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Bid process

The power of CRM

Building on our ‘Talking to Clients’ series over the past four weeks, my focus is now turning to how you store, analyse and use the client intelligence and insight you gather to support your business development and bidding opportunities. 

Imagine your most important client has predominantly worked with one account manager in your organisation since they joined. They’ve shared hundreds of telephone and email conversations, account management meetings and even partaken of the odd rugby match spectating together. Then the account manager leaves your organisation. If you don’t have a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) system, all that client knowledge leaves with them. 

David Rose, with a lot of information to process https://media4.giphy.com/media/RfkkfkWXq8laiWatVI/giphy.gif?cid=4d1e4f298gojaik3cn39fvg1cu0iipa3hzfjrvrya95g7mjm&rid=giphy.gif

I’ve been a big believer in the power of using CRM to manage client knowledge for many years and was lucky enough to implement Salesforce as our weapon of choice at a previous employer. But CRM can come in many different shapes and sizes to suit your size, needs – and of course your budget; from Salesforce or Zendesk, to budget or free systems such as Hubspot or Insightly*, or even as simple as a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet or shared folder on your network or in Microsoft Teams. What matters most is not the system you use, but what you record and how you use it to develop the client relationship. Anyone in your organisation should be able to pick up the reins in working with a client – or when it comes to bids and proposals time – and should be able to access the same intelligence and insight as anyone else. 

Recently, a white paper** on this subject was shared with me by a colleague. While the focus is on how consulting firms should use CRM, its learnings are no less useful across all industries; whoever, and wherever, your clients are. As it says:

“A firm’s employees and client networks may be spread around the globe, but they need to collectively work toward a common goal…CRM offers an integrated and comprehensive view of each client relationship, from previous and current engagements to project management, market insight, available resources, and billing.”

Every piece of client information – emails, notes from telephone calls, meeting minutes, press releases, newsletters opened, events attended, bids and proposals submitted, contract renewal dates– should be saved into whatever you use as a CRM tool. This is the basis of your “common goal” of developing client relationships and winning more business. It is not enough, however, to merely save the information and do nothing with it. It must become intelligence. My article on WinningTheBusiness.com last year spoke of how bid tools, including CRM, are only valuable when the right resources are invested, and the right information is put into them. For CRM to be effective for your client relationships, you must engage all stakeholders and users and bring them along on the journey. This message is also evident in the white paper’s ‘five best practices for fully leveraging CRM’:

  • Approach CRM as part of a strategic vision
  • Engage and align leadership
  • Focus on people, not just IT
  • Keep it simple
  • Drive impact

Encourage this sharing of knowledge through defined processes for gathering and saving insight to your system – make it simply part of the day job. Look for trends within and across clients, markets and industries, that you can take externally to your client or internally to your business development teams to encourage the as-yet unseen opportunity. The CRM tool should be the first port of call when a tender is released – what do we already know about this client, who do we know there, what have we discussed or shared with them, what feedback did we receive the last time we pitched, what is happening with other clients in their sector? The client ‘life’ should be in your CRM tool. In short, the white paper states:

“CRM builds personalized experiences, which can greatly enhance relationships and drive growth…[CRM] also enables full visibility over client relationships, which leads to informed decision making.”

It was with this full visibility of client relationships in mind that one contributor’s words jumped out of the white paper as the crux of CRM:

“Understanding those relationships is like piecing together a massive box of jumbled-up Lego [pieces] and then building something unexpected and beautiful” (Vicki Boaden, global Salesforce success lead at PwC).

If the right knowledge is being shared and analysed, who knows what new opportunities could be uncovered. And who doesn’t love playing with Lego?

* Other CRM platforms are available!

**Published by the Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, sponsored by Salesforce (I promise I am not on commission)

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Bid process

Talking to clients part 4: Client engagement

Whether you have won a new client through a competitive procurement or informal approach, or have a 20-year relationship, client engagement throughout the full lifecycle is vital to maintain and build on that relationship with further business wins. As the APMP Body of Knowledge (BOK) says, “Effectively executing on a contract is the best way to position for future business with an account or client organization. Apply account management techniques, such as regular customer contact, product demonstrations and upgrades, social marketing, and participation in relevant industry and trade events. These activities demonstrate an ongoing interest in the customer’s business and success and help position your organization for future opportunities.”

