Your company’s value proposition must be developed from the customer’s perspective by focusing on providing solutions for the customer’s shorter and longer-term needs.
Often the biggest mistake vendors make when pursuing important strategic partnerships or large contracts, is that they don’t put themselves in the shoes of the customer when developing their sales pitch. Vendors like to brag about their strengths but usually fail to communicate why those strengths should be important to the customer.
It is obvious to a customer when a vendor has not invested the time to understand their unique needs and priorities. Vendors often use a standard pitch book that highlights the vendor’s strengths and glosses over their weaknesses. Those pitches appear canned and leave the distinct impression with the customer that the vendor either doesn’t care or are too lazy to understand the customer’s specific objectives and priorities.
There is no excuse for not doing your homework given the substantial amount of information available on the internet. For example, company websites often include annual reports, messages from the CEO, executive speeches and presentations, news stories etc. Key themes that surface through these information sources can be immensely helpful when crafting your unique value proposition for your prospective customer.
Identifying the key decision makers and key influencers at your potential customer is critical at the outset.
There can be many people involved in making an important decision. You also want to make sure you are pitching at the right levels of the company. A lot of unproductive time can be spent with very senior executives who are so far removed from the process or junior level executives who are not in the position to make decisions or act as important influencers. That is not to say you should not be cultivating relationships at all levels as senior executives can provide explicit or implicit sponsorship of the initiative and junior executives can provide key insights- it is just a matter how you allocate your time. Once you have mapped out the key decision makers and key influencers, a calling plan should be developed and tracked that ensure that there is regular and constructive communication with those individuals.
A successful initiative often needs an internal champion- someone who is at a senior enough level and has the credibility to make it happen on your behalf. A champion should percolate to the surface if your value proposition is resonating with the potential customer. Once identified, that champion should be given the support they need to objectively assess and validate your value proposition so they can confidently make the case internally on your behalf.
The best managed vendors are in regular high quality contact with their potential customers even if there is not a contract being awarded in the near term.
Regular interaction provides key opportunities to develop close relationships with the decision-makers and influencers in the company. More importantly, it is a channel of communication that provides a valuable opportunity for the vendor to listen to the customer. Priorities can change on a regular basis in a large company. Regular dialogue provides an opportunity to refresh yourself on your customer’s objectives and priorities and reinforce your company’s value proposition.
Each interaction with the customer should be substantive and progressive- an opportunity to take the discussion to a deeper level. It is important to respect and value your customer’s time. Invest the time in advance of a meeting to develop key messages or insights that would be of incremental value to your customer. While social interaction through a dinner or golf game is important for developing deeper relationships, you will achieve the most traction if you can help your customer achieve their objectives.