Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

Uncovering Barriers to Success

Over 20 years, I’ve heard a lot of success stories from people who have implemented our advice. This post is for everyone else—those who haven’t been able to make Win Without Pitching work for them. 

Let’s find out why. 

There are six questions I would like you to consider, but they rest on two assumptions. The first is that you are ideologically aligned, meaning you nodded vigorously while reading The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and highlighted the hell out of it.

The second assumption is you have some knowledge of what to do, meaning you are at least a little schooled in our Four Conversations frameworks. Maybe you’ve been through a workshop, bootcamp or seminar, or maybe you’ve gleaned enough of the frameworks from my posts and podcasts. If you haven’t yet done the work to understand the how of WWP then check out the workshop here.

Now, on to the quiz…

1. Is Someone in the Way? 

Let’s start with you, at the top of the firm. We’ve established that you are bought in philosophically, but is it possible you are not leading by example on the frameworks? Are you still relying on your gut to determine a client fit, eschewing any codified qualifying criteria? Are you leaving money conversations too late? Are you avoiding discussions of value and defaulting to cost-based pricing? Have you failed to establish a minimum level of engagement? Do you play the white knight late in negotiations, swooping in with discounts and concessions that you can rationalize in the moment but keep you up at night later?

It’s uncommon that the owner or MD is the weak link in the chain but it does happen. 

If it’s not you, might it be another important person in the firm who is noncompliant with the approach but who doesn’t get called out because of their seniority or dominant personality? Can this be fixed by getting one person on board?

Your gut knows the answers to these questions. So do your people.

2. Is the Team Makeup Oriented to Old Behaviors You Are Trying to Shed? 

A bigger version of one person standing in the way, team makeup problems can include people whose roles are no longer required in the new system or whose roles should have been modified but were not. We’ve worked with firms that had dedicated proposal writers and standing pitch teams, none of whom would survive a transition to the WWP approach. Do some roles need to be made redundant, people reassigned?

This problem often arises in pricing. Who has the authority to set price? If one or two people excel at pricing and others struggle with it then pricing should be centralized into the hands of those who do it well. Pricing authority should be determined on merit and not on title or seniority. That can be a difficult transition to implement, with deft ego management skills required, but the benefits to the bottom line can be significant.

3. Are Any Incentives Properly Aligned?

Incentives of any kind—predominantly financial but also praise and career advancement—need to be aligned to the right goals and cannot conflict with the strategy. Incentive alignment issues arise when sales people (new business and/or account managers) are bonused or commissioned on total revenue without qualifying other variables, such as client fit, the size of the project or account and gross profit. 

If you do use financial incentives, some helpful ones are new business commissions that apply only when new clients cross a certain spend threshold (thus forcing more direct conversations in the sale about a minimum level of engagement) and account management bonuses tied to revenue and gross profit growth targets. (See Business Development Compensation for more details on structuring incentives.)

4. Are Workflow Processes or Software Systems in the Way? 

Some common-but-overlooked barriers are things like accounting and project management systems or any legacy tool used to improve efficiency.

Do your systems allow you to to take profit off the table for any job (e.g., sell something for $75k and tell the scoping and delivery teams that they have $50k of “cost” to arrive at a solution, knowing that “cost” has its own expectation of profit built in at certain utilization levels) or do they make every dollar sold available as “cost” for the delivery team to spend? (See The Complex Battle for Margin for more on this issue and the resulting problem.)

Other efficiency-seeking tools that might be possible barriers to better new business success include:

  • Spreadsheets or tools developed to expedite pricing a proposal (forcing the pricing of services rather than pricing the client)
  • Overly-elaborate sales process documents (turning salespeople into robots)
  • The use of scripts (see robots, above)
  • Weighted sales forecasts (subjective probability of close is easily and often manipulated to show progress when there is none)
  • CRM applications that use standard picklist values for opportunity stages and lead status (forcing unnecessary steps in the sale and/or used as surrogates for progress when none exists) 

Are there things to do with selling, pricing and reporting that have been too codified, made too efficient? Ask your people. They will tell you.

5. Are Accountability Mechanisms in Place? 

Practice does not make perfect; coached practice makes perfect. Is it possible that your team just needs a little coaching? Is there an an internal champion who can conduct after action reviews (AARs) after every major opportunity closes (won or lost) asking questions like:

  • Was this client and project a good fit for us or did the team member qualifying let through someone we never should have wasted time on? 
  • Why didn’t we catch it? 
  • What was the outcome of the value conversation? 
  • Did we have all the decision makers in the closing conversation?
  • If we had to price and scope this again, what would we have changed?

It’s difficult to move some of your pricing portfolio to value-based prices without the built-in learning mechanism of after action reviews, because value-based pricing requires letting go of the requirement to get this price exactly right, instead embracing the idea of learning from every price and every proposal in an attempt to get the next one right. That’s a bigger topic for another day but the takeaway here is the team is learning new frameworks and they need lots of feedback and support early in their adoption. Are they getting it? 

6. Is Client Retention the Real Problem?

I’ve had agency principals lament to me about their firm’s new business failures only to learn that they were replacing 40%, 50% or more of their client base every year. These firms were good to very good at new business but horrible at keeping and growing accounts. One strong new business person—be it owner, MD or employee—can cover up significant problems in account management. Is this going on in your firm? Are you relying too much on new business when you should be building account growth capacity in your delivery team instead?

There are other barriers to new business success and the implementation of the Win Without Pitching principles and frameworks in particular, but these are the ones that are top of mind for me today. If these questions trigger a breakthrough, go ahead and share it with us. 

Win more business at a lower cost of sale

Join Blair Enns live for the Win Without Pitching Workshop and learn how to take control of your sales process (and actually enjoy it). 

Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.
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