The Seven Deadly Sins, destroying your win rates.
by Nic Coppings, Senior Partner, Hi-Q GroupMay 25, 2022
Have you ever used the term deadly or cardinal sins to describe someone who made an unrecoverable mistake? The original deadly sins were inspired by mankind’s perpetual struggle to rise above their animalistic instincts and rein in the emotions of lust, pride, greed, gluttony, envy, anger, and sloth. But did you know there are Business Development or Sales equivalents?
In our training and consulting work, we noticed BD and Sales personnel committing deadly sins that negatively impacted their customer’s perception of them and observed how this prevented them from achieving their revenue and professional goals.
Committing a deadly BD sin occurs when you don’t:
- Plan or Prepare
- Stop Talking to Listen to the Customer
- Foster Trusted Relationships
- Conduct in-depth Discovery
- Let the customer define the next steps
- Follow through on customer commitments
- Have Emotional Self-Control
In early times, committing a deadly sin would condemn you to a hell-bound afterlife. Thankfully the business development equivalents won’t lead you to eternal damnation. But, they may condemn you to customer purgatory, decimate your win rates, torpedo your probability of winning future contracts with that customer, or if egregious enough, the entire agency or department.
By recognizing and avoiding these sins, you will overcome many of the mistakes your competitors still make. So let’s explore each of these in more depth:
1. Don’t plan or prepare
The single biggest sin committed by BD and Sales professionals is their lack of pre-call planning and preparation. Look at your schedule for next week. How much time do you have blocked for customer call planning and preparation? I’m guessing it’s zero or very little!
Customers can see a lack of planning and preparation, and they know you are winging it. So they mentally disengage and passively participate in the corporate capability briefing or canned presentations knowing there is zero value for them.
At the Hi-Q Group, we say, “If you don’t have a plan, don’t engage!” Great engagement is a derivative of good preparation. On the contrary, unplanned calls usually provide limited customer insights and no customer value, making it almost impossible to secure future meetings with them.
Good preparation requires developing a call plan, understanding whom you are meeting, understanding the questions you will ask, knowing your call’s purpose and goal, and anticipating the next steps. Most of the remaining sins outlined in this article can be minimized with a little pre-call planning.
Dale Carnegie said, “An hour of planning can save you 10 hours of doing!” In business development, 20 minutes of planning will go a long way to save you from embarrassing yourself. It will help you secure valuable customer human intelligence your competitors likely aren’t getting, and, more importantly, it will help you strengthen your customer relationships, making future engagements easier.
2. Don’t Stop Talking
Nobody likes listening to someone go on and on talking, yet despite knowing how irritating it can be, talking too much is a common sin among business developers. One of the primary reasons people talk too much is nervousness brought on by a lack of preparation.
Many in a sales or business development role feel a need to let their egos drive the agenda. They attempt to impress the customer and feel good about themselves by making themselves the “star” of the show.
Larry King once said, “I never learned anything while I was talking.” Stop telling, peddling, or educating the customer and instead facilitate a dialogue about them and their needs. Learn to question, listen, and pause. This will significantly improve the quality of intelligence you receive and improve your relationships.
Ask questions that help you get to know your customer better, then actively listen, pause, and respond with follow-up questions or comments that show you heard and care about what your customer is saying. This will likely improve your win rates because customers like to work with people they like and trust. If there’s one thing customers want, it’s to be heard and understood, and you simply can’t do that while you are talking.
Elite professionals prove their value not by selling or getting their ego stroked but by focusing on the customer. They question and take the time to listen, understand, and clarify the customer’s perspective and needs rather than trying to validate their assumptions or impose their agenda and timeline on the customer.
3. Foster Trusted Relationships
For long-term success, people matter! Blindly responding to RFPs with no customer insights is not a successful growth strategy. Good relationships are based on trust. Without it, the customer won’t feel comfortable sharing the intelligence that matters, and neither will seriously consider your shaping suggestions. Would you?
When engaging customers, in an attempt, to win a contract, it is easy to forget that basic interpersonal skills apply. Unfortunately, many BD and Sales personnel see connecting or rapport building as just a step in the process as they rush towards pitching their offerings. Often, their rushed small talk and feigned friendliness is perceived as sleazy by the customer.
So, rather than pushing your capabilities, or asking a standard list of questions, be customer-focused, shift your thinking to developing better relationships with government customers!
It’s often challenging to connect with customers without doing some research, and it’s more difficult in a virtual environment where you lack the visual clues an office visit might provide.
Customers love to talk about their problems. They love to vent about their work challenges and the injustices they suffer. Don’t rush to the business at hand. Take your time, be empathetic, be interested, and you might be surprised how valuable this type of conversation is for fostering trust.
Elite professionals understand the value of high-quality relationships. They prioritize relationship building and develop contact plans to do this. They know that it takes time and effort to discover what’s important, their interests, career aspirations, and what bothers or worries them – both inside the Government customer, with industry counterparts, and with their internal stakeholders. Early engagement enables them to connect and foster customer relationships long before the conversation shifts to the specifics of the upcoming opportunity.
