It is 10:00 a.m. on a Tuesday morning, and you and your team are pacing back and forth in the hallway of the university student center. Students pass you, some in a hurry to get to class, others laughing and enjoying a break with friends.
You are about to enter the presentation for a new dorm at the university. Your company has the experience; you have put together what you think is a good estimate and proposal. Now it comes down to knocking them dead with your presentation.
There is much resting on this project. It would be a great addition to your backlog; in fact, it is an essential addition to your backlog. As you wait, you wonder what it really takes to stand out from the competition in the mind of the customer. Your team has 45 minutes to convince the university that your company is the superior choice.
MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE
A presentation is more than a dog-and-pony show. It is the customer’s time to get a feel for your team and how well you understand the project from its perspective. You need to sell the project and demonstrate that you understand it in the detail and complexity needed to add true value.
The team that best can demonstrate those two things in the presentation is the one that typically wins. But what does it take to deliver a great presentation? Effective presentations start long before they are actually created. They start with strategy and pre-positioning.
In an effort to shield themselves from the risk exposures inherent in selection processes, owners have developed more sophisticated and comprehensive contract procurement methods. Résumés, approaches, project teams, schedules and a host of other factors now are given increased attention on qualification and awards. In addition to meeting these criteria, contractors often are required to package their selling messages into a formal presentation. When the selection process has reached the presentation stage, much of the aforementioned criteria have been commoditized among the remaining players. The presentation is your company’s opportunity to dissolve the client’s perception of comparability between you and the competition.
For work that requires a sales presentation, the rationale for resource commitment often is flawed. Contractors invest heavily in the “content” of their proposals. Though loaded with data, the strategy of winning, which should be the central message, rarely receives the attention that it deserves. Contractors will work tirelessly on the numbers, graphs and charts, thinking they will win purely on facts.
What if your project team had such a convincing sales message that it could sell a portfolio of medical office building projects to a health care provider looking to expand or renovate a midsize hospital? By creating a compelling sales message and articulating it via a well-planned and rehearsed presentation, you can greatly improve your chances of being selected.
KNOW THE COMPETITION
Customers buy in a competitive environment. Yours is not the only team in the throes of competition. In reality, it is your laser-pointer-wielding project team that convinces the owner to buy by making the project come to life. But the key is to do so with an eye on what the competition is likely to include. You must anticipate your competitors’ level of investment in the project and then beat the market in this aspect.
Competitors’ interests come in two primary areas: fit and resources. First, consider your competitors’ interest in the job by looking at how it fits with their strategic objectives:
- Specific client
- Geographic location
- Market segment
- Project type, size and location
- Backlog (needs/gaps)
- Core competencies
- Special project requirements
Resources are also essential:
- Project-specific research
- Bench depth of talent available
- Star talent that outshines the competition
- Cash and financial requirements
- Project funding
- Bonding and insurance requirements
- Delivery methods
- Contractual terms and conditions
- BIM and modeling requirements
GAME THEORY APPLIED
Winning begins long before you are standing in the hallway waiting your turn to present. It starts with how and why you selected the project to pursue in the first place.
Go/no go is the first branch in the decision-making tree of game theory applied to bidding strategy. A sound Go/no-go process should identify:
- Opportunities that are a good fit with your organization’s core competencies, within the context of your overall business strategy
- A general understanding of the resources required to win
“To chase or not to chase” should be discrete options. Halfheartedly pursuing an opportunity wastes overhead and destroys your hit rate. Either you believe you can win and commit resources to the pursuit or exit the game (see Exhibit 1).
Consciously or otherwise, contractors incorporate a certain level of game theory into their hard-bid strategies on a daily basis. Predict your competitors’ costs and margin thresholds and adjust your price accordingly to meet the market. Sound familiar? The game theory application for sales presentations is slightly different from that of responding to bid-and-spec opportunities. In a selling situation, decisions are based more on heuristics than numerical analysis. First, define your competition’s ability and commitment to win. Then, based on your company’s factors to chase a project, make a strategic decision to pursue the opportunity based on those assumptions. The intent is to rule out emotional bias or clouded judgment in designating resources to a chase.
