Getting from second to first place can be a fine line between delivering what you “think” your client needs and what they actually want to hear. In many work competitions clients establish a short-list of companies to interview before making their final selection.

A big factor that can keep you in a silver or bronze position versus winning gold, is making assumptions. They are easy to make. And the more you know your client the easier it is to make assumptions about what you present in a final selection process – the short-listed agency interview.

I recently came up silver in a project competition that should have been mine to win. Here’s what happened.

I had done work for the client for many years. They were always happy with the work and on several occasions directly awarded me new work without a competitive bid process.

The client was issuing an RFP that was beyond the limit for a direct award. They contacted me personally to let me know when the RFP was being let because they wanted me to bid on it.

First mistake. I assumed I had the edge because: a) of my track record with the organization; and b) they contacted me personally about the RFP.

I diligently followed all of the RFP requirements and delivered a comprehensive proposal and made the “short-list”, one of three agencies selected to make a presentation to a project selection committee.

Second mistake. I assumed that the client knew my past work well enough that I would not have to spend a lot of time recapping this in the context of what they were looking for moving forward with the new project.

This turned out to be the main mistake that delivered silver instead of gold. As it turned out, the majority of the selection committee had been drawn from other areas within the organization that had an interest in the project, but did not know my track record.

In the end, I focused my presentation on the wrong things. The agency that got the work won it because they started with a clean slate in understanding what the client wanted and needed – allowing them to focus on the right stuff.

The bottom line? In business as in competition, never assume anything. Regardless of how well you know the client, approach them as a brand new prospect starting with a clean slate in understanding what they need and what they are looking for. And do the training runs – it pays off.


Andrew Hume

Andrew is President of Andrew Hume and Associates Ltd. specializing in helping organizations to communicate with clarity and purpose. Our thanks to Andrew for his guest post this week.


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