Interpretation of client demands is crucial in order to provide your (potential) client with the right answer(s). It is essential to know what their pain is, the problem they want to solve, what goals they want to achieve or what is important to them. In regular sales processes you of course have the chance to actually speak to your client.
The tender business is (often) a paper based exercise. This makes it difficult to track down the actual demand of your client, since you are probably not allowed to directly contact your client during the process to ask the right questions. Especially when you are applying for tenders in Europe, your client has to deal with European tender law. This law prohibits the possibility to contact each other during the process. If you are excellent in bid management you might have foreseen the problem and influenced the client upfront to choose your solution. In reality however, a lot of companies are surprised when the RFP is being published.
You might be confronted with client statements that they want to increase customer satisfaction, implement safe and future-proof solutions, increase corporate social responsibility or increase sustainability. The one thing I have learned in the last 12 years being involved in the tender business is that companies applying for tenders are having difficulties differentiating themselves from their competition. What happens if the client cannot differentiate the applicants based on their quality? Yes, they differentiate on the one thing they do understand, which is price. From my point of view this is not a desired outcome, since you do not want to compete on price. You want to compete on quality.
Therefore, you need to stay away from what your competitors are doing. They all write down wonderful stories based on their OWN assumptions. They write down what THEY think the client wants to hear. First of all, the chances are that this is NOT want the client wants to hear. And second, all these wonderful stories are more or less the same. The outcome is a price oriented rating of your tender.
So how can you change this? What are the best chances to know what it exactly is what your client wants?
The answer is that you should analyse your client demands based upon 5 questions. You need to “peel off” the demands in order to be able to provide your client with the answer they want to hear.
1. What is the SUBJECT of the client demand?
This is an easy one. Given the previous examples you will end up with customer satisfaction, future-proof solutions, corporate social responsibility or sustainability.
2. What is the GOAL of the client demand?
This is always a verb. To increase, to lower, to improve, to optimize, etc. So given the first subject (customer satisfaction); you client wants to increase customer satisfaction.
3. What is the FOCUS related to the SUBJECT?
Now it’s getting interesting. The subject is customer satisfaction. But what is the definition of customer satisfaction in the eyes of your client? What is the FOCUS related to the subject? Does your client wants you to pick up the phone within 3 second when they call your customer service dept.? Does your client wants you to confirm a service call within 5 minutes by e-mail? Or do YOU interpret what is actually is what your client wants? This is where the mismatch between your interpretation and the interpretation of your client starts. Be aware of the fact that your tender will be rated according to the interpretation of the person who is reading it. So you better make sure that you and your client are on the same page when it comes to the interpretation of their demand(s). If you have the chance to actually speak to your client, it would be a good idea to start asking these questions. If you are applying for a tender and you are not allowed to speak to your client, then you should definitely start asking questions in the clarification phase of the tender. However, the latter option does not mean that you always get a proper answer. If that’s the case, then you need to consider if you still want to apply for the tender.
4. To WHOM is the client demand relevant?
To whom is the client demand relevant? Who, within the organization of your client, is a stakeholder with regard to this actual demand or reaching these targets? There might be multiple people involved in this. So, when formulating your answers, make sure you know who you are talking to. A stakeholder analysis might come in handy.
5. What is the CONTEXT of the client demand?
It is important to know in which context things are playing. Is the context just this tender or this sales process? Or are we talking legislative change? This is important to know since your answer might just be the difference between a good or bad assessment of the situation from the perspective of the client. In the end, the client is requesting you to solve their problems or the achievement of their goals.
What to you do the next time you are confronted with client demands which are not so outspoken? Make sure you ask the right questions!
There is an extra benefit asking these 5 questions. Once you are able to get a clear view on the FOCUS related to the SUBJECT, you will be able to provide your client with SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-oriented) answers since you are probably able to put some metrics in place which are proving your expertise.
Clients like that!