When you pitch or mingle with a Client do you make it cordial or do you make it personal? Do you sell the business or do you sell yourself? Do you convince the business or do you convince the decision maker?
In my life as a Project Manager, I had the Client sit in to interview successful tenderers for a multimillion dollar, iconic construction project. The tenders that were in the final three were about three per cent difference between each. The tenders themselves were pretty much similar in style with capability statements, Gantt charts, resource management plans, etc outlining the whole project. So essentially what would differentiate them would be the interview. They were asked to bring their Site Foreman, Project Director and Project Manager to the interview to answer questions.
The most promising on paper was a large construction company with impeccable staff, turnover and a slew of prestigious projects under their belt. And they were the most economical as well. So it essentially was a slam dunk for them.
But they lost it all to one mistake.
The Client was representing an international prestige brand which was just starting to ramp up their assault on the Australian market. He was flown in especially for this a month prior. He would wear tailored suits, french cuff shirts, always polished shoes and with matching tie and kerchief in his top pocket. His posture was strong and his hairstyle was efficient from years in the army. So all this pointed to a pitch that would be based on milestones, KPIs and the bottom dollar. But if you looked closely, you would see his cufflinks were branded to the company. Cufflinks are personal affectations.
The first tenderer that came in pitched it down the line. Straight forward, no fuss. They were in and out in no time. Their price was in the middle. All the questions were answered efficiently and factually, but lacked emotion. Conversation was polite but not emphatic. Fantastic; the perfect candidate for a systematic project, right? But the Site Manager had just come from site, so he was in jeans. The Client took it as a form of personal disrespect.
The second tenderer was the lowest priced and was, on paper, the most likely to win the project. All of them came in matching suits, folders and years of experience. They made a good first impression. They answered with immense knowledge, but to illustrate the ease of the project for them, they likened the project to "...just a fancy carpark..." They didn't win the tender because the Client was offended. If they noted his cufflinks brand, they wouldn't have said that.
The last tenderer won. Why?
Not because they wore fancy suits, which only not all of them did (just a shirt and pants for one of them). Not because they were the cheapest or the quickest (they were in fact the most expensive of the three). Not because they knew the project inside out (they had a few queries).
It was because they opened with "how have you been settling in Sydney? Are you enjoying the warmer weather?" This made it personal. It dropped the Client's defensive, analytical walls. In fact, fifty per cent of the conversation was around the Client's settling in and personal hobbies.
They made it personal.
In the workshops, I teach participants to be moved by the offers given. To take and make it personal. A scene with a shopkeeper and a new customer doesn't have the same gravitas as a scene with an regular customer.
If you take it personally, you're open to more signals from the other person by default. You're unconsciously reading what the other person is telling you. And at the end of the day, we're all human, so even if it's "just business" we're still somewhat swayed by emotions even the slightest. Whether we have a bad or good day, it sways our judgement.
So make it personal.