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Are the Results of Your Chasing "Big Wins" Just a Closet Full of Pastel-Colored Dresses?


For some small businesses there are no sales opportunities, especially ones with the potential to bring the "big win," that they won't chase.  The lure of it is just too much to turn away from.  Many entrepreneurs chase the "big win" in hopes it either "put the company on the map" or "make it well."  It's almost intoxicating.  Or, more often, wishing and hoping!

For few small businesses find consistent success in constantly going after the "big win." Many finish second, behind bigger, stronger, more experienced competitors. "Always a bridesmaid, never a bride," that frustrating description of always getting close to winning the big prize, but never quite getting there, can be a devastating strategy.

In business, often like in life, finishing second usually means getting nothing but a "consolation prize." The literal version was a movie, "Bridesmaid," where the main character, lamented over her closet full of pastel-colored dresses. Unfortunately, many small businesses get the figurative version of that. They end up feeling good about how they got "so close," but, nonetheless, lost to either a bigger or better competitor. And in the process wasted precious resources and time that could have been dedicated to going after and closing smaller, oftentimes more profitable deals.

Now this doesn't mean entrepreneurs shouldn't chase after the "big win." It just needs to be done in a very measured way, by developing a sales strategy that neither depends on "big wins" nor eliminates chasing them. But how can that strategy ensure that you don't become "the best second place team?"

Here are four steps to avoid having "a closet full of pastel-colored dresses."

Pick and Choose Your Battles

With always limited resources, small business owners cannot afford to respond to every opportunity. Further, entrepreneurs can't continually pursue these "big win" kind of opportunities as a normal course of business. Pick and choose the situations where you chase; where you have the best opportunity to succeed. Maybe, less competition, maybe the size of customer that defines your business' "sweet spot." Whatever your criteria, it should be to increase your odds of winning.

Prepare...but Prepare to Back Out

Preparation is always critical, especially in understanding as much about the situation as possible. For example, if you're asked to bid on an RFP and the functional requirements/questions appear to be very specifically-focused around key functions of a competitive product offering, it might very well be that the deck is already stacked to their advantage, especially if that supplier is the incumbent in the situation. This one has "bridesmaid" written all over it. So knowing when to fold is equally important. Saves you resources, time and aggravation, later.

Develop a Unique Approach/Solution

If you're one of the smaller, if not the smallest player in this "big win" situation, in order to get noticed and to increase your odds of winning, entrepreneurs have to try to "change the rules!" Obviously, it's a given that you want what your small business promises to be viewed as better, more valuable, more cost-effective, etc.

However, try to present your proposal in the most unique way possible, where it would be difficult for your prospective customer to completely compare apples to apples, be it through packaging (maybe providing "all-in" features/functions) or pricing (subscription vs. one-time purchase) as opposed to the typical a la carte way that most companies bid. And this can be done, even when responding to an RFP. Whatever you do, make it stand out, so they have to look deeper.

Learn and Grow

And finally, win or lose, learn from the situation. If you win, find out from your new customer, what drove their decision and build on it in future, comparative deals. If you lose, ask the prospect for a post-mortem meeting, or at worst case, a telephone call, to better understand what you could have done differently to have won. If there was nothing different you could have done except to have been a bigger company (and that happens, as you know, way more than you'd like to think) then you know that, in the future, these are not the kind of opportunities to go after...unless or until you get bigger!

The lure of the "big win," especially for entrepreneurs with small struggling companies, can sometimes be too great to avoid. Approach with caution. There is no consolation prize, no revenue, when your small business finishes second!

Master Yoda knows these things. His job it is. May success be with you!


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