MAKE YOUR MOVE
You absolutely need to have a well-thought-out presentation. Equally important is making sure that your team is ready to deliver it. The role of superintendents and project managers is crucial. Much of the presentation is resting on their ability to make the project real in the mind of the customer. Get the superintendents and project managers engaged in the presentation development process early. Too often, they are the last to find out about a presentation and have the least amount of information going into it. These people also tend to be the least comfortable in a presentation situation. Their discomfort can signal lack of competence when that is hardly the case. Very focused roles, well-rehearsed and made real with role-play involving interruptions and questions, can be helpful in overcoming presentation jitters.
Engage in robust practice sessions. Have your team dry run its presentations to tighten the message and add a bit of wow factor to its approach. Practicing will give the team more polish and confidence in how it comes across to the client. Do not let the team procrastinate getting ready. It is too easy to let the advance time slip past, forcing the “practice” to the car ride in route to the university student center.
It is obvious to a client which teams have prepared for the meeting and which teams have not. Clients perceive poor teamwork on a presentation as an omen for how your team will work together on the actual project opportunity. In other words, if your team cannot plan and prepare a concerted 15- to 20-minute presentation, what confidence have you given the client that you are prepared to execute a $15 million to $20 million project? If you are not willing to commit the time and resources to prepare a competitive presentation, you should exit the game before you waste overhead, embarrass your people and dilute your brand. Points of emphasis for team preparation include:
- Overall flow of the presentation
- Pace and cadence of the individual speakers
- Verbal transitions
- Physical handoffs
- Audio/visual choreography
SWINGING FOR THE BLEACHERS
When it comes to being selected, you want to be first, period. There is no honor in being second. Second and last pays the same, nothing. You have to take calculated risks to be first. You have to understand the project from the customer’s perspective. Know what is important to its team and to the customers it serves. You need to apply all your experience and insights to the project to be able to tell it why your team is the best choice.
Remember, project selection happens in a competitive environment. Your customer knows about your competition and knows their strengths, weaknesses and approaches. In order to beat the competition and be selected, you must build a compelling win strategy on the project, and that is done with an eye on the competition.
Today you have to give the customer a business reason to pick you. The recession has changed the way customers buy. The selection process is conducted with a team of people, all of whom have some input on who is selected. You have to provide them with a purchasing motive that will resonate in the boardroom long after you and your team have gone back to the office. You need a clear and compelling win strategy.
Win strategies are the reasons and logic provided to the customer that convinces it your team is the right one for the project. The most effective presentations do not wait until the actual demonstration to share the best stuff. Look for opportunities to pre-position information, relationships and ideas. Win strategies, at a minimum, need to answer the following questions:
- How are you the same as the competition?
- What makes you uniquely different?
- What are you offering that ensures a successful project?
- What innovative ideas do you have?
- How can you prove it?
Do not stop with a solid win strategy. Remember that your project managers and superintendents are essential to the presentations. They are going to help make the project real in the mind of the customer. Have them present concrete ways they are going to overcome challenges on the job and make sure the project is successful. Unfortunately, project managers and superintendents are frequently excluded from presentation practice sessions due to their busy schedules on other projects. Whoever is leading the chase should be responsible for providing the project team with the tools, information and preparation time needed to deliver an effective presentation and win the job.
Contract procurement methods have become increasingly comprehensive. Work acquisition in today’s markets often requires more than just being a solid contractor (i.e., safe, on time, under budget, high quality). Focus on the differentiators that set your firm apart. Build a selling message around those advantages that align with your customers’ business needs. Next, design a strategy for how your project team will communicate that selling message in a presentation and support that strategy with appropriate levels of resource commitment. Keep in mind that commitment of resources is a cost to your organization that you cannot bill. To avoid ballooning your overhead in the name of presentation preparedness, hone your go/no-go process to eliminate projects that you are not serious about pursuing, and quantify what the appropriate level of investment is for the projects that you do chase. A more focused effort on fewer projects will result in more wins, fewer disappointments and, ultimately, a more cost-effective strategy for chasing work.
Cynthia Paul is a managing director with FMI Corporation. She can be reached at 303.398.7291 or via email at email@example.com. Tyler Pare is a consultant with FMI. He can be reached at 813.636.1266 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.