Johnny Rose’s customer engagement philosophy involved well-known social media site Tweeters https://giphy.com/gifs/schittscreek-schittscreek-pop-poptv-comedy-tv-funny-eugenelevy-danlevy-l0IyhuGIkIfxfLL0I

If you are not already carrying out account management activities with your clients, consider what you are missing out on – both in terms of nurturing a strong relationship, but also in your preparations for the next tender with them. As the BOK states “In a tough competitive market, retaining the business you have is just as difficult as winning new business”.

Your account management team could include project managers, account managers, business development managers, and even service delivery managers and front-line staff. They have daily access to your client and can seek out and gather the vital intelligence to not only improve your current performance, but also identify improvements and innovations for the next contract. You could instigate ad hoc ‘water cooler’ conversations with client representatives to discuss any frustrations, or share/discuss knowledge pieces via e-letters and social media, you can invite them to events, and engage right through to formal performance reporting, client review meetings and satisfaction surveys.

Even if you don’t have a formal function, send somebody to talk to the client.

In last year’s blog about bidding as the incumbent, we shared that complacency is the biggest reason for loss. You should put in as much effort on a tender whether you are bidding to a new client or a current client. Alongside your usual account management activities, if you have a formal client engagement function, start them talking to your client for at least six months before a planned retender. Even if you don’t have a formal function, send somebody to talk to the client. The purpose is to give the client someone more independent than their day-to-day contact, so they can be open on issues or ‘wishlist’ items, or simply bring a new way of looking of things from the client’s perspective. Feed all gathered intelligence into your bid planning, content planning and of course the final submission to show that you are listening to your client. And like the advice for interviewing for an internal position, assume the interviewer (or in our case, client) knows nothing about you. Tell them too much, rather than not enough.

Use every opportunity to learn what they think about you, what you do well, and how you can improve.

Last week’s blog talked about learning from a client debrief, win or lose. Again, the same applies for new clients or an established client in this scenario. Where you win a retender, never assume just because you have worked with the client before, you know what they are thinking, that they thought everything was fine in your submission and, it follows, your relationship. Use every opportunity to learn what they think about you, what you do well, and how you can improve.

Put yourself in the client’s shoes; would you award more work to the supplier who is consistently talking to you, investing their time, holding review meetings, sharing knowledge and interesting articles/blogs/press releases, and seeking to make improvements and add value at every stage – or the supplier that does a good job, but who you only hear from at contract renewal time?

Don’t just think won and done; client engagement should be an ongoing process – it is called an engagement ring after all!

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Bid process

Talking to clients part 3: Debriefs

How often do you request* a debrief with the client after the procurement process has concluded? Rarely or never? Always, but on losses only? Or do you request a debrief every time, whether you have won or lost the contract?

If your answer isn’t the last option, you could well be missing out on important feedback on your tender, your team, your pricing and your approach in general. Without understanding why you won or lost an opportunity, how will your submissions improve? It really is that old adage of the definition of madness being doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result.

Client debriefs are a real opportunity (whether on the telephone, video conference, or even emailing tailored questions) to understand what you did well or where you need to improve. Many bidders only request a debrief on losses, but they are equally important where you have won; you cannot and should not assume the client liked everything about your submission.

