MoSCoW is often used, but there may be other elements which individual stakeholders see as most important
- Understand what they would like to see, here and experience from us; perhaps one individual hates PowerPoint and that would be an immediate “no”?
- Test out any previous yellow lights we may have encountered; as we have spoken to other people we will have a list of issues which the stakeholders should be able to clarify for us
- Gain permission for subsequent calls or visits; agreeing to follow up is important in case clarification is needed
Through this process we want to understand about our competition, any incumbent, any barriers to the solution not being implemented or any personal stake that a stakeholder may have in a solutions success. All of these things help guide us to ensure that our proposal has the elements needed to be successful.
If we are unable to get this information or if the client is not willing to share with us, then we are back to guessing what they really want and at that stage we need to be considering if this is an opportunity worth continuing to develop.
In my personal experience, clients are not always willing to divulge this level of information, especially if the procurement process is through an RFP with questions to be asked by a certain date, the answers to which are shared to all. Barriers seem to be erected to prevent you as a supplier having open and transparent conversations with your potential client. As I have learnt to use the ORDER methodology, it has made me realise why so many procurements go terribly wrong and why such bad decisions have been made in the past.
At Spatial.IQ we are trying to break away from the “normal” way of doing things and through the adoption of this methodology, we want to build relationships with clients so that we are always considering the exact solution needed to meet the requirement. The only way to do that is to communicate and share. I believe it is worth it, for all parties.
The reference for this material is “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play: Transforming the Buyer/Seller Relationship” by Mahan Khalsa and Randy Illig and can be found on Amazon here.