Friday, November 21, 2014

Writing Competitive Pitches #EvangelistGuide

Once upon a time, people would have discussions with one another and argue the finer points of The Beatles Vs. The Rolling Stones, beer vs. wine, blended vs. single malt scotch, or is Eric Clapton really God? Should we be in Vietnam or Korea, or do we colonize Mars? iPhone vs. Android, Jobs vs. Ford, 72' Dolphins vs. anyone.

But the fun and good times eventually give way to serious business discussions at work when you are in sales, and now you not only need to have a good argument, you also need to know information, not the type your Google search, but real data and details. As much as you can recite every word in your favorite song or poem or The Princess Bride movie, that is how prepared you need to be when you get into these discussions.

Except when you won't. Then you may freeze up and do what I try to train every salesperson in the world NOT to do, which is lie to the customer. You make up stuff that even Vizzini would call BS on, but you get away with it because you think the customer knows less than you.

Your customer is not so stupid. You might be, though.

If you can't say, "I don't know the answer to that question, but I know someone who does, and I will get an answer for you by ..." you are not a great salesperson.

What does this have to do with writing competitive pitches? Evidently, quite a lot based on some I have been reading lately. They are the equivalent of lying. Not Competitive pitches.

I will admit, if you are in a strong and dominant position in your market, you probably do little competitive work because you do not need to. Yet. You will because:

"The thing I worry about is some guy in his garage
inventing something I haven’t thought of."

Bill Gates, Microsoft

For everyone else that is in second, third, fourth, or tenth place in their market, you need to do competitive position papers and research. Salespeople will think of it as handling objections, but it is more than that and less at the same time.

What do you need to be in the competitive space? You need to...
  • Be a strong improviser. You never know what will be thrown at you.
  • Have international or at least regional knowledge to understand the nuances of culture and other influences on people.
  • Know about your products/solutions and the competitions inside and out. Like Sun Tzo (Vito Corleone for you nonreaders) said, "keep your friends close but your enemies closer."
  • Read, listen, and watch as many things as you can on topic and off-topic, so you have more angles to work with when involved in different industries. (Your examples should be just as relevant and helpful as your knowledge)
  • Be fearless.
  • Not be arrogant.
  • Have friends in weird, odd, far out, and local places that you can reach out to at random times and days.
  • Have a sense of humor.
  • Think like an executive or an assistant or a CFO or the person on the 4AM support shift.
  • Know you will not win every discussion, and that is okay. Really. It is.
  • Think out of the box, especially when revisiting clients you already saw. No one likes repeats.
  • Wear a black suit. ( Just kidding)
If you have all of this, you can start to work on your first pitch or presentation for a product or solution...or against one. 

Once you get the slides and presentation done, then you can move up to writing white papers or bigger efforts.

Finally, you can get to the big leagues and go speak to people in person and do battle. It is a battle, of wits, just like in The Princess Bride. The stakes, not a princess, but potentially millions of dollars on the line.

Wits, not geek-speak. If you are involved in development competitive situations, you may have no other way to do this, but geek speak, but since I am not a developer, I will let others who know this field better provide some details or links.

Wits mean you do not go pointing out "we have a one-click interface" or an "open status bar" unless that is all you created. 

You want to aim higher.

Set your goals in alignment with the executive you are meeting with and what they need. CRM, project management, payroll, whatever it is, there are numerous ways to point out the benefits of your solutions without reverting to geek speak. 

You must speak the executive's language, finance to finance, marketing to marketing, sales to sales. Meet them on their terms, not yours. Don't sit in their seat, but if you walk into a conference room, do try to take the seat at the top of the table. Mind games are fun, even if meaningless to you at the time.

Take time to think about your answers, especially when presented with unknown data. Ask more probing questions, find the nugget they hide and let them know it is okay to let you see and hear about it from them, in their own words.

Never put down your competition, Microsoft likes to use the term "legacy" on every other company's products, yet mysteriously they never say that about their own, which are now quite old as well. You can say our competitors do this or that, but we take a different approach. I know, I sound like the startups pitching to VCs, but they learned fast the need to differentiate themselves from the competition. Which is what you should be doing as well.

If you are the only person writing these types of documents, you MUST, I cannot stress this enough, you MUST get input from people inside and outside your organization in order to provide well thought out documents. The last thing you want is for someone to rip your doc apart and start something like FUD Buster Friday posts to show how bad your work was on the topic.

A follow-up post in this #EvangelistGuide series will look at various ways to build a competitive pitch. Until then, if you need someone to help you with your competition, my consulting fees are reasonable, and my time is flexible.

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