“Success has many fathers…”

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John F Kennedy once said, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” The historian Tacitus provided an earlier versions of this sentiment with, “This is the unfair thing about war: victory is claimed by all, failure to one alone.”

Both ring true in the world of sales and bids. Victory or failure offer our world the best opportunity we will ever have to improve; to measure success; to manage performance; to apply the lessons learned. Sadly, this rarely happens.

I’ve worked with about twenty organisations to help them create either opportunity management frameworks or bid management frameworks.  The starting point is always a blank whiteboard or flipchart (remember them?), and a room full of key stakeholders who want to win more business.

As the ‘external facilitator’ for the design workshop of the intended framework, I emphasised my independent role, but added that, in my opinion, the last stage of the framework should always be ‘lessons learned’.  This was often questioned by the workshop attendees, so I’d make the point that understanding why we either won OR lost is essential as part of performance management, measuring success, and continual improvement.

I’d also point out that professional sport does this, to great effect, and have done so for decades. Professional golfers go to the practice ground after each round of a tournament, regardless of the outcome to analyse their swing and the shots it produced or failed to produce. Major football clubs all have rooms at training grounds where they watch and analyse their last match, prior to watching the current form of their next opponents, using this to define their win strategy and pick the best possible team.  Boxing is just the same, as are most sports, so why not sales and bid pursuits?

Let me give you an example from my long career.  When ComputerLand (CL) won the Manchester City Council Managed Desktop Services contract against the likes of Computacenter and SCC (the incumbents), I offered to do the customer debrief, arguing that MCC would be more open with me (an independent) than with a CL employee (and I was right).

In these scenarios, I ask two simple questions:

  1. What did we (in this case CL) do well?
  2. What could we have done better?

The MCC response was invaluable.  The buying team (or DMU) was made up of about ten people, of which only one was a woman, which I found interesting (but this was early 2000s). After some discussion but no real conclusions, the woman said that she chose CL because, “the proposal felt like it was written for us.” How powerful is that? This then triggered a longer discussion about the good points in the proposal, all of which were highly customer focused.  They went on to comment that CL were the only bidder who stuck to the 30 slides maximum for the presentation, and waxed lyrical about the fact that the first 27 CL slides spoke only of the MCC requirement and the CL solution, with the LAST 3 slides being about CL.  And there was more, but nothing negative at any point. No reference was made to other bidders.

So there were some obvious lessons there from a Measuring Success point of view. My advice to CL was simple: lock the MCC proposal in a vault and don’t let anyone cannibalise an electronic copy.

I’ve conducted many independent win/loss reviews on behalf of clients. I have never been refused an audience which, I believe, is because the two simple questions I propose are very non-threatening.

The loss reviews offer equally valuable lessons, as well as some great comedy moments. Examples include the salesperson who complained about his hangover during the final pitch, the failure to spell key stakeholder names correctly in both the proposal and the pitch, the use of the wrong company name (NatWest when bidding into Barclays), late delivery of the proposal (24 hours) when key stakeholders had cancelled leave to review all the responses.  The very worst response (received several times) was failure to understand the customer’s requirement! I doubt any of these facts would have been uncovered or shared by the sales lead on these deals if the debrief had been left to them!

In summary, I would advise the following if you want to measure success and improve performance management in bid and sales:

  1. Always include mandatory win/loss reviews for all pursuits.
  2. Rigorously insist that all win/loss data is captured in your CRM system.
  3. Analyse this data to death!
  4. Make the first agenda item in EVERY pipeline review a discussion about EVERY win/loss since the last meeting.
  5. Apply the lessons learned on a continual basis.

One final point: the opportunity and bid management frameworks I mention above were all on a single page and were displayed in poster form everywhere sales and bid people went about their business.

This article was written by Chris Whyatt.

Chris is the co-founder of the UK APMP, prior to which he founded and led Practical Bid Solutions, and its successor, Get to Great Results. He has worked on major growth initiatives, sales and channel growth, sales turnarounds, must win deals, and sales and bid process improvement

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