Monday morning bright and early David Junior, a senior manager with a big firm of accountants, bounced into his office full of enthusiasm and vigour.
Why was he so happy his colleagues wondered. Had he won a lottery? The pools? Struck oil in his backyard?
Nothing so grand happened, but something which in David’s mind could be equally significant in determining his future. He had discovered a major new business opportunity for his firm and managed to get in on the act.
[This is a 3-part fictional series on conversations between a manager and his Sales ‘Mentor’. Read what unfolds…]
He knew that in the current business climate new business was high on the partners agenda and bringing in this opportunity would not go unnoticed nor unrewarded, or so he hoped.
Without hesitation David rushed off to his Partner’s office to announce the good news.
David’s partner was Alan Mentor, a wise old sage for whom David had great respect and affection.
Alan had always been supportive of David’s career and had sponsored his last promotion to senior manager.
As ever Alan’s office door was open and he was busy behind his desk. As he looked up he could not fail to notice the twinkle in David’s eye. He put his pen down and sat back in his chair and enquired
“So what makes you think you are so smart first thing on a Monday morning? Scored some more brownie points I’d guess.”
Alan Mentor always seem to have the knack of knowing what is going on in someone’s mind before they have even spoken.
Momentarily knocked off his stride by Mentor’s sudden remark, David slowed down the pace of his walk. He drifted over to the window of his boss’s office.
As he looked down at the bustling streets below he quietly announced “Well it just so happens I have got this firm in on the ground floor of the prospect of the decade”.
“That sounds interesting” retorted Mentor in a half hearted mood mocking David’s attempts at being low key with his news.
“Interesting! It is more than interesting” he snapped “It’s fantastic. It could be the start of something truly significant for this firm. If we win this job then sky is the limit with this crowd. They spend big money with a whole array of advisors right now and we could take a big slice of that if only we can get a toe-hold. And this time I have got us in with a real chance.”
“Sounds great! Why don’t you sit down and tell me all about it?,” Mentor said.
“Well this weekend at the golf club, we were playing against a team from Nuwood. Well that evening in the bar after supper, I got talking to the financial controller of Big Co who was in their team. He told me that they are looking for an auditor for a due diligence. They don’t want to use their auditors because of some problems they have had with them recently so are going to go out to tender. Well, of course, I told him we had done that for Wee Co recently and it had worked really well. He said he would put our name forward for inclusion in their tender list today.”
“And?” prompted Mentor “what else did you find out”
“Well that is it. We are to get a chance to bid for this project!” said Junior emphatically
“So what happens next?” Mentor countered.
“Well I guess we wait for the tender to arrive,” David responded with a hint of astonishment at Mentor’s line of enquiry.
He had after all been anticipating lavish praise for his efforts and initiative.
“And when will that be?”
“Fairly soon by the sounds of things,” David said.
“And how soon is fairly soon? This week, next week, next month?,” Mentor asked.
David Junior’s expression was visibly changing to one of exasperation but Alan Mentor obviously had a purpose in his questioning and he was not the sort of man who would be put off his stride.
“You see David if we knew the answer to simple questions such as these we would know if we had time to do anything to increase our chances of success”
“Oh I get it you mean getting our bid team ready and briefed”
“Well that could be part of it but before we do that is there anything else you can think of which we could do just now which would increase our chances of success?”
“I could review the job we did for Wee & Co to identify the key benefits they got so then we would know for sure what to put into our proposal to big co”
“Perhaps. But that is not really where my thinking was focused. What else could we do?,” Alan Mentor said.
“I suppose it would be useful to know a bit more about big co. May be pull their company accounts and do some desk research on them. Review any recent press coverage. Phone up a few contacts who may know about them. Then we could anticipate how complex the job may be,” suggested David hesitantly.
“Indeed, and use that insight to demonstrate to big co that we have done our homework and know something about their business.”
“Yes. That will impress them.” David was regaining his enthusiasm now that he had recognised what Alan was doing. Far from putting him down he was helping him work out what to do to win this business. ‘The wily old fox’ though David.
“Well that sounds like a reasonable starting point but how much time do you expect this research to take?”
“Not really sure but there is no point in doing half baked job. Not if we are serious about winning. I’d have to guess a couple of days in total may be including a couple of lunches to pick people’s brains.”
“That is a lot of time and commitment.”
“Wait a minute, you are the one who is always saying that we need to put more effort into the early stages of our bids.”
“Yes I am and I mean it. You can not expect to be successful at the end of the bid process if you have missed elements at the start. But I also want to ensure that the time which is invested in this activity is well spent. What I don’t want is people doing a lot of work chasing shadows. So how confident are you that we are going to be invited to tender for this job?,” Mentor asked.
“Well the Financial Controller said he would put our name forward today and he seemed like a reliable enough chap.”
“Does he have the authority to do that? Who makes the decisions on this project? Who else is on the tender list? Surely we should understand a bit more about what is going on before we commit two valuable days preparing?”
“I see your point. So what you are suggesting is…”
Alan cut him off “I am not suggesting anything. I am only asking you to question if you are doing everything you need to and in the right order.”
“OK.OK. So I should be certain I can get to the first milestone before setting off on the journey.”
“I could not have put it better myself. Now how can you do that?”
“Well I suppose I could give Financial Controller a call and ensure he meant what he said.” said David reluctantly “But I don’t want to appear pushy” he added.
“Of course not.” replied Mentor ” But merely asking for confirmation of a discussion in a courteous manner should not cause offense. Not unless the person is uncomfortable with the commitment he has made and is not intending to follow through on his promise. And if that is the case I would rather know that right now than in two weeks when we have spent time, got our hopes up and then nothing materialises.”
“You are right. I’ll go and phone him straight away.”
“Hold your horses David. Lets think this through before jumping in at the deep end. Is there anything else you would like to get from the phone call, assuming it goes well and he is putting our name forward as promised?”
“Well..,” David paused and though for a few moments “It would be nice to get to know a bit more about them, about him, their business, the project, the competition, who will be evaluating the bid and how much they are expecting this to cost.”
“In one phone call?,” gasped Alan raising his eyebrows.
“I guess it is rather ambitious.” David agreed with a big grin.
“Not to mention intimidating for the Financial Controller whom you have only just met. I know times have changed since I was a lad but I still think one should ask for a dance before asking for a kiss. Remember you are the one who is talking about this leading to long term prospects with big co. If we are to achieve that we need to start developing quality relationships now. So the way we go about gathering the information we need is as important as the facts themselves. What we need to do is work out the key things we need to know right now to decide if we are in with a genuine opportunity and then if we get those confirmed we can enquire about how we find out the rest.”
“So when do you think I should give him a call?”
Alan sat back and contemplated for a moment. “Let’s give him time to get his feet under his desk after the weekend and time to actually put our name forward. After all it is unlikely to be the first thing on his agenda this morning. So perhaps after lunch time would be best. In the meantime you can consider what you want to get from the phone call. Why don’t you give some thought to that this morning and we can reconvene at lunch time over some sandwiches and review you plan.”
“Yes for sure. Thanks Alan that has been really useful.” David turned to go with a spring in his step. Just as he was leaving Alan called “By the way David did I remember to say well done? Well Done! Your effort and initiative will not go unrecognised.”
(This is a three part fictional series on sales conversations between a manager and a partner’s firm.)
(Dougie Beck, is director of Spacetime.co.nz. He is a well sought after sales training coach for organizations in NZ. Feedback:email@example.com.)