Negative Client Feedback is the Start of Innovation

When a client leaves you a message along the lines of “We need to talk,” our first reaction is to cringe and start thinking of all the bad things the client is going to throw in our face. We instantly tense, and formulate our push-back strategy when the client starts bringing up the issues they find unsatisfactory, or worse, we think of hiding in the closet and trying to avoid the conversation altogether.

Stop right there.

A client calling you and letting you know that they’re not satisfied with the service or product you’re providing is the start of improvement. It is a GIFT! I know it doesn’t feel that way in the moment. No one likes to receive criticism. But if you can open your mind up to the idea that your client is trying to help you improve, then every piece of criticism doesn’t lend itself to “you’re not good enough” or other fear-based thinking that isn’t helpful for growth. Instead, this type of feedback can be transformative.

In this post, I’m going to talk about three types of negative client feedback, and how we can overcome them:

  1. “I’m not satisfied with [X], and I want a discount!” Our initial response is to push back on something like, “Well you have access to the other 90% of the features, don’t you? Or I’ve given you great service except for the ONE day you called me when my kid had a 103-fever, and I wasn’t available!” At the bottom of this statement, is your client saying that you as a service or product provider hurt their trust, and now they want to hurt you too (in the pocketbook).” Your client is saying, “I’ve seen this issue, and I’m worried that you might be like the other product or service providers out there and you’re not going to meet my expectations.” Your first response is to acknowledge or restate the experience your client has had. Restating the problem might sound like, “I understand that recently, our product has not had all of the functionality we promised,” or “I understand that I wasn’t there for you on the day you needed me.” It’s critical that your client feels that you HEARD them. Next, you want to work on a strategy for working through this trust issue together. A good follow-up question might be, “Moving forward, can I give you updates on how the repair is going so you’re always updated on the status?” Or “Would you like to meet on a more regular basis, so we can address items that come up more proactively?” You can even ask a more open question than that, “Moving forward, what can I do to make you feel more confident in my [product/service]?
  2. “Your [product/service] looks funny.” Clients may pick apart the aesthetics of a design feature or something you created. The bottom line is, your client is picking on something that is more of a personal preference rather than something you can definitively say is wrong. Although you may not necessarily agree with the feedback, the best strategy here is to look for a middle ground where the client is getting what he or she is asking for, and you don’t feel like you’re putting your firm’s reputation on the line by creating a product you don’t feel proud of. If you do a little more digging into “why” the client is looking for the change, this can uncover hidden drivers which can, in turn, help you learn how to steer the design towards something better. Either way, it’s an excellent place to have a conversation and make sure you and your client are on the same page for the project’s goals.
  3. “Your [product/service] has a proven defect.” If you’re dealing with software, maybe the software application has a bug, if you’re dealing with graphic design or a writing project, perhaps it’s that you have too many typos. Either way, at some point, a client will bring up an issue pertaining to quality. Quality problems are the best opportunities for growth. When you uncover quality issues, these are vast areas to look for improvements in your process. Are you rushing through critical portions of your project to meet deadlines? It might be time to look at your QA process. Although it’s never fun to have a client point out quality issues, it’s a massive benefit to your company if you use it as an opportunity to innovate and improve.

Creating a strategy for responding to client feedback (negative or positive) is critical for growing your business. Although we don’t usually look forward to challenging conversations with our clients, these conversations are often the most significant catalysts for organizational change. The next time you are facing a challenging discussion with a client, remember this is a tremendous opportunity for growth.

4 Tips for Pre-bid Conferences

I went to a pre-bid conference today for a county design-build project.  It was lightly attended by mostly the subconsultants who were looking to sign on with a prime contractor.  It’s always interesting to observe how different companies approach the pre-bid conference.  You see the various consultants that are actively trying to sign up with a contractor and the contractors trying to avoid making any commitments to team – for now.

When I attend pre-bid conferences, I usually try to do four things: be visable; listen to all of the information; ask questions; and pay attention to the pre-bid attendee list.  Below is a little more information about each tip.Continue Reading

Stop The Insanity! 7 Tips For Choosing Proposal Software

 

Stop the Proposal Insanity!

