“Anytime you find someone more successful than you are, especially when you’re both engaged in the same business – you know they’re doing something that you aren’t.”
― Malcolm X
A view on competing part 1 was more general.
Some useful <hopefully> thoughts for just competing in the everyday business world.
Part 2 is more specific.
I think it has more to do with competing in a business to business service world.
Because I have worked at and with advertising agencies this will most likely delve into their world more so than any other industry … however … having met and worked and discussed competition in a variety of industries I can tell you that advertising agencies could teach a lot of businesses about sales and presenting and , in general, competing when you are pitching against other businesses.
And I opened with the quote I did because far too often … at least in the advertising & marketing world … we looked around seeking the ‘something you aren’t’ and under the guise of simplicity we focus on one thing.
Just frickin’ silly.
As a reminder … I said this in the general ‘competing in business part 1’ post:
Any time competing for business is on a time continuum <i.e., it takes time> there are multiple variables which can affect the outcome … being impacted by multiple variables <called multiple participants> … being impacted by multiple environmental variables which can change the very ground you were standing on just a minute ago to mud.
Competing in business is … well … maybe a formula … but a unique formula every time in that while there may be larger basic ‘to do’s’ <like make sure you maintain contact> winning is often in the sometimes random nuance in the formula. A nuance that can often be frighteningly elusive <until afterwards when agencies tend to look back and go “wow, that was it … we need to make sure we do that every time’ … which is inevitably the kiss of death to the next win and that nuance>.
Competing is never about one thing.
Let me repeat that.
Competing is never about one thing,
It’s a bunch of little things interspersed with <hopefully> something big on occasion.
But you have to grind on the little things. And grinding sucks. it sucks so much that to build some enthusiasm some leaders start calling them ‘big things’ so they look more important.
They are important.
They just aren’t big.
And it never <ever> works to call something little big. People see through it so fast you cannot even get the words out of your mouth before someone is calling bullshit on it.
Competing well is not only about the grind … it IS seeking the bigger things <when opportunities arise> … but it is also about realizing the majority of competing is about the little things.
Let’s call it the blocking & tackling … or the nuts & bolts … or the non glamorous part of competing and winning. I don’t really care what we call it. You just suck it up and do it … or you don’t compete.
So here are some things I have seen as useful ‘to do’s’ when competing <and winning>:
– In general … the more you are prepared the more likelier you are to win.
That may sound pretty basic <it is> but far too often in our hectic schedules we say things like “we know our stuff … let’s just be natural and not over prepare’ or say ‘too much overthinking and we will talk ourselves out of the right thing to do <which is normally the first thing we think of>”.
As with everything … it’s about balance … and preparation. I say preparation because oddly … there is almost an inverse relationship to preparation and naturalness. What I mean by that is the more often you prepare well … the less time you will actually have to invest over time … and the more natural you will end up just … well … being who you are and what you are good at.
Let’s call that ‘being natural.’
So I imagine I am saying rehearsing equals being natural.
– Face to face meetings.
Companies will always say the final decision was determined by the thinking or the work or the articulation of the ideas or sometimes even the price.
Choices, decisions and selections are supposed to be rational based on professional measures.
Unfortunately they are lying <okay … they are being nice>.
Prospective clients are exactly like consumers … they can often make irrational decisions and value intangibles more than tangibles <once you have quasi-checked the tangible box for them>.
The reality is that they decide mostly based on the people … ah … but not ‘likeability’ but rather ‘respect.’
Far too many experts <and business people in general> confuse ‘trust’ with ‘likeability.’ They say things like ‘I like them and I trust them to do the job’ as to what determines the choice.
We all like to be liked … but … well … this is business.
People who are only liked get fired.
People who are respected get shit done <and are less likely to get fired>.
My advice here is very different than most ‘experts’ … they suggest ‘casting is important and make sure you have a team they can like in front of them.’ Well. I say that’s bullshit. I don’t want an unlikeable team but I suggest you first & foremost put a smart team that can solve business issues in front of your audience and tell them their goal is to earn respect <and hence trust> in face to face meetings.
If they earn the respect … trust me … they will be liked.
By the way … earning respect doesn’t mean being arrogant … it means … well … earning respect.
How do you earn respect?
I apologize to whomever gave me this following list of questions and thoughts because I cannot remember who it was and where it came from … but I use it all the time to insure we can check the ‘respectability box.’
