Winning a Contract One Step at a Time
In a preliminary meeting with a potential but reluctant buyer, you can provide some choices that move the process along in the favored direction.
Here are some strategies to launch and/or sustain the "succession of yes's."
- I'd like to provide you with a proposal so that you can examine your options. Even if you decide not to engage our services, the proposal might serve as a template to plan or evaluate the project. May I have some information that will allow me to prepare it for you?
The scenario above is shunned by most consultants because they fear that their proposal will be used by other firms to compete against them, or that the client may choose to do the project internally, using the proposal as a template. Who cares? If you're afraid to provide value and show how well you can tackle the project, perhaps you're not the right person for the job.
Don't focus on competition, concentrate on how you can impress the client. If your proposal is good, no one else will be able to match your performance capability. This device enables you to obtain from the client the objectives, metrics, and perceived value of the project so that the proposal can be submitted.
- It seems to me that there are other people (or departments) that you're concerned about. It strikes me as unfair to ask you to represent our approaches to them. I'd be happy to contact them and arrange to brief them on our work, or to address them at one of their scheduled meetings. May I have a contact and use your name in order to arrange it?
~ Scenario #2 supports the buyer's self-interest. Some buyers don't want to take the risk of hiring consultants who others might criticize later. By offering to meet with prospective sources of resistance, you're enabling the buyer to build a consensus. Once again, if you're good, you should be able to sway those interested in other parties. But in any case, you're better off meeting the "enemy" now than having them undermine you backstage.
- You seem to be in the midst of several priorities, and the last thing I want to do is to add to your schedule at the moment. I could gather some of the information I need from your direct reports. May I have permission to contact them and to set up brief interviews? I could then meet with you again and use our time together much more profitably for both of us.
You don't want to abandon the buyer, hence the need to reestablish contact once you've gathered some information. But this is a gracious way to get off the radar screen for the moment, make key contacts, gather valuable intelligence, and get back together at a more propitious moment. Don't forget, a great many consulting assignments (or bank loan requests, or book proposals) are rejected not because of talent or merit, but because of poor timing and a bad day for the buyer. Live to return on a better day.
If you're interfacing with a real economic buyer, the key is not to close the sale on the spot, but rather to maintain positive contact until an effective proposal can be presented. Don't let a "no" be final. Make sure that you have in your arsenal a selection of smaller "yes's" that will permit you to stick around in one way or another until the timing is better.
Caveat: If you're not with a true buyer, all bets are off. There is no sense at all in prolonging time around recommenders and gatekeepers.
Sure Signs of Economic Buyers
- Their budget is at stake.
- They will evaluate the results and be accountable for them.
- They can produce a check.
- They can shake your hand and launch a project.