Episode 172: Winning More Consulting Business—with Bob Wiesner
Deborah Zahn: I want to welcome you to this week's episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. So, this podcast is really focused on one thing, which is, how do you win more business? So when you have an opportunity in front of you, how do you increase the chances that you are going to actually get that business? And I'm talking to Bob Wiesner, he's from Artemis Partnership, and we dig into the nitty gritty of exactly what you should do, how you should think about it and what your approaches and strategies should be. So again, at the end, more of the business that you should get becomes the business you do get. So let's get started. I want to welcome my guest today, Bob Wiesner, Bob welcome to the show.
Bob Wiesner: Thank you, Deb, it's great to be here.
Deborah Zahn: So, let's start off. Tell my listeners what you do?
Bob Wiesner: Well, I am the managing partner of a firm called, The Artemis Partnership. We're a global firm and I have the reigns for the Americas division. Artemis is a firm that specializes in working with clients who are not happy with how much growth they're having, how often they're winning new business. And we can help understand for them why they might be in that situation and then consult with them or train them in various solutions that are designed to increase their win rates and improve the ROI on their new business processes.
Deborah Zahn: Love it. And we're going to talk about that winning of more business. And it certainly relates to consulting firms who are trying to figure out how to win more, as well as individual consultants, so all of this is going to be relevant. But let's start off. And I actually love that you start with this and we're going to talk about your book in a little bit. But what do consultants or consulting firms need to understand about who they're trying to win business from?
Bob Wiesner: Well, they need to understand that there's a who they're trying to win business from, and not a what that they're trying to win business from. We in the business who see this happening all the time are often just surprised, even shocked at how little attention is paid to the fact that there are people, human beings that are making decisions. And there are people that are reviewing options that they have, the different firms that they're considering. And that goes well beyond the technical specs that you're pitching, or the RFP if you're in a business that responds to a number of RFPs. So, what you have to know is first of all that there's a person there, or several people there. You have to recognize who they are. You have to be able to name them, and you have to get to know them. You need to know what's important to them, how they think, what their predispositions are, what are the political, and I don't mean red versus blue, but the internal optics, the internal politics of decision making.
Bob Wiesner: So many factors that define us as human beings, all of which come into play when choosing among providers for an important project. And that's what consultants really do need to be much, much more aware of.
Deborah Zahn: And I know a lot of consultants think it's their solutions. They think it's the cool things that they do. And that's really what's going to influence the buying decision. And you mentioned politics is one of them. But what are those things that will actually influence those human beings who are on the other side to say yay or nay?
Bob Wiesner: Well, you have to have a cool solution. We don't downplay that. But in our research, which we've been carrying on in one form or another since the mid 1990s, it pretty clear to us that having a cool solution or having a good price to your solution is just a little more than one quarter the way people really think about who they're going to select. It's the price of entry. It's the minimum requirements, but it's oftentimes not as compelling as the firms think it is in driving a decision. Instead, you have three other factors. We mentioned politics is one of them. That's upwards of 15 to 20%, perhaps of a decision. You have this thing we call chemistry, which is, do we get along? Do we like each other? Do we communicate well?
Bob Wiesner: We don't have to be buddies, but I'm going to turn it over to you a six, seven, eight, nine figure opportunity, I better at least be comfortable that we can talk together and solve problems. So let's call that chemistry. And the biggest one, which is perhaps a third of the decision is do you the selling organization, do you the consultant really understand me the decision maker? Not my RFP, I know we're starting to repeat ourselves, but do I understand as a seller what you personally care about? How are you judged? What do you value? What are you trying to accomplish? What are you afraid of? What do you aspire to? Those factors, which we think are between 70 and 75% of the weight in the decision are the ones that too many organizations in their pursuit of new business fail to recognize and certainly don't leverage to their success.
Deborah Zahn: Yeah, I do see they would flip those numbers and think that their solution is the 75%. And one thing that you talk about in your book that I think is really helpful is if you understand sort of really what that spread looks like. You get into trouble, if you think that what your solution is is so special and so unique that all you have to do is describe it, and that's going to ignite all of those other factors and that's going to get you a yes. How do you help folks get past that? But what we do is so special. Such that they're able to really get to a win and not just have the door slammed in their face.
