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Do They Deserve to Work With You? Qualify Your Next Best Client

Chances are, you’re thinking about attracting new business. We’re not mind readers. We’re just thinking about this, too. Where will the next lead come from? Which leads fit our business? How do we cross-sell more services to the clients we already know and love?

The following six questions can help you start the conversation — or improve it — around RFP qualification to support an intentional growth strategy. Choose clients who really deserve to work with you.

“Is this our best client?”
Consider the relationship you have with clients who make you happy to do great work. Compare that relationship with what is promised by this new opportunity. Request a meeting to discuss the RFP. You can do this over the phone if you know the prospect, but if you don’t, try to set up a face-to-face meeting. This will show that you care about client relationships and are serious about their project.

Some prospective clients won’t provide information beyond the RFP while others will share your questions and their answers with all the competing firms. Research the RFP by asking the prospective client about their pains and how the project will solve them. It helps to have sales questions designed around your firm’s key competitive differentiators in order to highlight why your firm is the best choice. It also helps to have a clear idea of who your best clients really are in terms of industry, decision-making power, expectations, budget and opportunity for additional business.

“What is the project?”
The details of the project may or may not be well covered in the RFP. This is another reason to call the prospective client. The project may or may not fit naturally with your existing portfolio. If it’s outside of your sweet spot, find out how important “relevant experience” is to the client. In the case of something new or unique to your firm, ask yourself if a project is in a market you’ve been trying to crack. Don’t waste time pursuing the project if your business potential in this new market is low.

“What is their budget?”
You know your value. If the budget of the client doesn’t fit your pricing, don’t cheat yourself unless you truly believe there is some promise of more work. Talk to prospects about where they see the project taking your relationship.

“When do they want the proposal?”

Be realistic when considering deadlines. Look at your existing projects and ask if you have time to develop a thoughtful response. Don’t provide the client with a proposal that is full of canned answers. It will just put your response in the “no” pile. Ideally, you need enough time to deliver the first proposal they see. Never show up last to the proposal party.

“Do we really fit the qualifications?”

Make sure your firm fits the criteria of the client. If these preferences are hinted at, but not completely stated, create a strong argument for why you are the firm for the project by highlighting what you bring to the table. If there is a way to find out who else is responding, this can also help you differentiate your strengths from the competition. The best way to find out is to ask.

“How can we improve our chance of winning?”
Showcase your key differentiators in addition to the qualifications requested in the proposal— particularly in the cover letter. Think about what you’re going to include and make sure it’s not something everyone else will say (i.e. under budget, professional, on time); you are explaining what makes you the firm of their dreams. These points need to be as unique as your firm.

Don’t underestimate the value of a well-crafted, professionally formatted proposal. Photos, stories, examples, numbers and case studies make your value real to them. Visual representations of your information (when allowed) such as org charts, workflow diagrams and formatted budgets also can set you apart professionally. Attention to detail should shine through in a well-branded RFP response.

Plus: Consider the cost of losing.
The average cost of one proposal in your world is likely unknown. Few firms calculate their average spend on the proposal process; they figure they’ll more than make it up in new business. These costs add up, especially if your win rate is average at best. Costs could include:
• Staff Labor – This includes every person who touches the proposal. Add billable rates, not just salary
• Material Costs – Physical materials, printing, computer use, photography?
• Travel Costs – Did anyone meet with the client beforehand in a mandatory or voluntary effort?
 Did you use a courier to deliver the proposal? Did you make a presentation?
Once you’ve completed the RFP response, calculate the costs of all of the above. Do this for each proposal your firm submits. I’m guessing it’s more than you thought it would be. You could invest that time and money into a project you don’t have a chance of winning, or you could invest it in productive business development meetings, cross-selling and lead generation.

Burning questions about your budget for growth? Call us at 651.690.3358.