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Who has the power?

I attended a recent conference hosted by the Association of Professional Design Firms, the title of which was “Win Without Pitching.” Its base premise is this: if you control the relationship, your need to “pitch” or respond to RFPs will be greatly reduced. It was an intriguing two days that revealed much about our current approach to new business as well as existing clients.

Stop being a waiter and start being a surgeon

Everyone likes good waiters. They respond to every beck and call with a great deal of deference. There is no question who has the power in the waiter-customer relationship.

As a sales organization we tend to be waiters – wanting to please our prospects, do what they say, when they say. Fetch more water.

On the other end of the spectrum are surgeons. Most people don’t like surgeons. The stereotype tells us they are arrogant, self-absorbed, unfriendly with a terrible bed-side manner. But, and here is the catch, I don’t hire a surgeon for her bedside manner, I hire her because she is expert at what she does.

Can you imagine sending out an RFP for brain surgery? Can you imagine a waiting room full of surgeons with PowerPoint presentations patiently awaiting their chance to pitch their services to you? The image itself is funny.

We have our own form of expertise. Developing a website well is technically challenging. Knowing and understanding the quirky nature of website visitors is specialized knowledge. Balancing the Web experience against the growing number of devices used to access Web sites is difficult. Designing a relational database at the third normal form is critical. The list goes on and on, yet we often sit patiently in the waiting room, armed with our PPTs.

Taking control

The Win Without Pitching conference was all about taking and retaining control by exercising your status as an expert. I will again use the surgeon analogy. A surgeon doesn’t cold call you, you seek him out. He begins by performing diagnostics, both subjective (tell me where it hurts) and objective (ordering an MRI). He researches your case and prescribes an expert course of treatment. He’s very busy, but may be able to schedule your operation in three months. He is a consummate expert in complete control.

I have no doubt as to our expertise in our chosen field. We are the surgeons. But, that expertise has often taken a back seat to a prospect-is-always-right approach. We do whatever we can to win the business, without a critical eye towards whether we can do our best work. We jump at RFPs even though they are poorly conceived, happy to follow the maze for a chance at the cheese.

But, interestingly enough, it turns out that we are much better at being experts than we are at being waiters. Our best, happiest and most productive clients did not start with an RFP for a laundry list of pre-determined features and functions. They started with a simple request. This is our problem. Help us solve it.

To us, there is nothing more powerful.


Updated 07/14/10 @ 11:11AM CDT by brian

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Categories: Business Sales