Guerrilla Intelligence Dont Pull Strings

If you have relationships either within or outside the client's organization that could help you in a cattle call, use them cautiously. Trying to subvert the standard bidding process by sidestepping a task force is a good way to get disqualified from the project and from future work for the client.

Responding to a cattle call is expensive. It takes time and effort to supply the laundry lists of detailed project specifications and consultant qualifications that most RFPs require. And, if you make the first cut, you usually have to get through a labyrinth of additional qualifying steps before the final decision is made. If you do win the project, a formal protest by a defeated consultant could delay the project and add to your costs.

Some consultants don't respond to any voluminous RFPs. Others submit generic letters about their qualifications and offer to discuss the project requirements with the decision makers. This tactic rarely works, so make a decision: Either jump into the RFP process with both feet or let those projects pass.

Since RFPs are usually issued for actual, funded projects, it can be foolish to walk away when you're qualified to deliver what the buyers need. But before you respond to a cattle call, carefully evaluate the investment you will surely have to make.

If you don't have any higher priority opportunities, respond to the RFP. Then advance through the process step by step and demonstrate why you are the safe and solid choice. Unless you know influential task force members, you probably will not be the preferred choice. In most cases, your RFP response will be scored mechanically on a spreadsheet that ranks you with other bidders. Understand the evaluation criteria and the scoring system so you can tailor your responses accordingly.

The following three rules will help you stay in the running:

1. Answer each question precisely as requested in the RFP. Make all your responses concise, easy to read, and relevant.

2. Keep your answers brief, but responsive. Make sure you meet every requirement set forth in the RFP.

3. Load up on references, testimonials, and pertinent case studies.

Cattle calls are hard to win, and negotiating fees for such projects can be just as difficult. Guerrillas prefer to use their resources for more likely wins. But if a cattle call project is directly in your area of expertise and you don't have any other leads to pursue, it's at least worth a try.

► Proceeding When There's No Money

In their work with clients, observant consultants often spot ways to help with other projects. In some instances, a project is identified, the client wants to do the work, and you are qualified, but there is no budget for the work. It may seem like a long shot.

Even when no funds have been earmarked for consultants, money can appear like magic if you have a good idea and a strong relationship with the decision maker. Tb secure funds for a project, work with your client to build an airtight case for how the project benefits outweigh the completion costs. Don't hard-sell the project; let the ratio of benefits to costs speak for itself.

When a project is their idea, some consultants agree to do the work and defer payment until a later budget cycle. That is not a good plan. Instead, ask to be the sole source provider of the service once the project is approved and funded. If the relationship is solid, many clients will agree.

A CEO asked a consultant for an organizational assessment of the planned restructuring of a company business unit. The consultant agreed to do the work "on spec," with payment to be made in the subsequent fiscal quarter. After six consultants worked on the project for two months, the company's board of directors sacked the CEO. Despite valiant efforts, the consulting firm was unable to recover any fees for its work.

Too many unknowns exist to work without payment. Your key contact, the executive sponsor, or other essential personnel, could relocate, leave the company, or be fired. A new management team could decide to take the company in another direction, its stock might dramatically slump, or a huge deal might fall through.

By helping the client build a strong case for the project, you can strengthen your relationship, generate goodwill, and position yourself for the future award of a project that you helped design.

► Trumping a Small Firm

Competing against a smaller firm is not a slam dunk. Many small firms have highly specialized senior practitioners who have built close personal relationships with clients—giving them the inside scoop on projects. Often, smaller firms have lower overhead costs so their fees can be measurably less, yet they can deliver quality comparable to or better than that of large firms. And clients often feel that they get more attention from smaller firms.

If you are part of a large firm, ignore smaller firms at your peril. For some projects, it may make sense for big firms to collaborate with smaller competitors on proposals. Joint efforts can fill service gaps for both firms and give clients better results. Consulting industry expert Fiona Czerniawska says, "I see a growing trend amongst clients to switch away from the mega-deal with one consultancy, and pressure to get multiple firms to collaborate on projects. The message is that clients . . . don't expect one firm to supply everything."2

If you choose to compete with smaller firms, you'll face two obstacles: price and senior-level practitioners. Don't compete on price. Consider, instead, how to use the broader resources of your firm to get answers faster, and focus on your implementation capabilities, which many small firms lack.

Create a competitive advantage by giving clients access to your networks, which are usually more extensive than those of smaller competitors. Clients can benefit from interacting with your other clients and network members. They can discuss shared issues and will realize that the competition does not have the same breadth and depth of client experiences. Use your more extensive list of qualifications to help clients see how selecting your firm will reduce their risks.

A client asked a large firm and a small firm to bid on a project to improve sales-force effectiveness. The smaller firm had successfully completed numerous, similar projects across a range of industries. In this, their niche, the small firm's qualifications were impeccable and their rates favorable.

The large firm had comparable qualifications, but had a higher price tag. The larger firm won the work for three reasons: (1) It committed more consultants to the discovery process to develop the client relationship and produce an outstanding proposal; (2) before the proposal was written, the firm assembled a group of other clients to discuss how similar projects had gone for them; and (3) the firm demonstrated an impressive record of implementing effective solutions for 75 clients.

► Winning against a Big Firm

Large consulting firms offer more diverse services, employ more people, and invest more in promotion than smaller competitors. Larger firms can also spend more to compete for work and will often do so when important long-term projects or relationships are at stake. But they have serious competitive weaknesses.

When a retail client asked for bids on a brand management project, a small firm went up against one of the big guys and won. The large firm proposed a comprehensive approach to the project that included project management and implementation in addition to the necessary strategic planning. The small firm had more depth of expertise on branding than the big firm, but less ability to manage the entire project. So the small firm proposed that its experts would complete the strategy work and the client would manage the project.

In addition to providing such creative solutions, small firms must claim the high ground early in the sales process. Large firms are often lumbering and slow to return calls or respond to new client requests. If you're in a small firm, speed and responsiveness can give you an edge. Any initial advantage is important because when large firms finally gear up, they can be formidable rivals.

Stay close to clients throughout the sales process because the big guys often don't. They may be too busy looking for the next sales lead and spend only limited time with the client early in the sales process. Move quickly to create strong impressions before the Goliaths get in the game.

Remove any doubts in the client's mind about whether your small firm can provide the desired results by quickly demonstrating a thorough understanding of the client's problem. Arrange for calls from your firm's well-pleased clients to help eliminate the new client's fears.

Resist the temptation to emphasize selling points that sophisticated buyers already know. In most cases your fees will be less than

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