I Close Deals for Our Clients Every Month and Other Assorted Business Development Lies

Last week we lost a deal to a company outside DC, it wasn’t a big deal, it was a new prospect but one I knew we could help.  We had 3 meetings, multiple phone calls and developed a proposal.  This company was new to the federal market and had a product we believed would sell even considering the current state of the federal budget.  There were a few challenges:

  • No one knew who they were
  • They were foreign owned
  • The entire leadership team had a commercial background
  • and of course Sequestration was in full effect

Even given all the challenges we still believed given the right investment of time they would find tremendous success.  They had a tool that was in need, one that solved a major security issue that was top of mind… at the moment.   I had 2 amazing consultants ready to get to work – both cleared, with a strong technical understanding and connections in all the right places.  And yet we lost the deal.  The prospect said he thought we probably had better access to decision makers however the competition offered substantially more time (at a higher rate mind you) and according to their online claims “close deals every quarter for their clients”.

This is just one of many examples where the rubber doesn’t meet the road in business development.   I’d love to tell you exactly what we will and will not close for you during our relationship but there’s one thing I can guarantee  – anything I tell you will be complete and utter bullshit.  I’m sorry to have to phrase it that way but I want to make it perfectly clear that no one in sales can guarantee anything after 2-3 conversations.  We can guarantee activity or time dedicated to the activity, we can create goals for meeting with decision makers but we can not guarantee a number of deals closed or an amount of revenue generated.  Anyone who claims to be closing deals for each client quarterly, every quarter is lying through their teeth – especially on the federal market.  In the world of sequestration its simply not possible.   On the commercial side, it is possible, given the right amount of time and investment (you should not expect this is you aren’t paying for a minimum of 40 hours monthly).

Let’s take this prospect for instance, we knew their product was desired for now, but we also knew that being foreign owned presented some real challenges.  They did not have a contracting vehicle so we needed to partner or go through the process of acquiring one.  We also knew there were a number of hoops to jump through to validate the security of the product due to foreign ownership – more so than the usual scrutiny.  There was no past performance so we had to find that one person who wanted us badly enough to be the guinea pig.  Our conversations went from developing a pipeline of $5 M in one year – which while tough we considered doable – (pipeline meaning opportunities identified, decision makers met, a better understanding of the deal and the need and an idea on when and how this would be procured/paid for) to a $5M pipeline developed and invoiced.  Invoiced, where did that come from??? That wasn’t in our conversations.  Our proposal conversation changed on a dime to $5M invoiced by next summer means we needed to have started last year.  No one knows who your are, your technology isn’t vetted, your foreign owned, etc and to get to invoiced that means you need contract vehicles, teaming partners, won contracts or IDIQ’s and received and performed task orders.  NOT POSSIBLE.  While it would be great if it worked that way, it simply does not.  We essentially left the conversation saying we wish you the best and if for some reason it doesn’t work we’d love to have to conversation again and I believe we will.  It’s hard not to fall into the trap of believing what you want to hear but in this market that spells failure.

The best relationships we have rely on communication.  We need to give you enough information so you feel comfortable in what we are doing and how we’re spending our time on your behalf.  We also don’t need to fill up your email with conversations about prospects that were the wrong fit/had no money/weren’t interested/etc – that’s why you pay us, so you don’t have to do this stuff.  Our goals should be focused on activity directed towards winning opportunities, pipeline development, market research, new opportunities identified, etc.  With a proposal environment it’s a total crap shoot – we have no idea what others are planning to bid, we can only put together our best solutions.  If we consistently lose on price but the opportunity is a good fit – where does the fault really lie?  Essentially this blog is about accountability and how do you hold your business developers accountable – the answer is it’s tough.  We are held to results when we sell opportunities, we recognize the difference and it simply is what it is.  My suggestion is to look behind the smoke and mirrors – if anyone is guaranteeing you business you should be asking how can you do that?  If anyone is guaranteeing you a set revenue amount, you should be wondering how the came up with that number.  Mostly you need to keep your business hat firmly on your head and keep your new crush aside, realize anyone who guarantees a number will never hit that number.  Most will be lower, on the rare occasion a tad higher and still some won’t even come close.  There are no guarantees in sales or business development.  Don’t get sucked into the drama, it won’t work for you.  Develop a partnership with your BD professional whether in house or outsourced, be in communication on what’s important and focus on opportunity and outcomes together.

Why Government Contractors are failing in attempts to enter the commercial market

Government Contractors pursuing the Commercial Market in a sloppy manner

Contemplating a move into the commercial market?  Make sure you do it right, learn from these mistakes.  Sadly we’re seeing them over and over with wildly successful government contractors looking to counter the inevitable drop in government projects due to sequestration by entering the commercial market targeting large financials, pharma, healthcare, etc.  The issue is they just aren’t approaching the market correctly and here’s why –

Government contractors attempting to move into the commercial market expecting to have companies drop multi-million dollar projects in their laps due to their past government performance and attempting to manage the pipeline, presentation and proposal the same as they did with agency clients.  It’s not uncommon for these contractors to expect to have a thriving commercial practice within a year to 18 months and yet they are failing and can’t understand why.  Sadly the reason is arrogance.

