12 ways suppliers screw up the selection process

12 ways suppliers screw up the selection process

Pitching ain’t easy – and it’s good to be lucky – but just in case, here’s 12 ways to be smart. We took a look at how clients make a mess of things when selecting a supplier, so thought it was only fair that we cast our eye over the unforced errors that suppliers make when pitching for work.

Some of them might sound blindingly obvious, but we’ve seen them enough times to know a checklist of “what not to do” could be handy.

Guy Kawasaki – we’re still sorry.

  1. “Unfortunately, those dates don’t work for us”.

Fortunately, they do.

Because you are in the client service business, and you’re going to show it by not putting yourself and your schedule and your needs first.

You’re going to say “yup, we can do that” because your diary is not your client’s problem.

  1. “We really understand your business”.

No, you really don’t.

You really understand your business, because that’s what you do all day long.

These guys, they’re in their business, and they live, breathe and sleep it all day every day because their livelihoods depend on it.

You’ve done some desk research, you might be or have spoken to some of their customers and you’ve got a specific perspective and outlook that will be valuable to your client – but you don’t know how to manufacture clothes, or design cars, or develop vaccines.

So have a little perspective and humility before you start your lecture on the client’s business, and remember that your input is one of many competing considerations for a client.

Need help clarifying your strategy? Learn more about Trigenit  

  1. “We’ve won agency of the year 5 years in a row working with Apple, Nike, Picasso and [a deity of your choosing]”.

Your reputation precedes you – it’s why you’re in the room – but that’s all.

If you’re going to bring up case studies, be sure they’re wholly pertinent and fully quantified – pictures and stories are nice, money saved or earned is much, much nicer.

They say “you’re only as good as your last piece of work”, and they’re wrong – you’re only as good as your next – so stop telling people how great your work was for other clients, and start showing great work for this one.

  1. “We really think we should show this to the CEO”.

Congratulations! – you’ve just implied that your client is incompetent to make their own decision, and indicated that you know nothing about what their CEO actually does. Double-whammy!

The CEO has to worry about building factories, pricing pressure, regulatory compliance, managing his supply chain, protecting against cyber-attacks, taking over a business or simply making payroll.

They delegate functional tasks. They may well be interested in your work but many suppliers would be amazed to learn that the CEO isn’t the default decision-maker. The good ones will tell you they don’t make many decisions at all.

So let your work and thinking speak for itself, and wait until you’ve earned your invitation to meet the client’s boss. At which point your only role is to make your client look good.

  1. “We’re really passionate about your business”.

If you feel you have to say so, you clearly aren’t; if you are, you don’t have to say so.

E.g. “I’m a funny comedian.”

There is nothing more attractive than interesting people who are enthused about what they’re doing – they’re people you want to spend time with. There is nothing less attractive than shameless pandering.

It’s hard to be super-enthused about everything, and honestly, not everyone is that excited about juice, or curtains, or plumbing, or trainers, or cars, or technology.

But if you don’t love the product, love the problem – it’s what you’ve chosen to spend your life doing.

Failing that, get a different job.

  1. “I’m going to be really hands on your business”.

Says the MD / ECD / TD / XD.

And they know they’re lying.

And more to the point, so does the client, because they are reasonable, well-informed professionals who understand how the supplier business works, especially marketing communication agencies.

So, don’t pretend, or embellish, exaggerate, dissemble, or lie (because that is what you do when you state a premeditated falsehood).

Be straight and honest – present the team who will work on the business, and have them play their respective roles.

If they’re not up to it, get a new team, but don’t be baiting and switching – you’ll get a rep.

  1. “We just want to take some time to tell you about us, and what we do, and how we do it.”

OK – that was quite a mouthful right there, and that was just the intro.

Fact is, unless you have crossed rocket science with brain surgery and come up with a new way to slice bread, your reel looks a lot like every other reel, your method is pretty much the same as any of your competitors, and your history is as interesting as everyone else’s.

None of these will be a differentiator.

So yes, please check those boxes – but be brief and to the point, and get on with talking about your client’s problem, because that’s why you’ve been invited to this party.

And make sure you are crystal clear about what you do. It’s amazing how many clients ask to know more about you, but are left none-the-wiser about the substance of your offer.

If the client brief says they want an agency that can build “Websites and Apps”, and you say you “leverage insights for digital product creation,” don’t be surprised if the client leaves a little bit confused and disappointed.

  1. “We really want to challenge this brief, because…”

Because we like to live dangerously? Because we believe our own PR? Because we really are holier than thou?

Understand your own motivations. If you are challenging the brief positively and progressively – engaging with the business problem or uncovering a new perspective rather than showboating – well and good.

But tread very carefully – a lot of time and effort has gone into the brief, and clients are reasonably well informed about what they’re about – as we mentioned, it’s how they put food in front of their children.

And if you’re going to this, do it early on, and roll it back in fully if it doesn’t fly – you go to work on the task you’ve got, not the task you wish you had.

Learn more about Matthew Treagus, author of this article. 

  1. “Why did they ask for X, when they really wanted Y?”

Because briefs change, needs change, stakeholders disagree, and because shit generally happens. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do about it.

Interrogate the brief – thoroughly – ask a lot of questions to understand the motivations and challenges underlying the brief to identify the critical question that the business is asking itself. And then answer that brief.

Meet the client – ask to take them out to lunch, arrange a chemistry meeting, get them on the phone, send them a note with some nice crisp questions – engage with the person to understand the problem.

Float some stuff – what’s wrong, and why, points out what’s right.

Getting some course correction as you go will set you on the right track.

  1. “We just had a lot to say”

Which means you didn’t have enough structure and control.

It is important to show your workings and research and thinking, but not to obscure the wood with the trees – you need to distil and refine the message until it’s clear and impactful.

It is necessary for everyone to have a role, but it’s not necessary for everyone to answer every question – pick a speaker for each subject area and defer to them.

It is OK to just let the client speak – you don’t need to agree, or interject, or rebut, you first need to listen, then think, then reply – or simply agree.

And PowerPoint isn’t Word sideways – people tell stories, not words on a wall.

  1. “They were just disengaged and dismissive.”

Which is another way of saying they were rude and unprofessional.

Remain polite, state your case with clarity and conviction, own it, thank them, leave and then thank them again.

Ask for honest feedback and seek further clarification – but don’t try to litigate any of the points raised. Sit down in a cold dark room and ask yourself if their feedback is right.

Be professional – it’s your profession. Your reputation remains intact, and you can think twice about working with them at any future date.

  1. “They just didn’t understand (how right we were) / They made the wrong decision”.

Maybe, but it takes two to tango.

If you were right, and you couldn’t clearly explain why, that’s not their fault. And if you weren’t right, well, you weren’t right.

And maybe you were right, but someone else was righter, or just as right, but cheaper and a little bit nicer.

So let’s just assume that the client is best placed to compare solutions, and that they are competent to make a decision based on the information they have to hand.

So – be clear, be straightforward, be enthusiastic, be honest, be smart *and* be lucky.

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