What’s your least favorite task? Ah, the dreaded “P” word: PROSPECTING. If you’re in business for yourself or work for small to mid-sized companies, you probably wear multiple hats. You do the engineering but are also responsible for developing new business for your company. Without new business coming in, you might not have all that much to do in the workplace, right?
With today’s economic challenges, engineering staff are often asked to fulfill a sales function. They tend to fall into the trap of calling prospective companies and asking to bid on upcoming projects. Engineers equate the RFQ process with selling. In fact, it’s the quickest way of turning your company into an RFQ mill – providing multiple responses to what may involve the same RFQ being bid on by multiple vendors.
An RFQ mill doesn’t create the proverbial sales funnel needed to drive revenue. In fact, it’s the quickest way to deplete your pipeline or fill it with less-than-profitable jobs due to the amount of time, rework and rebid that goes into participation in the RFQ mill. If done to excess – or as the sole means of business development - there will not be enough hours in the day for you to respond to these RFQs. Which means you won’t have enough time to devote to those projects already won that are the basis of your job function. Think about it.
An RFQ mill is not a sales funnel. It’s the road to business development insanity. And we know Einstein’s definition of insanity.
This three-part series looks at the three critical-to-success areas impacting business development.
- Part One deals with WHO you are calling on
- Part Two looks at WHAT you are saying when you call folks
- Part Three examines WHEN you need to understand the sales process, work outside your comfort level and talk to key decision makers – which is all the time
So just WHO ARE YOU CALLING ON WHEN YOU PROSPECT?
Most of the time, you are calling on your peers. Why? Because it’s easier to have a conversation with someone you know. So keep in mind that when you are prospecting, you want to create that type of rapport - even with folks you might not know, initially.
Otherwise you are basically talking to yourself…. with a person who may not be a decision-maker….at your company’s hourly billing rate….on a project that may or may not be approved let alone funded….and spinning out “what-if”….and giving away your precious expertise….so that the individual on the other end of the phone/email/table can take your knowledge and apply it to someone else’s solution.
That doesn’t sound very productive let alone profitable.
I recommend your looking at Anthony Parinello’s Selling To VITO book and website, Selling To VITO. While it may or may not fit your personal style, to me the most important learnings from this book are the personality portraits and decision-making algorithms of the prospective company’s hierarchy.
If you know the mindset of the person you are talking to, they become your peer – even if they are several layers up the food chain from where you sit. And they will value this type of discussion.
CEOs, VPs, GMs are solutions-focused, interested in gaining market share, improving their company image, being competitive, increasing revenue, decreasing/controlling expenses and waste and measuring tangible results of the benefits and advantages your services provide. They are NOT interested in features or discrete projects or outcomes. These are the folks you should be initiating your discussions with.
Technical Sales Staff and Engineers are well-educated, extremely loyal, risk-averse (and therefore hold their cards close to their chest), divisionally aligned and tend to immediately focus on features and discrete outcomes rather than advantages and benefits. Unless they are the Owners, these individuals can influence a C-level decision but may not be able to clinch the deal. Asking them to make your case to their higher-ups is asking them to take a risk on your behalf. Keep in mind that they tend to be risk averse. So why are you depending on them to win business for you? They are stuck in the same place you are.
Internal Support Staff are job- and task-focused and want to preserve their position within the company. They stick to the status quo. They are a good resource to find out more about the culture of their organization. They usually have no decision-making impact. Choose your time wisely.
If you want to get out of RFQ Mill Syndrome, you MUST engage the top level staff in your initial discussions. OK, get off the mental ledge you just climbed onto.
The good news is: while it may be outside your current comfort level, you already have the knowledge base to provide a high level conversation that says a lot about the value you and your organization bring to your prospective customer’s table.
Now let’s get to work on your tools and skillset.