Attempting to put an entire industry into your way of doing business and expecting them as your prospect to allow you to run the process as you see fit versus what works best for them is arrogant.  Expecting that your past performance in an environment that functions practically polar opposite of the commercial functionality of procurement and purchasing is arrogant.  Believing that you know how they work and what works best for them without due diligence and without analysis is arrogant.  Not accepting the trial programs the commercial prospects offer you to assess your capabilities because their too small and beneath you is arrogant.

Here’s the deal – the government market and the commercial market are two very different animals and if you don’t respect the nuances of business in both markets you will fail.  For the vast majority of businesses, you aren’t anything special; I know that’s hard to hear and it’s not meant as an insult.  There are hundreds if not thousands of companies who do what you do, really well and some are already in your desired target market winning and managing successful engagements.  You are the newbie and yet you act like you know it all.  The answer is to be humble, to understand you need to build trust the same as you did in the agencies so many years ago.  Be grateful when offered a pilot or trial program regardless of how small as it’s a win with that company and a chance to build performance in the new market.  Treat the market as it needs to be treated – it’s different than agencies – understand the process, respect the process and learn what’s important to each new buyer.  It’s best to have separate teams as it’s tough to transfer from one market to the other.  Most importantly expect a minimum of 3 years to gain consistent traction.  Treat this as an investment.  This market is a far cry from the market you entered in the government space 10 years ago, it’s not a free for all and you need to show your value and your expertise.  Arrogance will kill you in this market, if you plan to enter be strategic, be willing to learn, expect to fail and understand it’s an investment in amazing future growth – bring in experts who know the industry, who can talk the language and most importantly can bridge the gap that you’ve created by ignoring this market for so long.

Entering the market unprepared is like the business developer who claims his company’s people are smarter than those employed by the competition and their service is better.  You’ve done nothing to differentiate yourself and in fact you’ve told your prospect that you really don’t respect them.  I know it wasn’t your intention in face I’m sure it’s the exact opposite of your intention.  If you’re a software developer know why your clients use you and here’s a hint, it’s not service or smart people.  There are thousands of software developers in this country so what makes you special – is it the extensive knowledge of the industry you represent and the types of challenges you’ve been asked to tackle when others failed?  Is it how you hold your people accountable so jobs are finished on time and within budget?  Is it how you collaborate with the client to ensure ultimate business efficiency, effectiveness and results – results being the key here.  Maybe it’s that your practice is to proactively keep the client up to speed on the status of the project so you can address concerns in real time so as not to create unnecessary billable hours after the fact.  Do you think a prospect might find that appealing?

The fastest way to ensure you are viewed as a commodity and get into a cheapest price wins kind of deal is to associate yourself as the same as everyone else.  If you don’t know the answer to what makes you special this is your first task and I highly suggest you ask your current clients why they love you and if their answer is your price point – you have definite problems.  Before you enter a new market you need to know what is success to my new prospect, what makes them look like a hero so you can be their hero?  This is your business development angle, not that you’ve managed large successful programs for the feds because in the commercial market things get done faster, their systems are more up to date, they don’t look for butts in seats for an unlimited amount of time – this costs them shareholder value.  A company, nonprofit, hospital, regardless of size can’t just print money – you need to know what makes them tick before you enter the market.

We’d love to hear what you’ve done to differentiate yourself in the market and how it helped you to increase market share.

Prospect Rant #5 – They said they had connections

Rant #5 – They TOLD ME they had great connections

It’s now 6 months later and we have no meetings scheduled.  I have to admit I love this one because it can happen across the board.  It can be your $225k hire, the retired military leader, the retired Agency head, the “commercial expert” or the newbie, etc.  You’re paying for action not cards in a rolodex.  How many former executives do you know that actually handled the sales process?  Not too many – so why would you expect them to do it for you?  You hired them for one reason and one reason only – to make introductions for you and now in order to see your investment flourish you need to pair them with someone who can communicate the opportunity and move the opportunity forward.

It can also happen with your in-house Business Development person, anyone can say they know people and how many CRM’s are filled with names and numbers that represent a person they met once at an event 5 years ago?  Again Business Development is about connections, strategy and execution.  You’re looking for someone who can figure out the puzzle, methodically go about meeting and meeting with your desired prospects, communicate in the most effective way the value that prospect would receive in working with you and moving that prospect along the pipeline IF they are the right fit.  The last thing you want is someone trying to cram a square peg into a round hole.  You want right fit clients and you need the person who is willing to walk away from a deal if in the short or long run they know it’s not going to work.  The frustration and potential damage to your reputation just isn’t worth a few months of revenue.

Let’s be honest, sales is a crap shoot.  There really is no way to tell if someone you interview really has strong connections or not (unless of course you’ve seen this person in action over a long period of time).  There’s also no way you can identify their strategic capabilities or their desire to execute.  What does work is communication and accountability.  This in no way implies you should be a micro-manager however there does need to be a standard for how information is delivered to you and vice versa.

