To Bid or Not to Bid

To Bid or Not to Bid

(Topics from Around the Horn)

The other day at my Network!Network! round-table meeting, there was an intriguing topic broached by one of our members.  It was a topic that had some legs as it has appeared before and, as such,  I would like to share it with you.  The topic was brought by a graphic/web designer, who had just spent a significant amount of time preparing a bid for a prospect that had been referred to her but whom she had never met in person.  She failed to secure the business and was concerned that she not get caught working for days to prepare a comprehensive bid for work that she would never see.

In a previous life, while running an IT Services firm in New York City, I often found myself dealing with Requests for Proposal and had to make decisions about whether or not to bid.  And, unless it was a government RFP, I always had the same dilemma.  I found that it was extremely important to qualify the opportunity  up front so as to spend my time working on projects that I had a reasonable expectation of winning.

1. Is this a funded project or are they just tire-kicking?  Executives frequently respond to requests for projects with the question “How much will it cost?”, hence the RFP.  If the project was not funded, I did not bid.  It wasn’t real.

2.Once I was assured that the project was funded (it was a line item in the budget), I moved to find out if the project was not only funded but that the funds were allocated.

3. Is there a contemplated due date or, even better, a drop dead date?  If they don’t need this project finished by a specific date, companies have a tendency to take forever to make a decision.

4. Finally, and this is all as important as one, two and three, be sure that you have a relationship  and are dealing with the decision maker.  If you have no relationship with the decision maker you are just rolling dice. You have no control over the process and, no doubt, one of your competitors does.  You will lose this one.

Mark Roos, a partner in a consulting firm and who focuses on Executive Search explained that since he only does retained searches, he routinely collects 1/3 up front so that everyone who engages his firm has some skin in the game from the outset.  He explains, up-front,  how he operates and what the client can expect.  “It helps,” he stated, “to develop a relationship”.

Steve Maggi, an International Immigration Attorney suggested that, since proposals often contain identical background, operational and procedural  information, it would be useful to compile a standard set of ‘boiler plate’ about your company, expertise, previous projects and reference lists to insert into all proposals and save yourself time.

Craig Delsack, a Commercial Transactional Attorney with an IT Specialization, suggested fostering a sense of urgency by creating an expiration date for the proposal.  “Give the impression that you are busy, even when you are not. Tell them you are planning your (month, week, quarter, etc) and that your calendar is filling up fast.”  That way, if you are in the running, you will force them to make a decision rather than chasing them.  A decision process with no sense of urgency will often take forever.   (And, see ‘due date’ above.)

Once you have decided to go ahead with a proposal,  do a great job.  Make sure that all the parts are there and that you have been responsive to the request.  Have an executive summary with the expectation that the Executive is a busy person and my not have time to wade through your entire submission.  And, this is an easy one, be sure that there are not grammatical or spelling errors.
Also, be sure that your proposal is esthetically pleasing.  Put in pictures and /or diagrams.  If you can get it, put the prospect’s logo on the cover. All text, no matter how relevant and well written, is dull.

Finally,  Tom Gallin, a partner in the 4th Generation Family Construction business, John Gallin & Son, suggested that, if they are not getting back to you, call your referral source and get him/her into the game.  If a referral source is a trusted partner, he/she should be able to get answers for you.

Make every proposal or selling situation a learning experience for you.  You may not like losing but, win or lose, there is something to be gained by reviewing the most recent situation, start to finish, for both the errors you made and do not want to make again, and the things you did right and want to repeat.

What’s So Great About Smiling

What’s So Great About Smiling

 What is it about smiles that, at least to Americans, are so appealing?  I was buying some what-not at my local CVS and when I chanced to smile at the checkout clerk who smiled back at me with a 100 watt smile.  There was no apparent flirting going on.  And, while I am most certainly capable of flirting, am pretty fit and do look a bit younger than my actual chronological age, I was also at least as old as her Grandfather.  She was just responding to my smile.  I walked out of that CVS with a general feeling of well being.  Pretty good, huh?

Smiles, it turns out, are a pretty ancient phenomenon.  Smiling has been traced back over 30 million years to early primate fear and/or threat postures.  Clearly, we have taken smiling to a new level.  We use smiles to communicate such feelings as love, happiness, pride, contempt and embarrassment.  They can also convey respect, patience, empathy, hospitality and compassion.

When treated to a smile, customers in stress situations are much more likely to report satisfaction with the way they were handled.