Bob Wiesner: Boy, that's a really interesting question, Deb. How do you get them to become self-aware or aware of the surroundings, aware of the competitive environment that you're in? Well, first of all, we have our research that I gave you a sort of light version of. Wherever we've shown that to our own clients it becomes an eye opener. It really wakes them up. And they're now willing to agree that it's more than just the brilliance of the solution that's going to create a deal for them. The harder pivot though, for most companies is not what they have to do, but it's the how they have to do it. Their new business machine, their approach to proposals is really based around the technical aspects. Providing a technically sound well supported proposal with pricing associated with that. So, the harder pivot is based on just a lack of appreciation or understanding of, how do I find these things out?
Deborah Zahn: Yeah.
Bob Wiesner: I need to know the chemistry. I need to build chemistry. I need to understand them. I need to understand the politics, but how do I do it? That's not simple, but it's doable. And that's the kind of awareness that we want our people to adopt. The fact that there are mechanisms for uncovering these crucial, critical issues. And here's how you engage or employ those mechanisms so that you now have better information to base your pursuit on.
Deborah Zahn: Love it. I love it. Now, I know that process also matters tremendously. So you have to have those understandings. You have to dig to understand who your buyer is, what they care about. But for a lot of new consultants that process is a mystery of how they even do it. So, what do you think consultants need to know about the process of actually getting to a win? And I know your book goes into it in tremendous detail, but even just give us some highlights?
Bob Wiesner: Well, here's an interesting analogy that I can draw to the advertising industry. Which maybe some of your listeners are even involved with, even in a tangential way. But the way advertising agencies build their ads, their campaigns, is by placing initial emphasis on understanding the consumer. Who's going to buy this, and what do I need to know about them? Consultants should approach it the same way. Rather than be thinking of, "What do I do and how do I talk about what I do," you need to be thinking about, "Who do I want to sell to? Who is my potential buyer, and not just as a company, but as at least a type of person. Are they a human resources director? Are they as a chief information officer? Are they a CFO?" But some description of that type of person.
Bob Wiesner: And then follow that up with some hypotheses, at least probably educated guesses on what would they care about? What would a CIO care about? What would a CFO care about? What would a owner of an eCommerce site care about? What are some of the things that keep them up at night? That's an old cliche in the sales business, but it has validity to it. Start there, then think about how to match those specific needs to the attributes of whatever it is that you want to sell. Find those connections and create, I'll call them arguments. I don't mean that in a adversarial sense, but persuasive messages around that. So, you kind of start with that on a broad basis to think about our platform for going to market. Then as I start to interact with individuals, with real people, "Oh, I've got a lead over at AB company. And I happen to know that the HR director there has been there for 25 years and they've never changed the way they do their compensation program."
Bob Wiesner: All right, let's learn a little bit more about that HR director. How is that person thinking about compensation? What would prime that person to think about something different? What's going on in that business? Are they suffering from the great resignation? Are they feeling that employees are becoming more empowered in this day and age? There's a host of different areas you could pursue, but give us some thought and go through it. So it's an iterative process. Deb, you start with a broader understanding of who your target is. Connect that with some of the attributes of what you're selling or the expertise that you as a consultant possess. And then continue to fine tune it as you become more and more aware of specific people who comprise your list of potential clients.
Deborah Zahn: Love it. And I know you just hinted at it, but you also do talk about it in your book. Is often, and I get this question, is often there's more than one decision maker. And so it may be the chief information officer who has to bless it, but it's the CEO who has to make the buying decision. And there might even be upwards to a dozen people who have to say yay or nay to it. So, how do you help people think through, how does that actually work? Because they all might care about different things. So, how do then I talk about what I do or write on a piece of paper what I do such that it's going to resonate with those different folks who are part of the buying decision?
Bob Wiesner: It's going to be a challenge to find a single message that's going to resonate along a wider array of decision makers and influencers. But at the end of the day you don't win it based on a single message. No one out there is likely to come up with a line like, "Just do it," and that's going to work for every single buyer.
Deborah Zahn: That's right.
Bob Wiesner: What you're looking for are different messages to connect to different people. What we love to see, we're very visual. I'm certainly very visual. And as a company, we think that visualization is really important. And it's easy enough to do in the shared virtual environment, through Google docs or through whiteboards on Zoom. In the old days we set up rooms that were dedicated to a particular pursuit. And you can put flip chart paper all over the room.
Bob Wiesner: But if the purpose of it is to identify individuals by name and by title and by function, you might even build a map of some kind, we call it a power map, that connects these individuals. So you can see who talks to whom, who influences whom? Who could help us with someone else? But for each of these people you basically need to have a profile made. So, I've got Rich and I've got Shelly and I've got Tiffany who I all have to influence. Let me create three different charts for each of these three people and come to understandings about what each of them are going to have to hear from me in order for them to be persuaded that I have the best offer. Then I need to come up with a plan for getting those messages out to each of the three of them, so that I'm compelling them to vote for me or see me as the right provider. And I just continue to iterate that way. As new people are identified, profile them and message them appropriately.
