Qualifying tenders and sales opportunities #WiredBrekkie

On 19th October, we ran a Breakfast Session on ‘Delivering the Perfect Tech Pitch’ and invited a panel of experts to share their knowledge on pitching and answer questions. One of the speakers was Alick Mighall, Managing Director at miggle; a content management, web development and consultancy agency specialising in Drupal. Below is a guest blog post by Alick, expanding on his #WiredBrekkie presentation.


Alick MighallAs a small business with no real dedicated sales, marketing or biz dev functions, it’s essential that we don’t waste time chasing the wrong sort of work. So we have to make sure we qualify inbound opportunities effectively. If we are going to pitch against other suppliers for work, then we need to ensure that we come first. If we qualify correctly then we increase the chances of that happening.

If an inbound lead doesn’t come with clear expectations set around scope, budget and timeline, then we need to ascertain what those are. If it’s not clear how many suppliers we are competing against then we need to ask. Ideally, we even want to know who we are competing against. Does the brief tell us enough about the client and the project and demonstrate that they have a clear understanding of what they need? Finally, we need to know what criteria and process is the client going to use to make their decision. Is price the key criteria for example? Is it a written proposal with shortlisted agencies going to presentation?

If we don’t get clarity on all of these points, then we’ll respond, not with a ‘No’, but with a ‘We’re interested, but…’ And then we are looking at the following:

  • If the scope isn’t clear, or the budget not set, is there a chance to sell in a discovery or scoping phase to establish these?
  • If the scope clearly exceeds what can be done for the budget, will the budget work if the time to deliver can be extended?
  • What is driving the deadline? If it’s a ‘we need it done by the end of our financial year’ deadline, that’s often just an accounting issue that can be mitigated. Maybe we bill against a phase 1? Maybe we hold their funds for them? If the deadline seems unrealistic for a supplier it can often be unrealistic for the client – and it’s fairly easy to point that out.

The ‘who are we up against’ and decision criteria are also really important. When I ask for the names of whom exactly we are competing against I justify it by saying that if you tell me now that I am up against X, and I think X is better for your project than me, then I will tell you now and save us all a lot of time. That is preferable for everyone, compared to finding out that we lost to X at the end of a process, when we could have told the client at the start that X were a decent bet. You should never, however, use this tactic to slate the competition.

This tactic also dovetails nicely with the qualifying criteria. Let’s say you run a 10 person agency, and you are competing for work where 70% of the decision is going to be based on price: it would be useful to know that three of the five suppliers you are up against are freelancers. You’ll never beat them on price. But it will give you an opportunity to talk to the client about how an agency’s higher cost reflects the resilience they are able to offer that one person can’t, and how this limits risk.

When you have all the answers it’s time to trust your gut instinct. If you don’t think you can win it, or it doesn’t seem right, steer clear and save yourself the time and effort of a failed pitch. But if you think it’s winnable, then go for it. By asking the right questions you’ve increased your chance of coming first.

Of course, you may come second, which is the worst place to come, because you get zero return on a process that you did enough work to win. At that point, it’s essential you ask for feedback. While I’ve never changed a client’s mind at this point, I have often been able to point out where the factor that we lost out on represents an area of risk that I think the winning bidder has not properly considered. That is because I often think, when we lose, that we lose to suppliers who told clients what they wanted to hear, rather than what they needed to know. If you do that, and you’re right, you may find (as we have) at a later stage that the client comes back to you when the project is in tatters. You’ll never get this opportunity at all if you don’t qualify leads in the first instance with a view to winning – and if you don’t ask for feedback if you come second.

Finally, I’ll close by saying the fit is also critically important. Is the work a good fit with your portfolio, your strategy and your skills? Culturally, are they the sort of client you want to do business with. Whatever it is they need to get, do they have staff that ‘get it’? And if they don’t, is that a blocker?


Check out our roundup of the session’s key points here.

Wired Sussex Breakfast Sessions are monthly events taking place on Thursdays from 9.00am – 11.00am at The FuseBox. These events are designed to be very practical and to give you access to expertise and knowledge that will help you and your business. The next session will be on ‘How To Be a Thought Leader, and Why You Should‘ (23rd November).

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