How to win your next contract

August 11, 2010

Think back to the last contract your firm didn't win. Can you put your finger on why you lost? Did you bid too high? Not enough experience? Politics? Wrong bow tie? Tacky blouse?

The real answer may be found in "The Inside Scoop: Proposals and Interviews from the Client's Perspective," by Marcy Steinberg, president of Cynosure Communications, Tucson, for the Society for Marketing Professional Services. Her 122-page report analyzes the results of an extensive survey of developers, universities, hospitals, public agencies, and other A/E/C clients as to what they liked and didn't like in professional presentations. The findings are eye-opening.

Clients want to hear less about your qualifications or processes and more about what you're going to do for their specific project. Your presentation should demonstrate knowledge of the client and the project. As one respondent put it, "I would rather they spend time concentrating on how they will meet our needs and show their knowledge of the project. If you eat up a lot of time with references and testimonials, you are losing a chance to tell me what you can do for me."

Another respondent described a losing presentation thus: "One firm presented the entire architectural process from programming to construction administration in more detail than the AIA Handbook. Project-specific issues or concerns were not identified in any manner."

Yet another faux pas: "Once an architect came in, sat at the table, and said, 'I'm so-and-so. What do you want to know?' It left everyone cold." In fact, clients made it clear that "chemistry" is often the deciding factor in their deliberations. As one respondent told Steinberg, "I look for people skills. I want to know how I would relate with them."

Here's a sample of what Steinberg calls "particularly egregious bloopers":

  • "Someone said something very inappropriate — a gender-based comment. I couldn't believe it. You need to remember this is a business relationship, not a group of friends around a coffee table."

  • "Began by asking what the committee wanted to hear. Committee expected them to be prepared."

  • "Don't try to snowball a little experience into a lot. Be up front."

  • "Be realistic on quotes. We know what it will cost. So if they say it's a lot less, we think, Wait a minute, we know you can't do that."

  • "We want to hear the personal experience of specific people assigned to the project. Often firms will try to dance [around] that, talk about firm experience, be vague about roles. This also becomes obvious."

  • "Monologue got extremely boring, lost most [committee] members."

Recognize yourself or someone from your firm in any of those scenarios?

Okay, so you don't make sexist jokes or drool on the carpet. Assuming you can do the basics, what do clients really want in your presentation?

Steinberg says the answer is contained in one client's statement: "We're looking for the firm that has done the most research, and has the best rapport with us."

Post that message by the coffee maker. It could help you win that next project.

To order "The Inside Scoop," contact: SMPS, 703-549-6117;


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