If you are of the mind that all opportunities identified should be pitched, then read no further. If you are of the Yogi Berra school of decision making then you know that “When you come to the fork in the road you must take it!” HOWEVER, it’s much more powerful to educate yourself before making that choice.
If you will pitch anyway even if the client doesn’t give you her budget, or if you are wondering why your success rate is low and why you feel that “we spend too much money & time pitching opportunities that we don’t win” then disciplined opportunity qualification might be a valuable business development exercise to install in your shop.
IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK OF THE CLIENT
- What’s the budget? Seasoned sales pros are OK with this question, everyone else hates the idea of broaching the subject, and not asking in advance is pure folly. (Wouldn’t you want to know that the client has a budget of $500k before doing intense, expensive work on a proposal and pitch for what you think should be a $2 million solution?) Also See: Asking The Client About The Budget: When & How
- Who’s the competition? If not who, at least discover how many and use that information to inform your actions. (You might react differently as part of a qualified, carefully chosen field of four competitors than you would as 1 of 10 or worse, 1 in an open field.)
- Is one of the bidders an incumbent? (Hey, wouldn’t that knowledge affect your assessment of the likelihood of winning?)
- Is the opportunity real? (This is another tough question for many people to ask, especially if you are more focused on embarrassment than on results. You want to know if the budget is approved, or, if it’s possible the proposal you submit will be used to get approval from higher ups.)
- Who is the decision maker? (My use of single tense here is deliberate – in most cases, there will be one key decision maker. However, if there’s a committee doing anything more than evaluation and recommendation, then you are taking on a much more delicate, nuanced, and risky situation.
IMPORTANT QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF
- What are the benefits of a win in short term monetary value AND for long term economic potential? (What if successful execution of a $50k pitch win could lead to a $500k annual budget? Ditto for $500k and $5 million or $5k and $50k …you get the idea.)
- Is there a value to the win that’s beyond and different from the dollars? (What’s the portfolio value of the client’s brand name? What would you give or pay for a chance to sharpen skills on a new technology?)
- Is there a bottom-line effect? For example, although it might not fit your firm’s other pitch criteria – would it utilize existing under-occupied resources, thus maximizing overall margin return?
- Do we budget staff time and out-of-pocket expenses or do we just do whatever is necessary to win and evaluate cost afterward? (Is the budget for the pitch a flat amount regardless, or does it fluctuate in relation to the size and importance of the engagement being pitched?)
- Do we know the situations from which we will walk – no matter what?
- For example, if the client is asking you to present a solution to their problem:
- Will you walk if there’s no fee unless you win?
- Will you walk if the fee is less than $XX?
ON CREATING A METHODOLOGY: Do you have a method for evaluating all the answers discovered in your pitch diligence, at one time, weighed together, and compared to success KPIs that your entire team supports? Do you have clear articulated decision criteria for a pitch, or will you pitch anything and everything? (For example, with my clients, I use a proprietary and customized excel spread sheet tool that articulates criteria and weights each one based on prioritization customized to the specific requirements of each firm.)
WHY BOTHER? Qualifying the opportunity will give you a clear idea of what to pitch and when to pass. Yes, I totally subscribe to the notion that you will occasionally trust your gut instinct but when using clear methodology and defined discipline as a basis, you will more often be right than wrong. (See my video post: Qualifying Opportunities Before the Sales Process Begins)
A SIDE BENEFIT: The qualification exercise will surface other issues similar to why you’re not getting the kinds of opportunities you really want and you can then utilize this methodology to focus your demand generation efforts in the proper and intentional direction.
For an additional POV, see Guest Post by Edward Craft, Chief Executive of Premise, Inc., Ruthless Qualification: The Insight You Need to Make Intentional Pursuit Decisions