Sales strategy

Having decided that an opportunity is worth pursuing, the next step is to fix on a strategy to maximise your chances. Don’t wait until you’re writing a proposal, the earlier a strategy is decided on the better, as it gives you time to act on it. For example, if you have a redirecting or fragmenting strategy you’ll need time to communicate it and the chances of it succeeding will alter the odds of success.

All three approaches rely on you persuading the buyer to ask for the right things. This could be because they fit with your strengths or you believe that it’s in the buyer’s best interests. This isn’t a cynical comment, successful clients are good business.

Whichever you adopt have a short crisp ‘elevator speech’ that positions your bid and positions the competition.

Direct

The simplest approach is to offer to do what the buyer has asked for and participate in a competition that will be judged on the basis of price and quality. By doing so you’re accepting that your scope for differentiation is limited to how well you can do something rather than what else you might be able to add.   

When adopting the direct approach look through your competitors eyes to see what strategies they might adopt. You could find they will want to move the goal posts. It’s also worth emphasising why you feel the buyer’s approach will help them succeed so keeping them on the direct track

This approach works particularly well for commodity products and services.

Redirect

The rationale for redirection is that your alternative is the best way to get what the buyer really wants. Redirection is often toward something bigger or a more complex project. The classic example is to argue that the buyer wants transformation rather than the products and services that enable it.

To succeed the emphasis needs to be on the achievement of benefits the buyer values and / or reducing the risk of failure. Redirection can be a waste of time and money without a sound understanding of why the buyer is asking for something. It’s particularly important to hear their rationale and if possible to test their reaction to what you propose.

When considering redirection look at the buyer’s competence in managing the achievement of the outcomes they really want. Providing, and possibly creating this capability, may be just the solid foundation you need to successfully redirect.

It helps to know who your competitors are, what they are good at and how convincing they will be. If, for example, your competitors will need to create a consortium to meet a wider scope whereas you have the capability, consider emphasising the need for the wider scope and arguing against the additional cost and risk inherent in having a consortium.

Fragment

As for redirection the aim is to move the goal posts, but this time to reduce the size and / or complexity. This is most appropriate where the buyer is asking for a package of specialist skills or products. Here it’s likely they will get bids from generalists who will subcontract the specialist work or a specialist in one area who will either subcontract the other bits or do their best with existing staff. If the specialists or products have clear interfaces it may be in everyone’s interests for the buyer to coordinate multiple suppliers. The proposal to fragment should then explain how it is best done and the benefits of doing so.

The more fragmented a project becomes the more pressure there is on the buyer to integrate the pieces. If they aren’t obviously competent your can either offer the skill yourself or point them at someone who can.

Competitive positioning

Whatever the strategy it helps to know who your competitors are, what they are good at and how convincing they will be so that you can shape your communications to minimise their advantages and maximise yours.

For example, you might emphasise the need for a wider solution where this plays to your strengths comparing it to the additional cost and risk from those that need a consortium. Alternatively, if you need to create a consortium think about persuading the buyer to fragment what they want showing that the project will fail without in-depth specialist skills that you know your competitors will struggle with.

Another approach is to persuade the buyer that the best solution will have features that you will be including, knowing that your competitor will either have difficulty providing those features or will consider them unimportant and not draw attention to them.

By its very nature, some elements of competitive positioning are secretive and don’t fit with the principles of open competition. Be very careful in its use as some approaches will damage the trust you will need to build with the buyer to successfully compete for and deliver the project.