Deborah Zahn: I love it. And the iteration process I'm a huge fan of. Because let's say you get into a room with someone or someone's, and then you start to see dynamics that you didn't know about before. And you start to see, the CEO isn't going to go anywhere their CFO won't go. And so that's when you have to fine tune those messages. And that's what I love so much about the iterative process of the power mapping as you start to sort through what's really going on. So I know, and again, there's a whole bunch of other steps, but when you get to a proposal. So proposal I've seen is often a really neglected part, even surprisingly sometimes when it's an RFP and the proposal's what even gets you in the door to be considered. And it becomes sort of a rote description of, "We do this, we do this, we do this." What are the things that takes a blah proposal and turns it into a winning one? What are some of those key things?
Bob Wiesner: Well, you have to be willing to go back to one of our earliest points, which is that these proposals are not being read by machines, they're being read by people. And interestingly, now you may have seen this in your experience, Deb, but in a lot of organizations the people aren't reading the entire proposal. What they might be doing is they might be tearing it apart. And I'm the CFO and on this selection committee, I'm just going to read the back part where the numbers are. And I'm the CEO on this selection committee, I'm just going to read the front part where the good stuff's supposed to be. What we like to do is we like to take both the entire document. We introduce the entire document with an executive summary, which speaks to the people who are reading it. Speaks to what they care about, not simply the technical aspects or the pricing that's in the proposal.
Bob Wiesner: Then what we want to do is take in the spirit of this thing, might get torn up and read by different people. Each section of the proposal would be proceeded by its own little executive summary. "Here is what you're going to see in the following pages. We are going to cover this, this and this. And the reason why it's important is because." So you've got some messaging there that is designed to reach out to the people who would care the most about what's written in that section of the proposal. Whether it's a technical description of your service, whether it's the pricing of your service, whether it's the overview of your background and your credentials. That executive summary that opens up each section is going to absolutely prime, the right people for receiving it the way you want it to be received. And those people who don't care about that section are probably not going to read it or give it much weight in the first place.
Deborah Zahn: That's right. I love it. And I was smiling ear to ear, which no one can see, but my husband, who's also been a writer and a reviewer of significant opportunities that came through an RFP process. He loves to say, "Never let anybody else do your cost benefit analysis for you." And so I love that right at the beginning, you essentially say, "Here's why this is important. And don't assume that they're going to connect the dots that you're trying to lay in front of them." I just, I love that. And you know I've also been a reviewer, so everything you're saying resonates with me. Because my general rule is, "Don't make me angry and upset when I'm reviewing by making it difficult for me to understand why you're fabulous. Make it easy for me to know why you're fabulous and why you're the right pick." I love that.
Deborah Zahn: So mindset, I know is something else you get into. Mindset permeates everything that we're talking about in terms of the folks who are trying to win the business. What do you think is important for those folks to consider a cultivating the right kind of mindset to get into the winning mode?
Bob Wiesner: You know, one of my most, I don't know if I'm using the right term, transformative experiences, was reading a book called Mindset by an author named Carol Dweck from Stanford. It was printed. I think it was published about 15 years ago or so. And it changed my entire outlook on business, specifically on this kind of services that we offer and the kind of people that we're working with. They distinguish between growth mindset and fixed mindset. Growth mindset is the healthier one, is the better one. Is the one to your question, Deb, that has you open to learning. Has you open to feedback. Has you open to the idea that we're not the only firm on the planet that can do what we can do, but there's others out there. Let's get some understanding about who they are and how they might be seen by our target prospects.
Bob Wiesner: So, the mindset that a successful business developer has and a business development team has, is one of, "We don't know everything. We want to learn more. We want to hear what our prospects have to say, both before the RFP is submitted and after we proposed." And maybe what the most important thing, and this then ties into other themes in the book is our mindset allows us to be what's called self-aware. We know what we're able to do, and we know what we're able to do not as well. And we know what we're not able to do. Therefore we can make smart decisions about what to pursue and what not to pursue. Or whether this is the right time to pursue something. Even though we know we could do a great job, timing may be off. So a healthy growth mindset, a high degree of self-awareness, which is also correlated with a high degree of emotional intelligence. All of these things allow business developers as individuals or as teams to make better decisions about how to pursue or even if to pursue. And that inevitably will lead to more successes.