You‘ve answered the same RFP questions over and over again.  You know you’ve written a paragraph in a previous proposal and it’s somewhere in your computer.  Where is it?  It’s becoming clear that you need to systematize some part of your proposal process otherwise you’ll go insane.  Congratulations! You’ve experienced enough pain and you’re now ready to choose proposal software platform to help you fix your proposal insanity (trust me, I’m laughing with you).  Before you choose your proposal software, I have a few tips for you…

  1. Don’t implement a system in the middle your busiest time of the year for proposals.  You may think you’ll increase productivity if you can automate the process as quickly as possible, but you won’t.  When you decide to change the way you respond to RFQs or RFPs, there is a very steep learning curve. The first few times you use the new software, it can take you double the amount of time it usually does to assemble a proposal.
  2. Analyze the types of clients you serve.  Consider the client types of the RFQs and RFPs you typically respond to.  There are some great tools out there for responding to private companies and as well as some excellent tools to use when responding to government, municipalities, or other public clients.  Picking the right type of software that was designed to work according to your client’s specifications can make a huge difference in your overall productivity.
  3. Think about the deliverables your clients typically want.  Do you do more print proposals or electronic submittals?  Some software solutions are better for purely digital deliverables while others work much better for paper submittals.
  4. Consider software systems your industry currently uses.  I know when I was in the healthcare IT space, PMAPS was a popular system, while in the architectural, engineering, and construction (A/E/C) industries Deltek Vision is the standard for larger firms, but Cosential is the perfect choice for smaller or medium sized firms based on the price point.  If you use the right proposal platform for your industry, it will be easier to find staff who know how to use it and this will lessen learning curve.  Recently I’ve come across RFP365 which has some great functionality for both procuring and bidding.
  5. Think about how many people in your firm will be creating proposals or involved in the process.  If you’re a small firm but are planning to grow in the next year, the type of system you implement may be very different from the firm with 3 offices and 15 people working on proposals at the same time.
  6. Do you have other systems you may want to integrate your proposal system with?  In the A/E/C Industry, it’s beneficial for the marketing coordinator and/or marketing department to have access to financial data.  Thus, a system that can integrate with your existing financial system is incredibly useful to eliminate manual data entry.
  7. Cost.  You’ll notice I bring this up last.  If you really have no budget to implement a proposal system, then focus on staying more organized with your content so that when you do have a budget large enough to get the system you pick one that will stick with you as you grow.  Remember, with many of the software platforms out there, some configuration is usually required and that can cost you a few thousand dollars before the monthly or yearly subscription rate.

These tips cover the basics when it comes to choosing proposal software.  Of course, there are other things that you may need to consider based on your industry.  If you’d like help choosing your next proposal system, contact us!

5 Reasons To Keep Responding To Government RFPs

As the economy begins to bounce back, many companies divert their attention from the steady work of the public sector and begin to look again towards the private sector.  Don’t stop submitting your RFPs! Although the private sector can offer a lot of great opportunities to win interesting new projects, one shouldn’t completely abandon their public sector RFP response efforts.

5 Reasons to Keep Responding To Government RFPs

  1. They’ll remember you bailed on them.  That’s right, if you give up on pursuing government work, your city, state, and county procurement specialists remember that you bailed.  Remember, the city, state, and county procurement offices want to establish long-term relationships with multiple vendors to ensure project work gets spread around.  If your company begins not submitting RFPs or not even responding with the appropriate “no-bid” form, the procurement office for that specific government entity will begin to think you’re no longer interested in maintaining a vendor relationship.
  2. Rebuilding a damaged relationship could take you a lot of time and will cost you money.  If you stop pursuing government projects when the economy improves, winning back a relationship may take more RFP responses before your company secures a win.
  3. Pursuing government work helps you solidify your sales process and messaging. Public sector RFPs are often very detailed and time intensive to appropriately respond.  This is a great opportunity for you to create better marketing assets for your company that speak directly to some of the questions your potential customers in the private sector may have.
  4. You’ll get great competitive intelligence.  Going to a pre-bid meeting gives you great insight as to who your competitors are as well as who your new competitors may be.  If you’re in the technology space, you know how quickly the competitive landscape can change.  The ability to access information about your competitors by what type of projects they’re pursuing is critical to you staying ahead of your competition.
  5. You’ll win work.  If you are diligent in your efforts in pursuing government work, you’ll win projects. It’s a process to become a partner with the government so make sure you continue to debrief each time you respond to an RFP so you learn how to improve on the next submittal.  Each RFP you respond to, makes it easier the next time around to submit.

Although it’s exciting to see the private sector begin to bounce back after the long recession, make sure you don’t abandon public work.  Diversifying your client base with public and private clients is a great way to create a consistent pipeline despite economic fluctuations.