Make sure you can answer these questions and suggest these things and I can almost guarantee you will earn respect:
Can you bring together the best minds to assist the business
Can you organize chaos … instantly
Can you bring a constant stream of ideas to the table
Can you reasonably quantify the potential of the ideas you bring to the table
<so you don’t waste my time>
Can you manage existing partners efficiently around any idea you share
Can you marshal deep understanding, complete confidence and a plan
Do you know how to justify doing nothing, or not doing something
<as easily as you can justify doing something>
Are you prepared to help us run the gauntlet of our own organization
Can you bring a third party relationship to the table <and are you comfortable doing so>
Can you be scalable and can you prove it
Are you ready to expand your focus into alternative tactics and communications options
Are you willing and can you afford to know more about us, our industry, our audience … and can you avoid lumping us in with other clients and solutions
Can you act like a partner <and prove it rather than just say it>
Can you be an expert project manager
Can you be the group that best understands the whole and not just the parts
Can you be an advisor and idea resource <not just for things you do>
Can you be objective in the marketing process
Can you know the audience <cold>
Can you provide the criteria for success
<note: even if they do not seem relevant to a specific client or project … I can tell you if you check these boxes for any and all … they build value and respectability>
– All face to face meetings are part show.
Companies often insist on picking a partner after one or two short meetings. This means every contact matters. Each face to face contact needs a … well … reason. A strategy, a story/message, a theme, a script, a designer, a logistics manager and the proper casting.
But, mostly, a reason.
The net impression of the each contact … yes … EVERY contact … has to feel like it was worth the time.
– It is about ideas not executions.
Frankly, ideas are much easier to present in an engaging sometimes more entertaining way. But more importantly … an idea can be executed so many ways your head will spin. Therefore … focusing on executions is silly.
When you think about ideas remember these things <and point them out because they are thinking these things>:
Business changing ideas win.
Idea centric tactical thinking beats tactical thinking.
Ideas involve the client <and lets them drive components>
Owning an idea means that you can own the outside relationship a client already has
<which invariably benefits the client also>
Give as much emphasis to the idea platform as the cosmetics you put on it
<executions and creative tactics>
Drive tactics and executions from the core sales interaction point out
<if it is a mobile technology tactics should begin from mobile>
Make ideas tangible by showing how you would measure
– Don’t avoid any elephants in the room <ever>.
Fact: almost every room has an elephant.
Fact: ignoring an issue not only will not make it go away I can guarantee you it will dog you every step of the way when you want the audience to be thinking 100% about something other than the frickin’ elephant you wish would make itself invisible.
Fact: A prospect will talk about it <the elephant issue> amongst themselves.
Fact: If you don’t give them the argument for why you’re right, don’t expect them to come up with one.
Truth <fact>: embrace the elephant <or it crushes you>.
For example … if you’re small and you think the client wants big, then overtly address how you’re able to deliver what the big guys can and more <and vice versa>.
Fact: never … NEVER … lie.
Shit. Don’t even stretch the truth. It may sound good to you but it never sounds good to them.
Face it … if there is an elephant in the room it is most likely there because of some truth. Honesty and authenticity trumps any white, tinted, gray or elastic lie.
To prosper soundly in business, you must satisfy not only your customers, but you must lay yourself out to satisfy also the men who make your product and the men who sell it.
Surveys show that money & finances are the biggest friction issue in new marriages.
It is the same in any client & partner relationship business.
The majority of clients don’t mean to mislead partners, but often what the client has in mind for compensation doesn’t match with the partner’s point of view.
There can be a variety of reasons but it almost always comes down to not agreeing on the scope of work and the amount of time it takes to do something.
And also the value of the output.
Value prior to implementation is ALWAYS different than value after implementation <hence the reason I am a big fan of compensation tied to results>.
I will haggle over a purchase price until it almost seem irrational … but I will pay almost anything once I have used it and it has made me happy, brought me success or whatever positive outcome you can insert here.
It’s always okay to ask about the client’s philosophy about compensation. It is always easy to talk about money … because while it seems like it shouldn’t be easy … no one wants to get to the altar and find out they cannot afford to get married.
It will either be used by you or against you.
Suffice it to say that being quicker usually wins over protracted considered approaches. The sooner you act, the sooner you can make what you’ve created into a better idea, a better presentation and a better … well … everything.
In addition … I always remind people that time has a strong relationship with expectations.
The shorter the time … the lower the expectations.
The longer the time … the higher the expectations.
Give me lower expectations every time.
Give me shorter time every time.
My point? Quit bitching you don’t have enough time. Little time actually works in your favor.
– Connect outside the presentation.
Find as many ways as possible <in a relevant meaningful way> to connect with anyone and everyone at the prospect company.
Ask to ‘stop by for a cup of coffee to ask a question’ even if you have to fly somewhere to do it.
Use the phone if in-person contact can’t happen.
