How many times has this been used as a description for a buying criteria? This nebulous description is very similar to “as soon as possible” for an urgent request or “we will know it when we see it” as a definition for pornography. Either your client knows what they are really looking for or, can at least envision the end result, or not. This response certainly sounds like “not.” In a professional, consultative selling model, this empty answer provides a multitude of challenges. The bottom line to these challenges is that it is hard to uncover their real issues and even harder to know how to package your response in a competitive situation.
When faced with this type of a response, there are a multitude of responses. The following represent a couple of tactics that I would deploy in this situation. Note, I am making the assumption that you have done an excellent job of qualifying the prospect and that you are simply formalizing the contents of your conversation and strategy in a proposal format for competitive review. While I detest the “looking at three supplier” approach, I realize that in this day and age this drill is often unavoidable.
1. Create a Vision: Brainstorm with the prospect their vision of the project, the final outcome or result, and how they would like to view your proposed solution for that project or challenge. Work with them to articulate how they view the project and what they look for when they are reviewing multiple proposals.
2. Understand the Process: In order to package your proposal for this “beauty contest”, you have an obligation to yourself and your client to define the decision making process. The decision making process involves: who will be on the decision making team, how they will be evaluating the proposals, what are the criteria that they will be using, and how they will rank the criteria. If they don’t know, help create or influence a decision making process for them. Allowing them to loosely approach the decision making process increases the likelihood that your proposal will be accepted or rejected on pure chance. Using chance as a decision making criteria is not good odds.
3. Meet with the Team: One person always likes to create the perception that they are in charge of the process. To the extent that they are responsible for selecting and interviewing potential suppliers, this may be true. In reality, it is highly likely that there will be several people evaluating the proposals. I suggest that you take the time to get to know the other decision makers and work with them to define their vision for the project and the process. It can only help to have a wide range of influencers on your side in the decision making process. (Again, I am assuming you have been engaged in an effective sales process and that connecting with these other decision makers will not be first time meetings.)
DO NOT leave your proposals to chance. You need to understand the process and the criteria. If they are simply looking for “the best bang for the buck”, you have two choices–influence the outcome by defining the criteria or walking away. Not doing anything, other than simply submitting your proposal, is not an option.