Why did you or your company get that big contract, that important order or that great job most recently? Did you think about that? Did anyone at the company really think about it? I bet the answer to is “no.” But you must, because understanding why you deserved to get that business is the key to seeing your strengths from the perspective of customers.
You can also think about why you deserve to win, but I prefer to emphasize the positive aspect of it, because it avoids excuses (for losing out) and points the way to other, similar opportunities.
Avoid the quick answer: We gave them the lowest price. That may be true, but often price is not at the top of the decision list. (I know, customers try to convince you that it is, but that’s just a negotiating tactic in many cases.)
Was it the quality of the product or service you provided? Was it the speed with which you could respond to their needs? Did your product or service have some unique or innovative aspect that made it more desirable, even if the pricing was at parity? Or was there a relationship between people that influenced the decision. Human preferences are often influenced by the desire to work with people they like or that they trust (usually one in the same). Or was it convenience? Did you just happen to be at the right place at the right time?
Something happened to me decades ago that I have never forgotten. I used to buy a lot of brass rod for my employer to use in its factory. We had long standing relationships with two brass mills, which shared our business. A new area sales person called on me one day, representing another brass mill. It was an acceptable, good quality mill, but we had just never bought from it, so we really didn’t know the people or the company’s competence very well. I decided to let this energetic young man tell me why I should give him some of our business.
Since I had limited time, I told him to keep his “story” short. He proceeded to tell me that he’d need several visits to tell his whole story, to which I assured him that if his story was “interesting enough,” I’d grant him another appointment next month, and then I’d do it again, if he convinced me I should. He started by showing me samples and statistics to convince me that their company could meet or beat all of our needs in the area of quality and service. In fact, its service was actually faster than one of our current suppliers.
The next month he described how they could process smaller orders with faster turnaround. As each month went on, he built on his story. After several months, I asked him about pricing, which he had not mentioned. I assumed that faster delivery of smaller lots and competitive quality would have a cost premium. It didn’t. His prices were very competitive: not lower, just about equal to our other sources.
One day he asked if I would be willing to come see his facility and let him buy me lunch. I agreed to the trip (it was a modest drive away), but declined on the lunch. He had already spent a lot of time with me and not even seen the first order for anything. I was very impressed with what I saw. It was a clean, well-run, orderly plant. The people I met there seemed competent and pleasant—but then I was a “prospect.” On the way back to my office, I asked him directly about how he justified how much time he had spent on me without so much as a single order.
His answer stuck with me to this day. He said, “I wanted to convince you and show you that we are a very viable supplier, and one that deserves a shot at your business.” I asked him if that was all. He went onto tell me “I wanted you to become comfortable with me—with our relationship.” To which I asked if that was all. He said one more thing. “I will be back every month for as long as it takes, because one of these days, you will have a need, and I will just happen to be around at the right place at the right time. Then I hope to get that first order.”
He had been calling on me for almost a year by this time, and I asked finally, how long he was willing to wait for that first order. His answer was “Until you need me—whenever that time comes along. Because once we get the first order, you will be so pleased (and comfortable) with us and how well we handle it; you’ll give us another order. And then you’ll give us another and another, and someday, we will be your most valued supplier.”
He was right. Not too long after that we needed a quantity too small for our regular suppliers and we needed it fast—and he happened to be coming in the next day—so I gave him the order. He was right. They delivered great quality (better than our current suppliers), fast, in a smaller quantity than our current suppliers were willing to run, and it was right on time. Not surprisingly, I gave him another order shortly thereafter and it was every bit as satisfying.
In the next months, he got more and more orders, some of them larger ones that would have gone to our older, more complacent suppliers. They had pooh-poohed both him and his plant as some “newbie” who doesn’t know how the business works. But he did, and they did.
He knew what matters most—how the customer “feels” about a supplier. That hard to describe combination of quality, service, speed, price, flexibility/responsiveness and perhaps above all else, the relationship and trust.
In most cases, the reason you deserve that big order is a combination of these. Understand that and find prospects (and current under-served customers) and do it again, and again and again. And never underestimate the importance of being at the right place at the right time.