Failed Sale (Issue 975)

In which we are reminded to pay attention and respond to all stakeholders in a sale. 

Avid readers of the Wall Street Journal or other major financial news organs will have noted that there was a dramatic major account sales story last week…. A big committee vote on two competing proposals after a long pre-bid qualification process, many committee meetings, and a protracted discussion period. Finally, all committee members voted and one of the two proposals was accepted.

After the committee vote, many committee members grumbled about the outcome and the process. One of the two proposing groups felt particularly aggrieved by the outcome and sued, unsuccessfully, to delay or reverse the decision.  The group whose proposal was accepted felt more relieved than celebratory because, they knew, the committee vote had been very close. And well they should be concerned.

When the winning proposal group looked at the pattern of committee member voting, it was easy to see that they had failed to reach and convince a significant number of selection committee members (1) that their proposal would be helpful, all things considered, (2) that they would take implementation input from many people rather than listening to only those who supported their proposal, and (3) that they could be trusted.  The voting committee members’ concerns were made particularly acute because of the upheaval in the external environment during the months leading up the committee vote.

What could the proposal-winning group have done differently?  A couple of points stand out.

First, the winning group’s leaders and representatives could have invested more time visiting and listening to voting committee members who, at voting time, voted for the other group. They didn’t feel heard.

Second, they should have included in their proposal elements that responded to what they’d heard through those discussions.  Some representatives of the winning group said, “But, we did that.”  However, the vote indicates (1) some people didn’t read and/or understand the benefits in the winning group’s proposal, (2) some people rejected outright the changes proposed in the winning group’s proposal, and/or (3) many people were influenced by information that flowed into the evaluation process from groups that weren’t directly part of it and, nevertheless, had a stake it in.  The winning team failed to actively surface and address the resulting misconceptions, some of which become unspoken objections.

And, now, the proposal-winning group faces the challenge that many of those who voted for the other proposal, and some who voted in favor of their winning proposal, are so agitated by the process and the shortcomings they perceive in the proposal or the implementation team that they will do whatever they can to disrupt implementation of the proposal elements.

Last week’s winners will get the client’s signature on the contract in January, yes.  But, whatever celebrating the proposal-winning team feels or felt they deserved, their ability to implement their proposal and help the client and the committee members experience the proposed benefits is sorely compromised.

No sales team can win a complex sale by focusing their attention primarily on the committee members who seem to favor them during the proposal process. No sales team can successfully implement their proposals for a client without gaining the trust of most or all of the client team members who must change their familiar patterns and implement them.

Last week’s proposal winning team needed to, at least, move a significant number of the committee nay-sayers to neutral… and they failed.  And, now, the risk is that the enterprise’s progress will be stunted for several years while scores are settled and that other, more aligned and focused competitors will gain ground or pass them by.

Nick Miller and Clarity train banks and bankers to attract and develop deeper relationships with small businesses. Many more Sales Thoughts like this and a host of other articles and resources at https://clarityadvantage.com/knowledge-center/ .

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