Why Intensity is the Key to Unlocking your Post-COVID Sales Growth

By Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, Americas, The Artemis Partnership, and Author, Winning Is Better
A group of arrows in different colors shooting upwards

As we continue to move forward in 2021, I sense a high degree of optimism – although it is tempered by an expectation that the value of each new opportunity may be lower. This means that meeting past revenue targets means companies will need to win more pursuits. Fortunately, for companies willing to change their approach to capturing new business, that’s quite possible.

So many business leaders are carefully mapping out a strategy for emerging from COVID-19 by planning how they can get off to a quick start renewing or earning the confidence of their people, their customers, and the market. Key to achieving success won’t necessarily mean simply going back to the way things were done before the virus. The new math of the post-COVID-19 era tells us such a strategy is not likely to work.

Pre-coronavirus, many companies approached business development as a simple numbers game: Get into as many pursuits as you can, and then receive – and respond to – as many RFPs as possible. This often meant turning things around quickly, leaning on your resources, and repurposing relevant materials from pursuit to pursuit.

Intensity matters
On a pure numbers basis, this was an efficient way to operate. Under the new set of rules, however, sheer efficiency plays miss the mark. Buyers today are devoting more time and attention to proposals. They can tell who has put legitimate (even extra) effort into the pursuit and who hasn’t. There’s a high correlation between this observation and winning or losing. I call this difference maker “intensity.”

Intensity goes beyond the amount of time you put into a pitch. It involves the depth you’re willing to go to learn more than your competitors about decision makers and what really matters to them. It’s the perception you create that communicates your passion for the project and for the well-being of the prospect and their business. It’s replacing generic materials with focused, customized communication. Ultimately, it’s how much you show that the entire pursuit was about them and not about you.

Achieving intensity – and the win – involves a number of behavior shifts:

  1. Downplay the generic. Buyers conclude “low intensity” when they see pursuits loaded with boilerplate materials – where proposals and orals start with tons of information about the pursuing organization, not the prospect. Sure, the process was efficient for the pursuer. But efficiency in new business is folly.
  2. Think smart. During tough times, a natural inclination is to pursue every opportunity possible. That’s understandable; survival instinct is real. If you’re honest with yourself, though, you know not all pursuits are winnable – and not all winnable opportunities are worth winning. With a strategic approach, you’ll pitch less and win more.
  3. Remember the “H.” We operate in a B2B world, but we’re all people. While you may sell to other businesses, in the end you succeed based on how well you achieve B2H (business-to-human) engagement. That is true regardless of what you’re selling – and that’s why it’s important to engage with individuals.
  4. Don’t wait for the “R.” To win more, you need to get in front of the RFP. Start building your relationships with strategic targets now, even if an RFP isn’t on the horizon. By the time the RFP drops, you want to be considered in the top two contenders.
  5. Be self-aware. Do you really know why you win and why you lose? Do you really know what current clients and prospects think of you? Client-centric organizations care about this, yet every one still has significant blind spots that make improvement tough; make the investment to know what they are.
  6. Focus on trust. I’m not going out on a limb when I say your credentials mean less than you think – probably much less. Artemis research tells us that decision makers today are putting a much higher premium on the pursuit team’s trustworthiness. Know what you must do to demonstrate that you’re trustworthy. And then do it.
  7. Be present. I recently asked a decision maker at a billion-dollar institution their perception of a company pursuing their business. They said, “They can’t just show up once a year when an RFP is about to be issued and expect that we’re going to think highly of them.” Higher win rates require the long game. Nurture relationships deeply and frequently.

“High intensity” is demonstrated through the deep understanding the pursuit team demonstrates about the opportunity, the prospect, and the issues that matter. It’s there in the discussion or document that feels like it was prepared just for that prospect. And it shows in the well-prepared, confident, relaxed team that is easy for the prospect to connect with.

Intensity might not guarantee a win. But a lack of intensity almost certainly guarantees a loss. And, as we all know, winning is better!

Bob Wiesner is founder and managing partner, Americas, for The Artemis Partnership, a global consulting company helping clients win more new business and improve success rates for their most important pursuits. He is also the author of Winning Is Better.