Winning work starts long before you send the quote. No matter what your business, how you present yourself before you have the chance to quote will determine what you’re asked to quote on, and whether your quotes succeed.
This article looks at how your business can make sure its set up to win quotes before they’re even made. It draws on the experience of team Qwilr.
What does team Qwilr know about this?
Given that Qwilr’s business is about helping people win more work, we now spend every day thinking about just that. Before we started working on Qwilr we held a range of roles that made selling part of what we did. Dylan worked as freelance web designer for clients including Saatchi & Saatchi and the Victorian Government. Mark worked in business development at Google, working on partnerships across Android, Search & Play in both Australia and the US. Steve worked on proposing for – and the execution of – multi-million dollar consulting projects at The Boston Consulting Group.
Establishing your brand and value proposition
Align your brand and value proposition
It’s important to begin by observing that your brand and value proposition are very tightly related. In other words: your brand (logo, designs, language choice etc) expresses signals about your buisness and what customers might expect from you.
At a minimum, the two cannot be in conflict. The Qwilr team has written before about a small business whose website branding made them seem so expensive that we didn’t even ask them for a quote. If yours is a value business, make sure your branding gets that point across.
One reason to do this is that you don’t want to scare off leads by seeming expensive or too exclusive. But equally, responding to any lead comes at a cost to your business. So it’s not necessarily a bad thing if your branding turns away customers you can’t, shouldn’t or don’t want to serve.
Know what work you want to do, why, and at what price
Aligning your brand to your value proposition is important, but it won’t give you a value proposition if you don’t already have one.
Whether or not you’ve consciously chosen it, your business has a value proposition. Even if your attitude is that you’ll do any job at any price, that is itself a value proposition.
Keeping a conscious eye on your value proposition is important because it will shape how customers find you, how you pitch to them, and how they react to your pitch.
Steve recalls a Partner at the Boston Consulting Group telling him that at his previous consulting firm they had a resolute policy of not discounting their (very high) prices. He reason: they were a boutique consultancy. They weren’t large, but they build their brand and value proposition around working only on the most important and strategy projects. They reasoned that by maintaining high prices they could ensure they only worked on important projects. After all, customers wouldn’t pay top dollar if the project wasn’t important.
Mark reflects that Google is a remarkable example of brand consistency. Despite offering different products with different business models in different markets, they manage to unite it behind a consistent identity. This, Mark observes, is no accident: there are hundreds (if not thousands) of staff at Google employed across the world to build and maintain this brand.
Make it as easy as possible for you to collect and qualify inbound leads
Once you’ve put your business out there into the world, it can be difficult (and potentially expensive) to generate inbound leads (i.e. potential customers that find you without you having to find them). That means once you’ve managed to get someone to your website, facebook page or listing, you need to make sure you don’t lose them before you have a chance to make your pitch.
Do not put up barriers to potential customers speaking to you
We spoke earlier about the importance of using your branding to focus on getting the type of jobs and customers you want. Assuming that’s working well (or even if it isn’t) it’s crucially important that you don’t make it difficult for customers to contact you.
This means you should give people multiple options for contacting you. Do not only offer a ‘contact us’ form on your website. That forces your customers to communicate the way you want them to. No one uses contact us forms for their business or in their lives. Don’t make it a condition of starting a conversation with you business. Let people communicate the way they usually do: via email, over the phone or on social media.
Be able to quickly tell whether a lead is worth pursuing
Now it’s true that not all leads are worthwhile. But that’s not a reason to annoy legitimate leads by limiting the ways they can get in touch. It’s a reason to have a strong brand that filters your leads before they contact you and it’s a reason to develop a quick ‘thanks but no thanks’ response enquiries you can’t help.
In his time as a freelance web developer, Dylan found that saying ‘no’ to work was one of the most valuable things he could do. His value proposition was about doing great design and development work for large clients on large projects. Great clients tend to lead you to more great clients; mediocre ones to more mediocre work. Being able to quickly – but politely – turn down jobs that didn’t fit that saved him the time associated with serving clients that didn’t fit his business.
One way Dylan achieved this was price transparency. He made it clear in initial emails what his minimum job size was. For clients that were looking to spend less than his minimum it ensured they – and he – didn’t waste time further pursuing the deal.
Once you engage leads, work to understand the problem they want you to solve, and offer to solve it
To craft a successful quote or proposal, you first have to understand the problem the customer has, and why they think you can solve it. You will win more work not by answering every RFQ, but by putting forward a solution to a customer problem.
Take the example we’ve written about before of our attempt to buy business cards. We initially asked for quotes for embossed cards. We thought that would give us cards that looked particularly professional. We received back quotes that weren’t in our budget.
In the end, we didn’t buy embossed cards, and we didn’t buy cards from any of the printers we contacted. It turned out that our ‘problem’ wasn’t “we need embossed cards”. It was “we need cards that look professional and meet our budget”.
Printers who just responded to our quote didn’t win our business. But a printer that showed us that they could solve our problem differently did. They made an attempt to understand the problem – not just the request – and helped us solve it, which won our work.
Steve saw the same thing as a consultant at the Boston Consulting Group. It was rare that BCG’s projects focused on delivering an outcome the client asked for. Instead, the firm invested a lot of time in understanding the problems a client was facing before they made a proposal. If a client said “profits are down, help us redesign our marketing function to fix it”, BCG’s approach was to say “let’s understand why profits are down, and what the solutions are” rather than “here’s how to redesign the marketing function”.
This approach does two things. First, it shows your clients that you care about their problem and their business. Secondly, it positions your business as a trusted advisor and provider of solutions, rather than a transactional contact. No matter what your business is, that is a status you should aspire to.
Recap: Win before the quote with a strong brand, fast engagement with leads and an investment in solving your clients’ problems.
Make it clear what work you do, why and at what price.
Make it easy for customers to contact you and easy for you to quickly find the real prospects
Understand your customers’ problems and explain how you’ll solve them