Where have you been?

I’ve been AWOL, definitely MIA from this blog – a huge No-No.  I know this and yet the business required so much of my time these past few months that I neglected the one thing I know people look for – information.  Yes I was busy, new and existing clients, a pipeline to die for, and most importantly recreating our structure.  2012 taught me a few things – like having policies in my head was probably not a good idea, sure I communicated them (or so I thought) but how was anyone to really know what I expected if it wasn’t on paper?  So it’s now on paper.

We changed how we “on-board” a client.  We found that most clients had a ready, fire, aim approach to new business development and for many the idea of target markets was anyone that breathes.  We revamped our Client Acceptance Protocol and it made sense to create one for each new client so our consultants could more easily stay on task.  Our government contractors say,” it’s easy we just focus on this agency and that agency” and yet each of these agencies has multiple silos with separate decision makers so how do you know where to go in each agency?  We’ve found that a more in-depth market review and analysis in the beginning leading to a Client Acceptance Protocol for each new client prior to pipeline development led to a stronger understanding of the client’s unique capabilities, an easier transition for the consultant to communicate most effectively with prospects and it gave the client a better understanding of our strategy.

We did a billing and invoicing policy for our clients so there are no longer any questions regarding pay structures, how it’s handled and more importantly for me who handles it (and guess what …it’s no longer me)(side question – what are the things taking up your  valuable time that could easily and cost effectively be outsourced?).   We updated our Client Acceptance Protocol and it’s in the hands of everyone in the office so we all stay on task when it comes to marketing and new client engagement.  No longer can we choose to bring on a client if they don’t fit the mold (we call this rescuing puppies).  If they don’t fit, they don’t fit and we’ll be glad to introduce them to someone else who may be able to help.  In fact over the past several months I’ve given 5 opportunities to my competition – they were just a better fit.

Rescuing Puppies is the phrase my husband chose one night about 4 years ago as we were talking about a client that just wasn’t the right fit but I knew we could help them if they would just let us do our work and stop the self -sabotage.  Of course all of our pets are rescues and there is definitely something in my core about helping and taking care of others, but sometimes, in business, I want to help them more then they want to really help themselves.  As it turns out this particular client really wasn’t ready or willing to make the changes necessary for them to thrive.  This is something we see every day with smaller companies.  Almost 5 years into the business we can now spot a “puppy” a mile away and while we may have a personal relationship with the owner and we may want to see them thrive, we know the total costs will outweigh the benefits.  How often do you take on a client that isn’t the right fit?  What have you done to ensure your clients truly fit within your target?  Where are your policies?  If you’re like me you communicated, or at least thought you had communicated the policies and yet for some reason the same issues kept popping up.  Many thanks to Susan Katz, the Growth Coach for helping me to realize that it was easier to get the policies out of my head and on paper then it was to expect everyone to be mind-readers.

So while I’ve been missing, it was time well spent.  Look for our next blog on Prospect Rants.

Five Ways to Tell You are Losing a Sale

We have said it before and we will say it again, sales is definitely not an exact science. But while there is no one way in which to go about a sale, there are some fairly common warning signs to tell you are losing a sale. These telltale signs that you are losing a sale include:

1. You Aren’t Dealing With A Decision Maker: If you aren’t put in touch with a decision maker after a few conversations, this is not a good sign. So do your best to get in contact with someone that actually has the authority to buy your product or service. Otherwise, you are wasting your time. And time is everything to a salesperson.

2. There is No Deadline for a Decision: One way to firm up deadlines is to offer limited-time discounts/offers to create a sense of urgency. If this doesn’t work, move on. You cannot waste your time on a pointless sales meeting.

3. You are Asked for a Proposal and Not a Conversation: It is hard to give someone your sales pitch if you do not meet with them face to face. After all, business is all about forming meaningful relationships. Find anyway you can to get your foot in the door and have a face-to-face conversation. This may be hard, but you have to try.

4. Your Price is Too High: What makes your product or service worth so much? If your competitors are offering the same product/service at a lower price and you cannot justify your high prices with superior service, then consider changing your price tag or losing sales.

5. Your Client Seems Indifferent: This is never a good sign. If your potential client begins to lose interest and stops asking engaging questions, you may be out of a sale.

Of course, if you do lose a sale, you should use that opportunity to grow as a salesperson. How? Checkout one of our past blogs: Learning from Lost Sales: Turning a Negative into a Positive.

Then again, you could always just outsource your sales needs to a professional business development firm, like Springboard!

Located in Baltimore, Maryland, Springboard offers outsourced sales solutions for businesses in the professional services arena. It’s simple, while you focus on you core business activities, we bring our sales expertise and connections to focus on your business development challenges.

Our approach to business development makes it easy to find new clients without the concerns of sales team turn-over, lack of sales expertise and payroll.

If you have any questions, contact Springboard Business Development by calling 410-832-7560 or click here today!

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Five Signs You’re Losing a Sale – And How to Save it