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Time-wasting 'potential' clients

#1 Time-wasting 'potential' clients
15/06/2010 12:47


I'm getting increasingly frustrated with time-wasting 'potential clients' that ask you 1001 questions, get you to attend meetings, get you writing lengthy proposal letters, get you doing sales presentations to their staff and so on, and then eventually send you a 1 sentence e-mail saying "We have decided to award the contract to someone else".

Usually they pretend you're either the only company they're talking to or that you're one of a very seleect few. I can't help but feel that they have made their decision before they even contact me, and are just looking for people to make up numbers and help satisfy their internal sales process.

Any tips/advice for dealing with these sorts of people? I am an experienced consultant by the way and am familiar with the obvious/usual advice about qualifying leads and so on before investing time. It's just that these slippery customers are bordering on the point of being downright liars about their intentions. 'Winning them over' often isn't an option either, as I often find out that their selection process is politically motivated and the same outcome would have resulted regardless of my efforts or approach.

Any tips/advice, guys? I'm going nuts with this sort of thing.

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#2 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
15/06/2010 15:05

Tony Restell ( to Anon (#1)

Hi Anon - I can feel your frustration and anger!

I know both SBR Consulting (who run our <a href=>Art of Selling Consulting Services</a> course) and John Niland have given similar advice when confronted with this issue at their seminars. In a nutshell they advised consultants to decline to work on any proposal where the client has not invested the time of their senior executives in meeting and briefing the consulting firm on the challenges being faced and the scope of the project being commissioned. In fact I think they went as far as to say you shouldn't work on a proposal document until you've been able to learn from the client why it is that your firm is most likely to win in the bidding process.

Those who've followed this disciplined approach it seems have massively increased their sales effectiveness and reduced the time drain of the faux prospects you refer to in your post.

The rationale was basically that anyone serious about solving a problem in their organisation and serious about investing significant sums in your firm's services to achieve this should be delighted to invest time in getting the best possible tailored bid from you. By contrast, anyone wanting to just tick boxes in the procurement process will not want to invest any time in such meetings as they already know their desired outcome and want to achieve this with the lowest possible investment from themselves.

Hope this helps - if you get any other useful tips please do share them here!

Tony Restell

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#3 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
15/06/2010 15:44

Anon to Tony Restell ( (#2)

Tony, thank you so much! I think I've just been elevated to a higher level of understanding. The penultimate sentence (starting with "The rationale was...") is one of the most insightful things I've ever read about selling MC services.

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#4 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
15/06/2010 21:34

Tom Debevoise to Anon (#1)

First, read the request for proposal or request for information very carefully. I have found that there are often clues in these documents that reveal these sham due-dilligence efforts. Many times customers use your efforts to drive their perferred vendors prices down.

Next, if it is a large target, you will need at least 3 supported. One at the executive level and two internal supporters. If you do not know them, then you have not done enough leg work to win the project anyway.

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#5 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
15/06/2010 21:39

ZB to Anon (#3)

Great post Tony. I think it about time the consulting profession took a more discerning attitude towards which clients it wants to go for and then invested a commensurate amount of time in getting and securing the client. All too often managers, senior managers etc get a nose bleed at the slighest whiff of an opportunity and it leads to so much time being spent on wasted effort.

As you say, if they want to explore your services they will speak to you and provide answers to your questions as they have an interest in making sure you do the best bid and best job for them. If not..sod the charlatans


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#6 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
16/06/2010 09:24

billum to ZB (#5)

agre with the principles above, but it's not always that clear cut - for big institutions who farm out their consulting work via frameworks and a heavy procurement process there tends in pratice to be an obligation to respond to bids that are low probability of success, as a quid pro quo for being on the supplier framework in the first place, but equally there's an understanding that the allocated work will equalise over time...

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#7 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
16/06/2010 17:43

Tony Restell ( to billum (#6)

Billum - indeed there are clients like this, what a false economy by these leviathan organisations!! The costs of tendering become so onerous for consulting firms that they have to factor in a premium on all the bids they submit to cover all the time they have to invest in all the pointless bids they aren't going to win. And some of the smaller more nimble consultancies shy away from the up front investment required and so the choice of potential suppliers is both diminished and made more expensive. A classic example of procurement gone mad!

Tony Restell

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#8 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
17/06/2010 08:47

billum to Tony Restell ( (#7)

quite - and on those bids, procurement form an impenetrable barrier between the bidders and the sponsors who know what they really need - so the response exercise becomes one of 'crossword puzzle solving' based on limited clues, rather than genuinely addressing a need! but I do recall that the consulting industry made a pretty penny a few years ago out of setting up these wretched procurement functions - 'shoulder arms, aim at foot, fire!'