So the client has agreed to your request, now what should you be asking? Clearly there will be specifics from your submission, but some ideas are:

  • What were you were looking for from the procurement process? Did it achieve what you wanted?
  • What was your perception of us prior to the procurement? Did this change during the process?
  • How did our submission measure up generally against the other submissions?
  • What did we do well? What could we have improved on?
  • Was there anything in other bidders’ submissions that you particularly liked?
  • Do you feel we demonstrated our experience in your sector/market clearly and effectively?
  • Do you feel that we [have] proposed the right core team for you?
  • How important was pricing in your final decision? How did our pricing compare to other bidders?
  • How did we do in the presentation stage? Do you feel we brought the right team to speak with you? Do you have any comments on any member of the team?
  • How did you make the decision? What was the process? Who was involved?
  • What did other bidders offer in terms of added value services, or meeting your unwritten needs?
  • [If a win] Do you have any concerns about our ability to implement, or our relationship with you going forward?
  • [If a loss] Are you happy for us to stay in contact with you in relation to relevant mailings and event invites?

But don’t let the debrief process end there. File and save the debrief notes, and start coding the responses (e.g. strong team, evidenced qualifications, good use of technology, poor recruitment processes, lack of innovation), chart them, track the themes and share across your organisation with the relevant people. This can provide vital information to your organisation on where you need to focus future strategy and investment, and what you need to focus on as you onboard if you were successful, or tackle for the next go around.

How can you move on and develop a stronger relationship if you don’t know what to address?

All feedback, positive or negative, will help shape not only your next submission (and hopefully improve your success rates!) but also the future of your organisation, and your relationship with the client – whether you won or lost on this occasion. How can you move on and develop a stronger relationship if you don’t know what to address? Learn lessons, improve and share knowledge.

*For the purpose of this blog, we’re talking about the bidder requesting a debrief, not whether the client then agrees to provide one, and not the generic feedback letter you receive upon contract award.

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Bid process

Talking to clients part 1: Scoping calls

When you receive an RFP, and are deciding whether to pursue it (or indeed, deciding whether to continue your pursuit, as you should already have a fairly good idea by this point unless it’s a cold bid), how often do you undertake a scoping call with the client?

Many firms assume once an opportunity is issued, the client is off-limits – however this is not always the case. Some clients offer scoping calls as part of the procurement (group and individual), and even if they don’t expressly mention in the RFP documents, you can ask. Worse case, the client says no. Best case, you learn key intelligence and insight that may not have been included in the papers.

So you have the scoping call agreed and diarised – but who should attend, and what should you ask?

The scoping call should involve those who will be heavily involved in the bid production and sign off

Unless the client restricts attendees to one person, you should aim for your bid manager and bid lead (e.g. sponsor, whoever will sign off the submission) to attend as a minimum. You may also find it useful to invite key subject matter expert(s) if the opportunity is technical in nature. At the basic level – the scoping call should involve those who will be heavily involved in the bid production and sign off, so that they fully understand what the client wants, and so can ensure your submission is persuasive and is written to win.

Once your attendees are decided, you should gather scoping questions from the bid team – not just the attendees. It should go without saying that you should not ask anything that is already set out in the documentation, unless it is unclear. Scoping calls are the chance to discuss the client’s unwritten needs or issues, and can give you those golden nuggets of intelligence that other bidders may not have. They can help frame your bid themes and value propositions, and your questions could cross the client’s business/sector, culture and requirements, their position on fees, and the performance of their current providers (if applicable). Of course, there is no guarantee that a client will answer everything you ask, but examples of key questions include:

  • Are any changes planned for your business? What impact will they have?
  • What plans do you have to increase your competitive position?
  • What do you feel are the current issues facing your business?
  • How does this project/service fit into your overall business plans?
  • What, in your opinion, does added value look like? 
  • Who are your current service providers? Why did you choose them? What do they do well, or what would you like to see them do differently?
  • How important are the project/service costs/fees for you? Is there anything that has caused you a problem with fees or billing in the past?
  • What would we need to do to convince you that we are right for you?

Scoping calls can provide an opportunity for you to ‘get into the weeds’ of a tender and the client’s unspoken needs, potentially giving you competitive advantage – all within the procurement rules. As long as you plan properly ahead of time to make the most of the opportunity, what have you got to lose?

The second part of our ‘Talking to clients’ series next week will address presentations within the procurement process. Contrary to popular belief, they’re not just about PowerPoint!