Deborah Zahn: Yeah, yeah, it's funny. I actually had someone say to me once, because when I've responded to RFPs, my hit rate is in the 90s. And they said, "Yeah, but that's because you only go for things you could win." I said, "Yes."
Bob Wiesner: Exactly.
Deborah Zahn: That's where self-awareness comes in. But I go for things that I think I can win, or I've done it with teams where it's things we can win. And then often we've had such wonderful success that the client abandon doing RFPs after that, and just continue to hire us. But I knew we were a fit.
Bob Wiesner: That's the goal. the goal isn't even your win rate. The goal is not to have to compete at all. And to have people want to rehire you or to build relationships with people such that they have so much trust and confidence that they don't have to go to RFP.
Deborah Zahn: That's right.
Bob Wiesner: They just want to give you the business. And that really does happen.
Deborah Zahn: That's right. And if you deliver tons of value to them, I've had that happen quite often, actually. So yeah, and then you've lessened the business development expenditure that you have to put out to essentially get business in your hand.
Bob Wiesner: The best possible scenario for you, for sure.
Deborah Zahn: Love it. So, I know we've hit upon a few of them, but are there any other mistakes that you would love to never see folks make again? Like just scratch those off your list and don't do those.
Bob Wiesner: Oh boy, I don't think we have enough time in the podcast to cover all of them. Let me tick off just a few of them. And I might repeat a couple of things, but I think it's because it bears repeating. First of all, it's the inability to say no is the biggest mistake. We got a call not long ago from an advertising agency who asked us to help them win more new business. We asked them specifically, "Well, what do you think the weakness is? What do you think the issue is?" And they said, "Well, we want to get more RFPs." I said, "Well, then you came to the wrong place, because chances are that the more RFPs you get, the more pursuits you're going to lose.
Deborah Zahn: Yeah.
Bob Wiesner: You need to learn how to say no to RFPs so that you can then take the ones you say yes to and approach them with greater intensity, with greater effort, with more thoughtfulness, with building stronger relationships." So one huge mistake is the inability to say, no. Another huge mistake is the inability to extract feedback from your prospects. Minimally feedback on why you won or lost. And I said, why you won too, because we sometimes don't even bother with that. But even when you lose, Deb, you've certainly been in that situation. And perhaps as an RFP reviewer, you may have been a perpetrator even unwillingly to this. But too many firms hear feedback that says, "Well, you were a little too expensive. Or the other guys had a slightly better solution than yours. But please try again next time."
Deborah Zahn: I never let people off that easy.
Bob Wiesner: No, I'm glad to hear that. I didn't think you did. But I'm sure our listeners have all been in that situation and maybe they accept it as being all they can learn. The mistake is not probing deeper. The mistake is not trying to find out what they're really thinking, because I can guarantee you that in nearly every case, you weren't actually more expensive. Your price point may have been a little higher, but there's other stuff that went on that drove them to think that you weren't a value for what you were offering.
Deborah Zahn: Right.
Bob Wiesner: We'd even love to see you get feedback before the end of the decision. We'd love to see you ask for feedback, essentially says, "Am I meeting your expectations so far? How are we doing so far? What adjustments might I have to make to continue to be seen as a strong provider or strong partner for you?" So, a lack of useful feedback is another big mistake. And I think the third big mistake, which is what we've talked about already, but it definitely bears repeating is not going deep enough on the people who will be evaluating you. Putting too much emphasis on the brilliance of your solution. And it may in fact be brilliant, but not recognizing the fact that it's brilliant doesn't mean it's different.
Deborah Zahn: That's right.
Bob Wiesner: Because a lot of people have brilliant solutions. And the fact that it's brilliant doesn't mean you're going to win. But what makes your solution a winning solution is the fact that you've covered the other elements of that 70% that we talked about earlier. And it's a mistake if you don't acknowledge that and work towards it.
Deborah Zahn: Yeah. And I actually want to highlight the chemistry piece, which I was delighted when I saw you now talk about that in your book. And I've won business largely on chemistry before. You had to be this tall to enjoy this ride. Kind of like you had to have the basics that were going to get them the result they wanted. But I've had people who've just told me, "I just wanted to work with you. I thought we'd have a great time while we're achieving this thing." And I think people neglect that and lose because of it. So I love that.
Bob Wiesner: And they don't realize that they can actually influence that-
Deborah Zahn: Yeah.