The more someone hears from you the more they’ll be thinking about you.
The more you actually talk with someone the more knowledgeable you get.
Here is something to ponder … up front contact is sometimes more important than presentation content.
Send agendas ahead of time.
Share credentials with the executives beyond your direct contacts <just be careful you aren’t seen as ‘going around’ the decision makers>.
The more the company knows about you the easier it is for the selection team to select you.
The more they know you … and what you plan on saying … the easier it is for them to engage with depth rather than shallow interactions. Yes. It can be a little riskier in deeper waters … but shallow is … well … shallow.
– Disrupt <or seek a disruptive moment>.
Some experts call this ‘give them a surprise.’
Frankly … when I think about surprises I mostly think bad things. Most surprises are unexpected in not a good way. I typically call this my ‘no surprise theory.’
Always give them thorough, accurate responses to their brief or to someone’s problem.
But you should always be seeking the disruptive idea, or thinking, they weren’t expecting.
Be unconventional when you see an opening.
Here is a truth.
If it weren’t for disruptive ideas & thinking they could do it themselves. Always seek to show and say and do some … well … epic shit.
– Balance simplicity & complexity.
I differ from many of the ‘experts’ on this subject … most everyone else says something like ‘simplicity rules.’
The entire idea that you’re supposed to be able to simplify everything down to a ‘nugget’ seems silly to me. Silly in that some things just cannot be encapsulated into a sound bite or a :30 elevator speech or something like that.
Making the complex understandable is very very different than making something simple.
And people get this confused … a lot.
I am all for simplifying whenever possible. But I believe you get more points for admitting when something is complex and not oversimplifying it.
Oversimplifying when inappropriate is demeaning to not only the challenge but also to the people who are faced with it day in and day out.
– The battle of attrition or details matter <a lot>.
Because contact time is often quite limited during a purchasing decision process even the tiniest things take on huge importance and eliminate you. Every part of every contact needs to be completely planned and executed with care.
Get your website right.
Script your phones calls.
Script everything, in fact.
Sound ‘not natural’?
There is a time to be ‘human’ and make ‘human mistakes’ but this isn’t the time. Be human once they have decided you passed all the detail tests.
– Listening and responsiveness.
This may sound silly but … well … make sure they know you listened.
Play back what they said and what you heard.
Give clear responses to specific requests.
Never ignore questions <even if they are stupid>.
First. Listening is a sign that you’ll be easier to work with.
Second. If you show you listen … well … that increases the odds they actually listen to you. This is called ‘mutual respect.’
By the way … you want that.
– Being smart versus being right.
This is a tricky one … and is often like a high wire act.
Clients hire outside partners because they tell them what they believe is right even if you know they don’t want to hear it.
You can do that because there’s mutual trust.
During a new business process you haven’t earned that trust level yet.
So, being contrary, even if you’re right, is unlikely to be a great strategy for winning if that is the only thing you do.
You have to make it clear you will tell them not only what they want to hear but what they also should hear … and need to hear.
Hence the high wire act.
Personally I suggest two things:
<1> if you are 80% contrarian to whatever it is the client is believing or doing … you may not be a good fit for them. You may be actually what they need … but that much contrarianism is typically a sign of lack of chemistry … if not lack of respect for business acumen.
<2> seek the ‘disruptive’ contrarianism. I will speak about a disruptive idea later but the reality is that most things just aren’t worth fighting over … but … there are typically one or two things which can truly make a difference. Ah. And make a difference for their business AND your business. By that I mean if you can shake the etch a sketch on these couple of things you will actually be able to DO something that matters.
– Being smart versus being right (part 2).
Part 1 being said, in a 4 horse race no one cares who finishes 2nd, 3rd or 4th.
All that matters is who wins.
Finishing second is worthless and not a moral victory.
“What does it mean to be the best? It means you have to be better than the number two guy. But what gratification is there in that? He’s a loser—that’s why he’s number two.”
― Jarod Kintz
And sometimes straightforward honesty will make the difference between being the second choice and being the first choice.
In the end they are truly seeking an insight or an idea to solve whatever problem they had to generate seeking a partner or a solution.
If you don’t make a stand for what you believe they will have no idea what you do stand for.
They can do that themselves.
You will not win.
The best big multi-million prize presentation I have ever been part of was 44 minutes long. Rehearsed to 45 and delivered in 44.
But let’s say that if you deliver a 1 hour presentation and everyone else is at 2 hours you will be remembered … and most likely appreciated.
You are almost never measured by the quantity of stuff presented.
And don’t forget.
That’s why there is a question & answer period in any big final meeting.
If you didn’t say something they truly wanted to hear, trust me, they will ask.
