In companies that sell services, there are far more people with customer contact than just the sales force. This is especially true for existing customers, where the project staff have far more contact with the customer than a sales person ever will.
In these companies, all customer-facing staff play a role in “sales.” The trick is to enable them to contribute to sales without becoming sales people. Customer-facing staff can play a critical role by helping:
- The company understand the customer’s issues and preferences. How does the customer like to work? What kind of problems do they run into? Both projects and proposals involve addressing trade-offs. How does the customer approach trade-offs? What are their preferences? This is all critical information for winning proposals. Project staff are actually better positioned to collect it than sales staff. But they have to know what to listen for.
- To discover what the customer would like to do or achieve. Just like you, the customer has problems to solve and goals to achieve every day they go to work. Some of them are immediate or short term things, and some of them are long term. Sometimes they know what they want, and sometimes they have to figure it out. When you are working with them, if you listen, many of those problems will be things that your company can help them out with. Sometimes you can help them out with simple recommendations. Sometimes you might need to find answers within your company. And sometimes the answer might be services that your company can provide.
- To position the company as helpful, responsive, and someone they want to have available. This has multiple benefits. It improves past performance reviews, it increases your perceived value, and it makes them more willing to discuss their issues with you. It is the sort of thing that is best demonstrated through results over time, giving project staff a major advantage over sales staff in achieving it.
Project staff don’t necessarily have to sell. Sometimes they can help simply by listening and making referrals. Connecting the customer with people in their company who know about the issues or who know how to take things from a concept to a contract. The most important thing is to recognize the significance of the moment. You don’t have to even know what to do about it, just bring it to the attention of someone who does.
In addition to project staff, you have other staff who interact with the customer directly. They may be in accounts receivable, contracts, or HR. It doesn’t matter. Every one of them has the opportunity to discover customer preferences and issues. If you are not funneling what you learn from the contacts back into the proposal process, then it can’t help you win.
The way to leverage the value that can result from everyone’s contact with the customer is to train people to recognize the significance of the moment and what to listen for. It doesn’t take a week or even a day's worth of training. Half an hour or an hour can be enough to help people tune into the significance of what they are hearing.
But if you really want to leverage all of your customer contacts, you need to go beyond simply listening and start asking questions. You can also provide training in what questions to ask, but by the time people have the opportunity to ask them, they are likely to be forgotten. It may be better to provide cheat sheets, or lists of questions that people might ask the customer that can lead to them discussing their issues and preferences. The questions should also include follow-ups and questions about whether they’d like you to find someone else in the company who knows about the subject to talk to.
Within PropLIBRARY, we have many sets of questions like this for different circumstances, all set up as simple forms and checklists. But more importantly, the pre-RFP intelligence gathering phase is designed so that many people can participate in getting answers to the questions you need to build an information advantage.
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The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
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