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.