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December 10, 2004
Learning from Lost Deals and the Concept of the Dutch Uncle
Topic: 1) General Management
Today I lost a freelance consulting deal to another consultant. Of course I'm disappointed, but once a deal is lost, it is lost.

I think the most important things to do after a lost deal are to identify learnings with respect to your company's product offering and sales processes and to preserve prospect relationships.

In this case, the consulting opportunity was to provide an operational assessment and to recommend what should be done with backoffice service operations in terms of improving workflow (e.g., eliminating rework, improving service-level performance with customers). Company prospect was a growth-phase company (post Series C institutional financing - backers that I would have aspired to include in my "marketing network" at some point). Additional facts include that the service operation recently underwent a substantial staff reduction based on recommendation from a previous management consultant. Standard management tradeoffs between design for quality versus design for throughput applied for this project.

My proposal was the first submitted and underwent two to three drafts and rounds of feedback between the client and I. Things seemed to be on track with both project scope and price, but my spider sense started to tingle when a week or two elapsed and the prospect invited another consultant into the picture for a proposal.

A week and a half later I was delivered the news by the contact that brokered me into the opportunity. Bad news, Steve. Contract will be awarded to another consultant.

My price was 37% higher than the competition. Additionally, the work was proposed to be completed earlier by the other consultant by a week or so. Now I am not clear the proposals were comparing apples to apples, but at this point this is water under the bridge. Although I will try to get some additional lost deal information, I understand that there may have been some concern that personality-wise I would have been perceived as being brought in to replace the regional management (as this is what happened recently with the CIO of the organization). Additionally, the competition's price was lower. Early timeframe for project completion may have also been a factor, but I cannot definitively say yet.

It is not my intent to try to appeal any of these points to the prospect, but I think there could have been opportunities to try and make adjustments. For example, we could have tried to align the discussions and allay any chemistry fears by bringing in the regional management into the discussions with me before inking a contract.

Now I am not going to go into all of my learnings here, however, I think it is useful to consider a concept I learned in Ford Harding's book, "Rain Making: The Professional's Guide to Attracting New Clients". You need to ask as many people as possible (client prospects included) to be straight-up with you. No silverlining. Why did I lose the deal? This is the concept of getting the prospect to talk to you like a Dutch uncle. To quote a passage from Harding's book, "The person who talks to you like a Dutch uncle does it for your own good ... At its worst ... [problems are] like a cheating spouse; friends know but don't tell you about it. "

Steve Shu
Managing Director
S4 Management Group

Posted by sshu-s4 (c) S4 Management Group LLC at 12:01 AM CST
Updated: December 10, 2004 12:43 AM CST
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December 12, 2004 - 7:49 PM CST

Name: Darren

I doubt that it's because of the timeframe. Just my $0.02

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