Another common sin is not developing relationships with all the relevant communities – warfighter/ end users, contracting, leadership/sponsors, and the prime/ partners. You must know who they are, what they do, and invest time nurturing relationships with each of them.
Quality relationships deliver quality intelligence! Without trust and good relationships, you put yourself at an intelligence disadvantage to your competition that does.
4. Conduct in-depth Discovery
Discovery focuses on understanding your customers’ root needs, and if done correctly, it will differentiate you as someone focused on helping them achieve their envisioned outcomes.
Many business developers conduct very superficial Discovery. They ask the same questions everyone else asks because their focus is on moving an opportunity through internal gates rather than helping the customer. Unfortunately, in doing this, they receive the same answers everyone else is getting, and they miss the critical human intelligence needed to gain a competitive advantage.
Others make assumptions on the needs, ask a few loaded and then begin pitching their predetermined solution without fully understanding what is needed. This is called the “itch to pitch” or “premature solutioning.” Both are a waste of time and will likely cause the customer to disengage due to misalignment of need and solution or your inability to articulate how it solves their specific needs.
In Discovery, it’s essential to tailor your questions to align with the customer’s role and procurement responsibilities. Don’t fall into the trap of asking everyone the same set of questions. You are an intelligence gatherer, and if the customer doesn’t understand the question or doesn’t possess the knowledge to answer it, you will waste time and gather zero intelligence.
Prepare open-ended questions designed to get your customer to share their needs and concerns. Then use follow-up questions to fully explore each need until you have uncovered the root cause issue. Then assess the impact to the customer of solving or not solving the problem.
Most in the BD role don’t understand that all decisions are emotional. Understanding the personal impact is what will motivate the customer to take action. This knowledge will provide you critical insights into their appetite for the program and if they will find the budget to make it happen or perhaps elevate your program above the cut line.
Elite professionals know that a leading indicator for success is their relationship quality. This determines the quantity of intelligence they will receive. They use short questions to elicit long responses. Nobody can guarantee a win, but this customer intelligence puts their competitors in an intelligence deficit, and as we all know, good intelligence wins wars!
They only start solution discussions once they understand the customer’s root cause needs, preferred outcomes, potential solution insights, and the impact of solving or not solving their problem to both the organization and the person. Most importantly, they know that customers make decisions emotionally and prefer solutioning to be collaborative rather than seeing it for the first time in an RFP response.
5. Don’t Let the Customer Define the Next Steps
How many times have you ended a meeting by saying something like, “I will follow up with you sometime next week.” But, by not agreeing to specific next steps, you open yourself up to the frustration of unresponsive customers when it comes time to reengage!
Another common sin is to push your agenda by suggesting next steps aligned with your urgency or the needs of your capture process. Allowing the customer to articulate their next steps helps you align with their priorities and urgency, stopping you from pushing your agenda.
Unfortunately, neither of these approaches will likely deliver the consistent re-engagement results you want.
Elite professionals get the customer to define the path forward by focusing on what’s next, other stakeholders involved, timelines, potential agendas, and criteria for success. They know that getting the customer’s agreement before concluding the meeting stops them from making assumptions and leaves nothing to misinterpretation. But, more importantly, they already have an agreed commitment to what comes next, making re-engagement painless.
6. Don’t Follow Through on Customer Commitments
During a meeting, you will often make certain commitments or promises to follow up with specific information or connect the customer with internal resources. It’s a deadly sin not to follow through on these commitments.
Most people don’t deliberately do this, but they get busy, other priorities take precedence, and they forget! Then, before they know it, the deadline has passed, and it’s the customer who reminds them! Not a good situation.
Worse than this, the customer assumes that you are unreliable. Reliability is a crucial component of developing customer trust. Not delivering your commitments on time is the quickest way to give your customers cause to evaluate the trust you have fostered.
Elite professionals know that it’s often the little things that significantly impact your relationships! They know that attention to detail is critical, so they use call reports, action trackers, or a CRM system to ensure that they deliver on time when it comes to promises or commitments.
7. Don’t have Emotional Self-Control
If you begin to feel anything on a sales call, beware. How often have you felt something on a customer call? Worry, excitement, perhaps embarrassment. Maybe your feelings caused you to say or do something you later regretted? I’m sure we all have.
When you lack emotional self-control, your attention shifts from being customer-focused and listening to the customer to being self-focused, listening to your inner voice, and consumed by what you are feeling, in doing so, you have lost control of yourself, and often, the conversation too.
You must learn to control your feelings and not let them control you. Remain anchored in the present focused on the customer and their needs and not your emotions. It would be best to do this regardless of what the customer says or does.
Elite professionals aren’t robots. Of course, they have positive or negative feelings, just like the rest of us, but they know how to compartmentalize them and don’t let those feeling distract them from what matters on a call.
Now that you know what the Seven Deadly Sins are, you must avoid sinning at all costs. Yet, if we are honest, we have all committed one or several of these sins. Therefore, to be an elite professional, you should strive to avoid these common sins and remove the influences that might tempt you to return to your wicked ways.
Ready to change your ways?
Enroll in Government Marketing University’s course, Elite Secrets I & II to get started.