First Customer Meeting

I was part of several meetings lately pitching our solutions to potential clients.  Looking back, some of these first interactions with them could be termed as success while others you hope can start all over again.  In most cases what is being proposed from your end is the same core solution in the domain you have expertise at and believe can solve their problem. Often quite a few issues are common across your target audience or at least closely related. 

Assumptions each party makes when going into that first meeting has a great deal to do with whether you leave them impressed or otherwise.  One may expect the technology that they believe will be part of their solution will do wonders only to find out it has limitations. It may be the investment they had budgeted for and the actual ask which is too wide a gap for them to fill. Often it is a case where the decision makers have envisioned a solution down to specific process, steps, methodology that they believe will work. 

On the other hand vendor being aware of what they can offer wants to interpret, tweak or downplay the requirements such that it matches the solution they have to offer.  It is also lack of understanding of the business requirements that the client is facing on a daily basis. 

A better approach for the vendor then is to go in with a blank paper instead of a ten page proposal.  Go in with how your solution has helped others in the past instead of a detailed list of all the functions and features you have to offer. Go in ready to discuss how client’s proposed approach may be incorporated into your solution and better that with the alternative you have to suggest.  

Only when you gain trust of the client that you can solve their problem have you earned the right to a follow up conversation to demo, pilot and check mark your product against each line item. 

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Are you collaborating as a vendor or a partner?

Companies, teams coming together to work on a project is common and often a necessity to be able to deliver on a commitment. One of the parties among them is the lead party and more than likely  also the one responsible for bringing the business. It assumes then that lead party has the most stake in the success of the project, be it monetary gain or to enhance its reputation and image.

Projects that end up in delays or quality problems are likely to put the blame on other non-lead parties.  It is so because it is the easiest thing to do.  Reasoning goes they have the smallest stake, less risk and hence reduced interest in the success.

Irrespective of the legal standing on how all the involved parties have come together, how the lead organization treats or works with the smaller players goes a long way in determining the success of the deliverable’s.

Organizations that treat the smaller parties as vendors tend to suffer more from the above problem.

A better way than would be to treat them as partners in the project. 
Partner instead of vendor makes your problem, our problem.
Partners instead of vendor come together to resolve other partners issues.
Partners instead of vendor better understand constraints faced by another partner
Partner instead of vendor is more likely to identify and leverage each others advantages rather than pointing out what’s missing Partners instead of vendors trust each other more in doing the due diligence

Of course the legal arrangements and definitions will need to be followed for business to go ahead however real day-to-day interactions/meetings/discussions end up being more productive based on who you view the person across the table as.

It’s a no-brainer then as to which party stands to gain the most with this change in perspective.

Spelling out each detail

Lately I have been working on presentations pitching products and solutions to potential clients. In order to showcase the best product has to offer, an easy way is to list out all the features and knobs built into it. Expectations are that you would be able to impress upon the client all they would get if she decide’s to buy. More the number of items on the list better it gets  to justify the cost, so we believe.  It was true years ago when functionality was the key to differentiate between your product and the competitors. It is no longer the case where client is not only looking to get the features he wants but also the experience he gets from using it,  trust he gains about its reliability and specific benefits he expects to derive from it over a period of time.

Just listing out each detail in your deck then won’t be as effective. One would want to weave it into a story to show how the product acts as a tool,guide,assistant and your decision analyst. Specific configurations can be figured out after all however what it means to invest in your product is something that must be obvious.

Leave enough hooks into your story that encourages the audience to engage in a conversation, ask questions and see how they see the product contribute to their success story.

When price is the only game in town

There are limited options to consider in a competitive bidding situation where price is the driving factor for the client in choosing a vendor. It means the client has concluded (rightly so or otherwise) that there is little to no difference between each vendor regards to their offering. As one of the vendor you may not agree with that conclusion but the marketplace gets the last say. Increasingly finding yourself in that situation would only mean the product is now turning into a commodity with intense price pressure.

What are your choices at that point? There is a short-term choice and a more long-term decision to be made.

In the short run, one may consider winning the bid by quoting the lowest price (potentially at a loss) if –

– You get to prove your merit and gain credibility with the client with respect to your work in hope of future business with them.

– You invest to add them to your list of served clients to build confidence with others.

– You would like to increase the total revenue of your business in a given year, even though profits from this project might be nil to establish the company as a major player.

– You would like to gain from doing a volume business by attracting more similar clients.

A more favorable approach would be to re-evaluate the long-term strategy of the product and make changes that would –

– Shutdown the product if there are constraints to make further changes to it.

– Improve the product offering such that it provides direct and significant gain for the client in terms of reduced costs or better efficiency.

– Re-visit your target customers to identify if your product is a better fit to another segment that you may have not thought of before where your offerings are more relevant.

– Put a plan in place that allows existing clients to continue to gain value from their investment in your product and thereby are more than willing to listen to what you have to offer next.

Either choice can be done or both can be done, however anything in between or left half done may not move the needle either way.

What did you do as..?

as an employee of your firm

as a manager of your team

as a volunteer when you signed up for being one

as a teacher / an artist / a consultant / an architect

In today’s economy it’s not what role you served in but rather what was your contribution while serving in that role? Contribution that made an impact, re-defined the goal, set out a new course, greatly helped a cause is worth more a mention than the designation. Increasingly connected world has made it likely for one to build, commit or pitch-in irrespective of whether someone has awarded or appointed you to a title with a set of expectations.

How much mentoring do you need?

Some of us have had one in a lifetime. A mentor, a coach, an adviser, a guide who has helped shape you professionally or personally in some way. Although there are some subtle differences between each I believe one is looking to seek inspiration, acquire skills or find peace through discussions with them. However at what point does one say they have sought enough inspiration and acquired good enough skills to apply them to solve a problem or make an impact.

How many seminars one needs to attend? How may motivational speeches one needs to listen to? How many workshops one has to enroll for you to say there is enough here to start constructing the building? May be mentors/coaches/advisers and guides need to facilitate those listening to them with more concrete actions and initiatives that will put them on the path being preached. Equally on the other hand, pupil must decide on his journey from a seeker of inspiration to being one.