Musings on the ancient art of winning punters

Written by David Tebbutt, PC Dealer 05/87 item 01 - scanned

This is a guaranteed IBM-free article. After-all, the Personal System/2 has had more than its fair share of press coverage. As indeed has the general election campaign. Mind you, I must ask if you've read the manifestos of the three major parties? I have, and they brought to mind the proposals that you have to cook up when pitching for significant computer system business.

All the elements are there. You have your own case to put forward - so much experience, the details of the job in hand, the costings and the expected benefits.

Then there's the competition, some of whom seem more intent on stopping you getting the business than on securing it for themselves. The poor customer has to choose from a number of competing proposals, each written to a different standard and not easy to compare.

Continuing the manifesto analogy, you could say there are three types of proposal. One is professionally produced, has obviously been thought through very carefully by a dealership which has been anticipating this new business for quite some time.

Another manifesto is produced in a great hurry by a start-up company, anxious to secure some early orders. The main aim is to grab the customer's attention first. This leads to a slightly untidy proposal, but one which comes in a day or two ahead of the competition.

This dealership is so inward-looking that it starts the proposal with its terms and conditions of business, before going on to discuss the customer's needs and how it plans to satisfy them.

The third type uses its first page to slag off the existing supplier before getting on to its own rather excellent proposals. The main trouble with this one is that it forgets to include any coherent costings. It also forgets to deal with the rumours of an imminent hostile takeover.

The existing supplier gives the impression of complacency by failing to deliver its proposal until after the deadline. However, it could just be that it wants its competitors to commit themselves before revealing its own hand.

So, the customer is now faced with three proposals. The first comes from the eager start-up, anxious to make an impression and willing to do a bit of horse-trading to secure the business.

After a shaky and introspective start, the report outlines the key points of concern to the customer and comes up with proposals for their solution. A meeting is called and the customer finds that the people are quite likable and clearly eager to lease.

But the customer has a nagging doubt in the back of his mind: what if the start-up can't get enough customers to survive?

The second proposal to arrive is from the fiscally vague outfit. The proposals accurately identify every area of concern, including some which go well beyond the original brief. A meeting is called and, although the customer finds the salesman quite disarming, he insists on the provision of detailed costings and a formal statement on the takeover rumours.

The third proposal comes from the company which installs the present system. The customer knows this dealer quite well and has a more or less successful installation on his hands, but he does resent dipping into his pocket for every little thing.

He doesn't even bother to call these people in. Their proposal is so exhaustive that he can't absorb more than a fraction of it anyway. He decides to use his previous experience with them as a guide.

The missing costings turn up but still don't make a lot of sense. The customer is convinced that this dealer will go broke promising so much at such a low price, yet, on the other hand, he can see short term benefits namely, milk the dealer for free support until he does go bust. Not surprisingly, this dealer denies the takeover rumours.

The likable people have plenty of good ideas and the customer thinks he could work with them, despite their lack of experience. But he's also worried that they would be learning at his expense.

Finally, the customer could stick with the devil he knows which, while not perfect, has at least provided one successful installation.

Take a look at your proposals. Are they explicit, fudged, or open to negotiation? Perhaps your future approach will be dictated by the outcome of this election.