Failure is pants, but we all need to wear them
- 05 December, 2012 22:00
There are many things you’re not allowed to say in New Zealand. Rugby is dull. Dave Dobbyn is crap and Loyal is a rubbish song. And finally, “I’m going through a period of rejection and I need some advice”. This is simply not the Kiwi way. The Kiwi way, much like Dave Dobbyn and rugby, is that if you keep at it and forget the fact that everyone thinks you’re a tit, you will someday win because hey, sooner or later everyone else will have a bad day and it’ll be your chance to shine. Of course by that time, you could be pretty much brilliant at whatever you’ve been doing, anyway. But this is not how tendering works. In the tender game, your boss wants results, or you’re fired. The quickest way to get results, unlike waiting for the rest of the planet to drop dead so you’ll be the only one left, is to ask for advice on where you’re going wrong and the quickest way to do that is to ask the people who evaluated your proposal and subsequently gave the deal to someone else instead of you. It’s rather like experiencing a dry period in your sex life. You might just have to take advice from the nice girl who’s happily married to your best mate. Just because she’s married, doesn't mean she's dead, you know what I mean? Thus you may have to suck it up and actually listen to what she has to say about your efforts to find new love. For example: do not feed with your mouth open so that we can all see your teeth, or how about buy some clothes that actually fit around your stomach instead of straining the buttons on that 90s shirt? Dealing with rejection is a terrible thing, in life and in business. In life my biggest rejection of late is telling my kids that Alien is the most scary movie ever made. Then when they finally see it all they can say is “Meh” and that’s from the youngest, a seven-year-old girl. What do you mean you’re not scared? “It’s pants,” says the 11-year old. ‘Pants’ is not good, apparently. (Next week I’m showing them The Exorcist to really get the nightmares started.) Rejection is part of everyday life in business. Salespeople live with rejection all the time, day in day out. According to one old sales pro it’s absolutely essential. “If they’re not getting rejected they’re not covering enough ground.” A CFO once told me over the water cooler, “don’t be despondent”, because I had just lost a big RFP. “Our Light Sabre Division took three years to make a profit," he said. "Now they’re the only people to go to when you need light sabre supplies.” A month later I was fired, so that’s not a good analogy. But I digress. If your boss has the tenacity to go the distance then ask where you’re going wrong, not from him but from the people you’re pitching to. This week I had the privilege to talk to a person of high standing in the tender world who most often gets to evaluate tenders from the masses.
The company runs regular debriefing sessions for proposals that reached the top ten.
For regular readers of this column I was interested to find out this person’s Myers Briggs personality evaluation. It is INFJ: Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging.
Having been through this process myself I can assure readers it is not pleasant to have your tender torn apart paragraph by paragraph in front of your boss on speaker phone. But it’s a necessary initiation if you want to improve your chances. To quote our kids, the process is ‘pants’.
“Answering an RFP is hard work and we understand that there are people who have sacrificed a lot of time and effort and been kept from their families to meet the tender deadlines. I think if you put out a tender you almost owe it to these people who have put in so much effort.”
The good news is that when I asked if companies had ever gone away from these debriefing sessions and retuned with better results the answer was positive. “Absolutely, yes we’ve had several come back with winning proposals.”
Which in hindsight of the conversation leads me to re think what you’re actually saying in a tender. You’re telling them what they want to hear. Unless you have psychic power to stop the heart of a goat just by staring at it you won’t know that until you ask them.