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#9 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
30/06/2010 10:45

Tony Restell (Top-Consultant) to billum (#8)

Another interesting point came out of Friday's seminar - those consulting firms with the most effective sales processes have developed a mandatory checklist for all RFPs. No-one is allowed to invest time in writing a proposal unless all the key criteria for successful bidding can be ticked. Definitely worth championing this idea if your firm doesn't have one already. Was a lightbulb moment at the event as delegates saw how much more disciplined they'd have been in their proposal writing if they'd had such a set of criteria in place...

Tony Restell

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#10 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
30/06/2010 13:50

Anon (the original one) to Tony Restell (Top-Consultant) (#9)

I like the idea of a RFP checklist where you make sure you don't bid unless all the criteria are right. But....

1. Does anyone have any examples of such a checklist? I assume it includes things like how many other suppliers are bidding, have you met the project sponsor in person, do you know the budget, and so on.

2. Following such a checklist takes a huge amount of discipline. Say you're on the bench and a RFP comes along... it takes a man with nerves of steel to say "Nope, I'm not wasting time on this one because the project sponsor won't meet me in person and therefore they are time wasters" or similar. Most of us would buckle in and go "ahh, what the heck, I'm not doing anything else so it's worth a shot...."


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#11 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
30/06/2010 15:27

billum to Anon (the original one) (#10)

have worked with this in two organisations, with varying success. there's not just a checklist - that's the entry point to some governing body to approve / deny following the opportunity. the checklist is pretty much common sense (scale, on strategy, relationships, access, competitors, winning theme etc) it's the governing body that makes the difference. one ran a light process oriented around risk to the firm which gave a good deal of discretion to the proposing partner (only went before them over a certain risk threshold, below that it was down to the partner to make the call), and the panel gave 'grey-haired' guidance. the other, in a corporate consultancy, had a multi-step approval process with a panel that made the partner-equivalents look like naughty schoolkids going before the headmaster - had to bid for progressive releases of investment funding to build the proposal, demanded 'commits' and gave very little discretion to the bidder. that one became known as the 'Business Prevention Board'....

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#12 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
09/07/2010 09:43

profblaumann to billum (#11)

While I agree with all of the above, I would like to mention another phenomenon, leading to massive time waste on our side, that seems to be the trend: brainsucking.

Like the original poster, I had recently seen several clients, that during initial meetings throw very detailed questions at you: 'how would you tackle this, what's your view on this') before actually disclosing issues / problems / background at hand. Whilst doing big effort to address their questions because it is only natural to test the competencies of the consultant you want to engange, you receive a polite excuse back afterwards that clearly reads between the lines: "thanks, that's all we needed to (try to) do it ourselves".

Have you also seen a trend in this?

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#13 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
09/07/2010 10:14

Anon to profblaumann (#12)

I think it is a part and parcel of doing business. The clients compare the various offering and then they take the best parts of all the offerings and negotiate with the lowest bidder to include all this. Hence, the RFPs need to be vetted properly beforehand

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#14 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
09/07/2010 10:35

Anon (the original one) to Anon (#13)

Ah-ha, yes the old 'brainsucking' phenomenon. I had one 'potential client' get one over on me with this sort of thing once.

I wrote my proposal, plenty of detail, enough to get started. Then she started asking more and more detailed questions. Started getting really really specific, not content with me saying what I would do but wanting me to spell out literally step by step precisely how I would do it.

I never did get that job in the end. But, I did manage to invoice her for a day's worth of work because I managed to notice at a sufficiently early stage that this wasn't an acceptable part of a normal pre-sales activity.

A year later, she asked me to quote for another bit of work. I knew I wouldn't get it. She had already decided who she wanted to do the work, and it wasn't me. But she needed to satisfy an internal procurement process. So, being the true professional that I am, instead of giving her a nice slick 25-page proposal document in response to her 'brief', she received a 2 line e-mail that contained a daily rate and an estimate of the number of days involved. Not even a fixed price. I knew I wouldn't get the work anyway, but didn't mind wasting up to 30 seconds on the task as opposed to the 4-5 days she would otherwise have screwed out of me for free.

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#15 RE: Time-wasting 'potential' clients
09/07/2010 20:32

Mark Wheatley to Anon (#1)

Pre qualify them.

Find out their time scale, budget and are they a decision maker.

Write outlines rather than proposals. Explain that you will write a more detailed proposal when they have agreed the outline.

As far as questions are concern, explain that before we get into detail this is how we work.

Don't let them push you around.

Try not to give your ideas away. Say things like yes we can help you with that, yes we've done that before and have a solution for that.

Use consultative selling find out the value to them and show a return on investment.

Call me if you want to discuss further 01623 720022.

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