In the early ‘80s, I was privileged to join what was then ICL – now owned by and known as Fujitsu. I was a rookie graduate, bag-carrying for a seasoned salesman in a team responsible for the Royal Air Force account. My first job was to analyse the competition for a major re-bid. Being well before the days of the internet, this involved hours combing data in Slough library. My work contributed to us winning, which triggered the sales bug in me. Within 18 months, I had completed the intensive 10-week New Salesmen’s Programme – one of the most respected sales boot camps of its day.
Why is this important?
Because those early days and experiences taught me so much that has served me brilliantly ever since.
Back then, we didn’t have bid managers. We were one joined-up team that found, developed and closed business – and that included bidding. I learnt how to plan out a territory, an account, an opportunity and a bid. I learnt how to identify prospects, engage clients, qualify opportunities, analyse competition, build and execute a win strategy and pull a proposal together. I carried on doing this for the next thirty years.
When I eventually decided to specialise in bidding – an aspect of sales I had always enjoyed – I was baffled. It was, indeed, a new profession that had emerged during my time as a salesperson, but why did anyone think bidding was separate to selling? Why write a document to win something not preceded by a period of nurture? Wasn’t it obvious that you have to build a client relationship first? The idea of a “blind bid” was just plain weird.
Whether you apply neuroscience or just plain common sense, it is evident that emotion plays a huge part in decision-making. So, to convince a buyer to buy something, you need to do more than present a product with a logical purchase justification. You need to make an emotional connection – get them to fall in love with you, as I put it. This takes time – and it’s best done face to face before you receive any formal request for a proposal document. You need a healthy dose of natural empathy and a sound capture strategy, with a plan and actions.
Despite being trained in every sales methodology under the sun, my favourite method for developing a capture plan is still based on the MEAN ACTS that I learnt at ICL. Now, don’t get the wrong idea here. Yes, our training did take place at the decadent country pile known as Hedsor House and we did get up to some youthful shenanigans, but MEAN ACTS wasn’t a depraved initiation ceremony into the world of sales. It was a valuable qualification checklist. The idea being that you understand about your prospect’s Money, their Emotions, who has the Authority to buy, what they Need, Areas where you are unique (a bit odd, that one), the Competition, the Timescales and, finally, your Solution.
Now, some of you might be saying that MEAN ACTS is just a re-hash of other well-known checklists, but the important thing for me is that MEAN ACTS contains that all important E. All those years ago, long before we got tuned into EQ and empathy, I was taught the importance of winning the emotional sale.
To turn your MEAN ACTS from a snapshot in time to a working plan (see diagram), build a series of questions for each buying cycle stage, test yourself against these regularly and create actions to fill in the knowledge gaps and change the customer’s perceptions.
Figure 1: Making MEAN ACTS work for you
Answer the questions honestly and task yourself to fill gaps and reinforce messages
The great thing about building on a single technique like this is that you can keep it simple (which is great for Small and Medium Enterprises) or you can get more sophisticated, adding complementary techniques such as a Bidder Comparison Matrix.
If you start early, iterate often and complete your actions, by the time an RFP is issued you should be in good shape. You will have a great set of information to pass to your bid team and a fighting chance of developing a win strategy and a proposal strategy instead of stabbing in the dark.
So come on salespeople everywhere, do the right thing by your bid colleagues – get disciplined and get joined up.
This article was written by Sarah Hinchliffe.
Sarah has over 35 years’ selling and bidding experience, which she loves to share through her freelance work, articles and presentations. A constant champion of creative storytelling and professional rigour, she never tires of encouraging sales and bid teams to join up, work as a team and win more business together.