Bob Wiesner: ... either. It's one thing for me to pitch against you, Deb, where the provider knows you, they don't know me. And if they select you, I could just shrug my shoulders and say, "Well, they know Deb, they've worked with her before. They like her. Of course, they're going to select her. Nothing to do with me." While there's a certain amount of truth to it, the other side of that coin says, "What might I have done to develop my own chemistry with that prospect? Why did I just allow myself to lose based on something that might have been 25 or 30% of the decision?" Perhaps even more than that. We talk a lot about how firms should approach the building of chemistry, the building of trust. And it is possible to do that. It is hard to unseat and incumbent, especially one who has a successful track record. But if you don't even try to establish chemistry, then you just worsened your odds tremendously.
Deborah Zahn: That's right. And a lot of companies and organizations are not monogamous when it comes to consultants. So you actually can figure out a way to have the right chemistry and present them with the right stuff to get in there. I love that. So what would you, this is this we're going to end on a positive note here. What do you want to see consultants just do all the time? And we've talked about some of them obviously think about the people part and that, but flat out, don't skip this. Absolutely do this piece.
Bob Wiesner: Build relationships with your prospects before they are actually looking for a provider. Identify a relatively small list of companies or people that you absolutely are certain you want to work with. And you could do a wonderful job with. And use your network or your marketing to create engagement with them. Not just get on their radar. But build a relationship and become well liked by them before they're ready to select somebody. If there's any prime directive for a consultant seeking to grow their business, that's where I would start.
Deborah Zahn: Yep. Relationships are primary. And by the way, for folks listening. Everything that we've talked about in terms of RFPs work for other type of business development you're doing as a consultant. All of these things still apply, whether it includes an RFP process or not. So let me ask you this. Where can folks find you? Because obviously you have a lot of gems and you have this fabulous book that I want folks to read, where can folks find you?
Bob Wiesner: You can find me on LinkedIn, Bob Wiesner, just look me up and send me an invitation to connect. Let me know that you heard me through Deb's podcast and I will be delighted to connect with you. And of course we'll talk. You can also find my company, The Artemis Partnership with its own company page on LinkedIn. And thank you for mentioning the book. The book is called Winning is Better: The Journey to New Business Success. It's available on amazon.com and exclusively on Amazon, paperback or Kindle edition. So go check that out on amazon.com. And if you do have a chance to read it, please let me know what you think. Winning is Better.
Deborah Zahn: Yes, and I will say that I did read it and loved it. And I specifically loved that you would talk about a concept and then you would give real-world examples of how folks actually worked with that concept to get to a better place. Loved that part of it.
Bob Wiesner: Well, thank you very much. I appreciate that.
Deborah Zahn: So let me ask you my last question, which you know is coming. So, how's that balance working for you in your life, however it is you define that?
Bob Wiesner: Well, for me, balance occurs when I feel like I've had some personal time, however I choose to devote that, that I've been able to engage in every day. And then the rest of the day as I've planned can be business wise. Now that personal time might truly be for myself. I plan my trips to the gym every day. I'm wearing my gym clothes right now, as you might be able to see. I am devoted to I'm being on the phone with my kids and my grandkids a certain number of hours of the day. So I have to stop work so I can join my wife and we can talk with them at dinner time. So by carving out this personal time every day, I know that I will have done what makes me happy, what brings me joy and helps me live a better life. And then I can devote myself to business without second guessing or without feeling guilty about it. One other tactic, which works for me and might not work for everybody who's listening. But I don't have my first meeting every day until 10:00 a.m.
Deborah Zahn: Nice.
Bob Wiesner: I block out my calendars that my Workday starts at 10 and my Workday ends at six. Now that's for meetings. I might be sitting at my desk long before 10:00 a.m. doing paperwork or after 6:00 p.m. for the same reason. But no calls before 10 or after six. And that makes everything, both the personal and the business go a lot better.
Deborah Zahn: Wow. I might adopt that not before 10. I got to say it's always tough. Especially Monday mornings you got a 9:00 a.m. meeting that can be tough. I love that. Well, Bob, thank you so much for joining me on the show. This has just been filled with so many helpful things for folks who are trying to get business.
Bob Wiesner: Well, thank you, Deb. It's been fun. I've enjoyed this. I would love to do it again someday.
Deborah Zahn: Absolutely. Thanks so much for listening to this episode of the Craft of Consulting Podcast. I want to ask you to do actually three things. If you enjoyed this episode or if you've enjoyed any of my other ones, hit subscribe. I got a lot of other great guests that are coming up and a lot of other great content, I don't want you to miss anything. But the other two things that I'm going to ask you to do is one is, if you have any comments, so if you have any suggestions or any kind of feedback that will help make this podcast more helpful to more listeners, please include those.
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