– Being human <and humor>.
Presentations are tense.
For everyone … you & them.
The more relaxed stuff that happens the more they’ll be relaxed <which means they will listen more> and the more they’ll think you’ll be easy to work with.
People like to see you, and the team, is human.
Humor is one way <when it is not forced> but team chemistry is always the best.
I hate when some expert tells you ‘how to be human.’ That sounds frickin’ crazy to me.
Go back to dating and relationships. We all know it and have the experience. Do what is right for you to get beyond the tense portion to the relaxed portion.
– It’s often more about how you say it than what you say.
I have stated this so many times people are tired of it.
I have seen so many good ideas die because they were presented poorly I just want to cry <a lot>.
Content does matter. But in a flurry of meetings, sometimes stretched out over a period of time, people will remember very little <mostly because smart competing companies tend to end up “dancing” in the same space>.
What most clients will remember is the people and how they delivered the messages and ideas. A presentation should be written carefully <thoughtfully> … podded <pieces of the whole should be able to stand alone> and delivered well.
Bottom line … do not confux people.
– Everyone in a room matters.
Everyone deserves the best from ‘the actors on stage.’
Presenting while staring at a senior decisionmaker is a sure way to piss off everyone else.
Some people are more important than others. But at least acknowledge everyone.
My presentation style trick <tactic>?
I shift my focus to the person for which what I am saying is most appropriate to. This actually helps me as a presenter because it increases the odds I actually get a ‘head nod’ acknowledgement from the audience which, as a presenter, at east creates the illusion of some link to the audience.
– You’re always on stage.
How you sit, whether you look at the presenter, whether you smile, and whether you look like you like each other matters.
You need to realize you’re on stage even when you’re just sitting there.
Don’t leave the room.
Don’t look at your phone <and make sure you have it turned off>.
Don’t pick your teeth with the client’s business card.
And the hardest part.
Pay attention to who is talking like it is the first time you have ever heard it <even though this may be the 10th time you have heard it>. If you don’t look like you care why should the client pay attention.
I had a past boss who called this ‘the full Nancy.’ If you ever watch an old speech from Ronald Reagan you will always see Nancy Reagan sitting to one side looking like she is hanging on every word good ole Ron was saying <even though she had probably heard the crap before so many times she could shove him off the podium and deliver it herself>. You figured if Nancy cared you should.
Always give ‘the full Nancy.’
Yes. You have to rehearse.
<yes. you have to rehearse>
No one would ever think of putting on a play without rehearsing.
Of course everyone is embarrassed to do it. And senior managers never like to practice in front of their subordinates. But rehearsing is the only way you can get comfortable enough with your part of the content and especially with what the rest of the team is presenting.
They hear your words … you hear their words … you will actually change how you say things … and they will change how they say things.
But … in the end … it makes you better.
Two, that’s right, two, rehearsals should be the minimum.
– Don’t wait for a response after a meeting.
Sometimes a prospect will meet and make a decision immediately after the last presentation. Most don’t.
That gives you time to react to issues that came up, time to add a new idea that maybe should have been considered, time to get any influencers into action.
Don’t ever <EVER> do anything that even smells of desperation … but also never be afraid to take one last shot.
– Instincts part 1.
And act on them.
In the course of presenting and talking to the people at the prospect you get vibes and signals. The tendency is to only focus on the positive ones <they loved our idea!>. But, without overthinking paranoia, you reflect upon some glimpses of evasion or a lack of desire to talk of meeting again …. the honest answer is that you’re losing and they don’t want to face you.
You have some choices:
wait and face the inevitable
get out <pull out of competition>
get going and break the rules. Do the unexpected. Change the team, show an idea you had put aside, do something based on their presentation responses <as long as it is insightful and not pandering> because, in the end, you have nothing to lose.
– Instincts part 2.
In trusting your instincts … stop worrying about what you cannot control. The internal politics, what other companies may have said, things you didn’t say or present, etc.
Stop worrying about them.
Its paranoid energy.
Focus on what you presented and how they responded. Just because the day has come and gone has not made you an idiot.
You thought about what you presented and it is typically a good idea <whether they recognized it or not>. If you presented good thinking then stick with it. Waffling at any time is unattractive … but particularly at this stage of the competition.
As you can see … competing incorporates a bunch of little things. Little things that can become big things if you overthink.
As with part 1 … I will suggest that competition is very very rarely about the competition … but rather it is about you.
How you focus on yourself, be yourself and not overthinking yourself.
Ponder this quote and have a good day competing <and winning>.
“A man comes to measure his greatness by the regrets, envies and hatreds of his competitors.”
— Ralph Waldo Emerson