And, there are multiple manifestations of the smile. How many times have we been treated to a totally fake smile.  We all recognize the signs:  Smiling with one’s mouth only, eyes need not apply.  And, accompanied with a mouth full of teeth, the ‘no eyes smile’ confers on the ‘smiler’ the appellation of Phony.  And, I’m not just making this up.  In the mid 19th Century, Guillaume Duchenne, while conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions, identified two distinct types of smiles.  The so-called Duchenne Smile involves contraction of the the zygomatic major muscles (which raise the corners of the mouth) and oricularis oculi muscle, which raises the cheeks and forms crows feet around the eyes. Recent research suggests that smiling in which the muscle around the eye contracts, raising the cheeks high (Duchenne smiling), is uniquely associated with positive emotion.

This smiling in humans (or even other primates) is not to be confused with apparent smiling in other mammals.  For example, if you’re off on a hike in the country and a smiling wolf or bear crosses your path, (and you are not armed with an elephant gun), run as fast as you can.  In fact, stop to put on your sneakers.  You don’t actually have to out-run the bear; you just have to out-run your companion(s).  The bear/wolf is not happy or friendly.  He/she is snarling at you and is probably measuring you for dinner.   Don’t look back.

But, let’s get back to human smiles.  Why smile?  Why should I care if you’re happy?  First of all, we are a social animal.  We get cues and signs from each other on appropriate situational behavior.  If everyone in the room is crying because Great Uncle Mo just passed away, smiling could earn you serious disapprobation, or even a beating. If everyone in the room is smiling, you, despite all efforts to the contrary, will be smiling too.

And, if you are trying to generate a relationship of any sort, you should care if others are happy.  Suppose you are at a business event and you meet someone who might be a good lead-source, or even a potential client.  If, even before you stick out your hand and introduce yourself, you smile, the results can be amazing.  First, your smile automatically makes you happy, positive, self confident.  Then, second, your target will (most likely) respond in a similar fashion (unless he/she is one of the aforementioned wolves) thus making them more receptive to your approach.  But, we’re here in the Big City, no wolves or bears for miles, so a smile is not only appropriate, but desirable.  Anyway, who doesn’t like a smiler?

The Network!Network! Round Table & Around the Horn

 The Network!Network! Round Table &

Around the Horn

The Network!Network! round-table is divided into 3 segments: Segment one is a twice-around-the-room series of presentations about the participants’ businesses – what they do, who an ideal client might be, who a good lead source would be and like that. Everyone gets 4 minutes. Then we do a 30-45 minute segment called “Around the Horn”.  It is loosely patterned on EO’s Gestalt Protocol.  At EO one member brings up a business problem and the group seeks to help him/her with the solution, not by giving advice but by recounting an analogous experience.  EO conducts a special 4 hour meeting with one person designated to bring the problem to the group and a coach to help him/her present the problem in a compelling manner.  We are a bit less formal.  The first one to raise a hand gets to present a problem. And finally, we do some thank-yous in the last 5 minutes.  The meetings start at 8:00 AM and end promptly at 10:00.

Around the Horn works on a number of levels and is always enjoyable.  First, and foremost, somebody always gets her problem addressed.  But, it also works on a number of other levels as well.  For example: It works as a bonding exercise as everybody is sharing a personal experience.  It also enables participants to see how other members think.  And, it can be quite enlightening.  Finally, and this happens more frequently than I would have imagined, many of the participants pick up bits and pieces of tactics and stratagems that alter the way they approach similar problems.  And, I’ve seen it happen where someone will have presented his or her approach to a problem only to hear someone else present an approach that is diametrically opposed in either substance or style or both.  And (you can smell the wood burning) the first presenter thinks, “Wow, this suits my style much better than the way I’ve historically approached the problem.”

While I control the meeting fairly tightly during the round-table to assure that everyone gets an equal shot, an equal time slice to present their product or service, I am a bit more flexible during this segment.  Unless someone is dominating the discussion, I just let it flow, offering my own experiences along with everybody else.

Over the years we have had a number of compelling problems, many dealing with sales, but also with problems concerning (of course) Networking, Marketing, Process, Referral Fees and even Ethics.  I am proud to add that the one ethical issue we had was brought to a virtually unanimous conclusion, one that the person with the problem agreed was likely to bring the best resolution and only served to confirm the approach he had seriously considered on his own.

In this space I will be publishing, over the next few months, some of the more compelling Around the Horn discussions under the premise that if one of the Network!Network! members has the courage to float out a business problem to the group, many others will benefit from the discussion as well.

Attitude

Attitude

Networking is all the rage now-a-days and there are books, blogs, monographs galore on the how-to’s of networking.  You can learn the art of starting a conversation and ending a conversation.  You can learn when and how to offer your business card and when not to.  You can get tips on selecting a group to break into at a cocktail party and then how to break into the group.  And, you can get advice on how to construct your ‘elevator pitch’ and tag line.

