How to Compete Successfully When Proposals Are Solicited

All of us find ourselves in scenarios where the prospect is trying to choose among potential consulting sources. This is often done in “committee,” with the buyer and a group of feasibility recommenders. (If the buyer isn’t there, that’s a whole different matter entirely.) This is often an intelligent way to evaluate consulting services, particularly for organizations which aren’t accustomed to using consultants regularly.

How do you stand out in the crowd? I recommend that you focus on the following, no matter against whom you’re competing:

  • Learn something about the prospect that you can use when you are presenting your case. Ask for and review carefully detailed information about the prospect before your appearance. Find “unobvious” facts that you can utilize to your advantage. For example, if the prospect has sites in Mexico and Switzerland, and you’ve done work there, you can mention cultural distinctions. If the client has just opened a site in Iowa, you might mention that you’ve had three clients in that state and know the area well.
  • Never mention the competition except in glowing terms. It’s best not to mention the competition at all, whether you know who they are or even suspect. If someone brings them up, be non-committal: “I know of them and have heard they do good work.” No one wants to hire a sniper, because you never know where the gun will be turned.
  • Keep the presentation brief and focus on questions. The group is hearing a lot of people bleat on about how good they are. Make a few quick hits with some relevant war stories and examples, but move quickly to the questions that the group has for you. Your time will be limited, and it’s best to deal with what’s on their mind, not your mind.
  • Don’t be cornered on fees. This is the single greatest error consultants make in evaluation sessions. Someone asks, reasonably, “How much will this cost?” and the consultant stammers out some price range. Instead, explain that it’s unfair to the prospect to cite an investment prematurely, but you’d be happy to place a proposal in front of them within 24 hours, once you’ve had a chance to think about what you’ve learned in this meeting. Invariably, any discussion of fees at this point will kill you.
  • Use a clever “turnaround” technique. Set yourself apart. Tell the group that, “I tried to put myself in your shoes and come up with the key facts you’d need to know, so I created this single-page summary as a discussion document for you.” Or say, “You’re thinking of asking my help to take you from square-one on this project. Let me suggest that you may want to think about square-zero.” Do something that will create a phrase associated strictly with you and no one else.
  • Focus on value. Here’s my broken record, but beat to death the value that the client will likely receive from your specific assistance, techniques, methodology, etc. Don’t focus on how good they are or their merits, focus on the client outcomes. Make the client feel good about doing business with you.
  • Demonstrate professionalism. This should go without saying, but it’s often violated. Dress very well and look like a success. Have your shoes shined. Be well groomed. If you’re at a meal, know how to use your silverware correctly (I’ve seen abhorrent table manners among consultants). Sit up straight. Shake hands firmly. You know the drill. If you don’t, get a coach.

Woody Allen said that 80% of success is just showing up. If you look and act good while you’re there, you’re 95% of the way to your goals.