SALES CLINIC: Winning as the incumbent

SALES CLINIC: Winning as the incumbent

The CEO of a large corporation recently asked me how to judge the best IT company from a series of presentations that were bidding for his company's business. "What are the things I should look for, beyond picking the company with the best solution?," he asked.

If you take out all elements of the presentation pertaining to the solution, what do you end up with? Here's what I'd look for: how well does this company really understand my business? I'd probe until I was satisfied. I'd ask them, "What are the three fundamentals of driving my business? (having an account manager work for half a day in my chicken outlet, while helpful, would be unlikely on its own to provide a sufficient comprehension of my company).

Throughout the presentation, I'd be checking for relationship, rapport, and chemistry. Do I really like these people? Do I know them well enough to want to work with them for years? Do they want to work with me? One tip is to look for the level of exchange that occurs in the presentation. Is it a one-way transfer of information from the company to me, or am I being involved in the process?I'd ask myself which of the presentation team would actually do the business - and which members of the team was I meeting for the first and last time.

I'd look for a level of professionalism in the presentation that might demonstrate how the company ran its business. Sloppy, poorly planned, bumbling and unaware presentations often paint an accurate picture of how the project could be implemented. And I'd look for honesty, decency and openness.

Taking off the client hat, these are the elements that a sales campaign or a bid company should seek to demonstrate, beyond the solution.

But what happens when an existing client says they want you to repitch for their business . . . and they've invited your competitors to bid for the business, too? It's a serious situation, particularly if it's a major client.

We recently helped two clients win major bids as the incumbents. In one case, the opposition companies felt our client was dead in the water. In the other, the incumbent company was strong. But it is interesting how companies react to having to defend an account, rather than snatching it from a competitor.

You can win it from both positions. There are, however, things of which you must be aware if you are defending an account.

First, don't tell the client over and over how much you understand their business. It just underlines how long you've held the account. Instead, let your experience and inside knowledge show itself in the language you use.

For the same reason, don't labour the point about how long you've had the account, in the belief that you are proving how much you know.

Third, be careful telling them, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it", because every competitor will be telling them that it is broke - and they will have evidence, however factual, to prove it. Instead, show how you will build on what is working to raise the results to even higher levels.

Finally, be brutally honest with yourself about the current relationship. What emotional baggage will you bring to the sales campaign? Who doesn't like whom? You may need to provide a brand new team to manage the account.

Anna Raine is a senior consultant at Rogen International. Contact her at

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