But, none of this will amount to a hill of beans if you don’t have the ‘right’ attitude.  It’s almost like high school.  Most of us are shy.  It’s difficult to break the ice.  But appearance is also reality.  If you are confident and positive people will want to meet and to be with you.  If you are tentative and cautious, not so much.

We all project out attitude outward.  People want to be associated with success and if you appear successful, they will want to be with you.  The more you consciously project this positive attitude, the more the appearance of confidence will become the reality.  Assuming that everybody wants to hear what you have to say will make it a reality.  Assuming that others are not interested in what you have to say will also make that a reality. This is a self-actualizing process.  Success breeds success.  The more you do it, the better you’ll do it in the future.

In business networking, as with all other types of networking, the objective is to form a relationship – here, in order to get better referrals.  It is important to note that one must project a pay-it-forward approach.  And, it is not so much what you say as how you say it. And by “say” I mean in addition to being able to effectively spit out your tag line and brand without stuttering.  Have a firm hand shake; look into their eyes, (and don’t flicker – pay attention).  Listen and ask substantial questions before you volunteer anything about yourself.  If you project a me-first attitude, you’ll get nothing.

Your objective should be to find the few referrals sources with whom you have business synergy.  And, since you will never have the time to fully explore the possibilities or form meaningful relationships in the time allotted to this first meeting, schedule a one-on-one follow up meeting to both flesh out the relationship and better understand ways in which you can work together.  I say “relationship” because people do business with people they like and respect.  And, this needs to be cultivated.

If you keep this idea firmly in mind, you will (live long and) prosper.  So, stand up straight, pull your shoulders back and plant a smile on your lips. Believe! This will be fun.

How Do I Appear To Clients

This is not only a concern for solo-preneurs and start-ups, but really, for companies of every size. But, it is of paramount concern for small businesses. This was an issue addressed in a recent ‘Around the Horn’. It was the general consensus that the first thing a small business must do is secure an internet presence that reflects who you are or who you intend to be.

Get A Web Site: A web site has become a check-off item for companies looking for products or services. It doesn’t have to be 100 pages of detailed content, it just has to be substantial enough to reflect your brand. If you are engaged in e-commerce, it must be easy to find and order the product that most suits them. If you sell a service it must not only be attractive, but easy to find what the customer is looking for and easy to navigate. If there is any doubt, ask a friend to go to your web site and report back to you on how easy it is to use. If there is a question, consult with a usability expert. It’s that important. And, be sure to include your contact info. If they don’t know how to reach you, they can’t reach you. If they can’t reach you, they won’t be able to buy your product or service.

Get a REAL email address: AOL, Yahoo, Gmail and the like are perfectly fine for your personal email address, but terrible for a business contact. It prompts the question: “who is this person? Do they operate out of their hat?” You have a web site, www.yourbusinessname.com, get an email address that reflects your brand. (info@yourbusinessname.com won’t get it, either). My company is Network!Network!. My web address is www.networknetwork.net. And, my email address is db@networknetwork.net. Right now I am small, but this web address and email address will serve me just as well when I grow to $10B. It costs peanuts and is worth it’s weight in gold.

Brand Your Business: Decide who you are and what ideals, vision, practices, marketplace(s) most nearly represent you and your company. And, you MUST appear to be in the same league as your prospect. Get help from a professional if this is not one of your core strengths. After all, you don’t write your own contracts; you get help from your attorney. You don’t do your own taxes; you get help from your CPA. You don’t breed your own cattle, build your own car, well, you get the message. Make the investment. An amateur approach to branding your company shouts “AMATEUR”. And, who wants to do business with an amateur?

Social Media is a Building Block-Blog/Tweet Regularly: The great thing about a blog is that you get to show up big in your marketplace. No one can see that you operate alone out of your garage. But, once you start, you MUST keep up a regular schedule of substantial commentary. Your blog can demonstrate expertise, commitment and thought leadership. If you can’t make the time or don’t write well enough, hire someone. Don’t make it too long. 600 words is enough, and no more than 1200. And, it MUST be interesting and well written. (This blog is 663 words long.)

Tweets are much shorter affairs, only 140 characters, so to have an impact you must tweet more often, even several times a day. If you hire someone to write your blogs and/or tweets for you, give them the content and turn them lose.

Brand Yourself: Your blog helps. You should also post your Bio on your web site. If your business is new, it is acceptable to represent previous experience as currently valid. The only caveat is: You MUST have the business practices in place to validate your claims. You must perform. A bad rep is easy to get and most difficult to lose.

Shakespeare said it best: “Perception is Reality”., But, only as long as your performance backs it up.