“There’s an art to building relationships that drives commercial success. However I’m constantly amazed by how little effort I see exerted in this crucial area.”

“There’s an art to building relationships that drives commercial success.” Julian Patel

In Part One of this blog series, Getting on the Shortlist, I outlined my top four tips for ensuring your company is in the best position possible to win that contract you’ve had your eye on. But once on that list; how do you close the deal?

Winning new business is the lifeblood of any business. Get it right more times than your competition and you win market share. Get it wrong more times than your competition and, well, you know the rest…

So, what’s the secret to successful pitching? Based on my experience, it is about getting the art of the customer relationship right and the science of understanding the needs of your customer.

The art of the relationship

I expect you’re well aware of the cliché that ‘people buy from people’; it may be a cliché, but I think it’s 100% true. There is an art to building relationships that drives commercial success. However, I’m constantly amazed by how little effort I see exerted in this crucial area. Here are three simple things you should do to build that all-important relationship to help win business:

1. Visit the customer before you pitch

In my experience, in a field of 10-15 competing businesses, only 2-3 bother to go visit the customer prior to the pitch. Madness! Arrange a simple fact finding visit and establish a personal relationship with the client beforehand and you’ll exponentially increase your chances of success. Why? Because you’ll have valuable insider knowledge going into the pitch process, unlike the other dozen competitors who didn’t bother with a pre-pitch visit.

2. Listen first

Remember that you have two ears and one mouth and approach any conversation accordingly It’s very easy to talk AT the customer about your business, but it’s far more important to LISTEN so you can demonstrate a strong understanding of their plans and pain points.

3. Think win-win

The best relationships are founded on mutual success Approach your prospect with this in mind; at every stage of the pitching process, think about how you can add value to the prospect. And no, being the cheapest option is not a sensible way to compete. It doesn’t bring any value to the customer and just erodes your margin!

The science bit

Once you’ve cracked the art of the relationship, you need to employ science to really understand your customer. Here’s where to start:

1. Review

Review your research and make sure it matches the tender requirements. If there are gaps, work quickly to fill them. Check the prospect’s social media, on- and off-line press coverage and your own employees to ensure you have full knowledge so you can comprehensively answer all the tender questions.

2. Research

It’s imperative you research how you stack up against your competitors on the shortlist. If you understand their strengths and weaknesses you can identify areas where you can out-perform and give yourself that all important competitive advantage.

3. Map to customer needs

The tender has been created for a reason; to help solve problems the customer is facing. So make sure you are forensic in mapping your strengths to exactly meet the pain points that the customer has. Don’t make the mistake of submitting a document of what you do rather than what the customer needs.

I believe XMA’s success in winning tenders is due to the amount of groundwork we put in beforehand. Without doing this initial research and planning, I think our chances of success would be halved. This work pretty much mirrors the steps Julian’s outlining in his blog series.

Tristan Vanderputt
XMA Bids Director

The end will justify the means

Getting the pitching process right is an incredibly rewarding experience; and not just from a financial point of view. It helps motivate and maintain existing staff, as well as attracting new talent. Work out how to consistently crack the ‘art’ of the relationship and the ‘science’ of how to drive value and you’ll undoubtedly reap the rewards.

In my next blog, I’ll be looking at tips for moving onwards and upwards whether you were successful in winning the tender or not. Do post any feedback on how you have fared in the pitching process.

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