I took a sales class in business school years ago. A decade later I still think about it often. As a matter of fact, of all that I learned in college the lesson I learned in this class might have been my most valuable; read your audience. Actually, the semester long study was about personalities and how a sales person will have greater success if you can quickly learn your client’s motivations and style.
In my business I try to pay attention to a prospective client’s style or a prospective airplane buyer’s attitude. If I’m showing an airplane to a buyer I can either sit on board or stand way back. When I receive an offer from a prospective buyer, I try to respond within the format of the document that they have sent. If it is long and complex then we can detail all of the business points. If it is short and simple, I work to protect my client’s best interest while not making the document too detailed. My goal is to keep the focus on the primary objectives of the task. You can only do it if you read your audience and try to understand their goals and objectives before you respond. It pays off every time.
The most challenging time I have implementing this lesson is when responding to requests for proposals (RFP). Without any sort of real interaction or knowledge of who will ultimately review the proposal and who will make a final decision it is hard to have any idea of the recipients’ motivations. It is easy to factually answer questions. It is hard, however, to understand what will ultimately drive their choice. Of course all aircraft sellers want to find the broker that will best represent their interests and sell the aircraft. But, I don’t know if they are ultimately looking for the best personality fit, a long term relationship or the lowest cost provider. None are bad, they are just very different. Over the years, we have won some and lost some RFP processes. Most of the time the prospective client’s decision is made without any discussion and are based solely on the response in the written proposal.
We were recently selected as one of three finalists in an RFP process. The prospective client asked all three finalists to fly out and meet with them in person. Last week my technical director and I flew out to meet with the selling company. I was proud to be included on the short list both because I had clearly done a good job in preparing the proposal and because of the respected peers whose company I was in. Regardless of who wins the business I know that it made a difference for me and for the seller to sit across from each other. We were both able to better “read our audience” to best understand each other and see who was the best fit for the project. Hopefully this week we will learn who won the business. Regardless, the seller had three good choices and I know that whoever wins will be the best fit for the seller because of the chance to really get to know each other by sitting across the table from each other.
The parting thought is not about requests for proposals, but it is about reading your audience. In anything I do in my world I try to always read my audience before engaging. It is strange to think that it has been a decade since I graduated college, but I like that after all this time I am still thinking about and practicing the lesson learned. I should try to find my old professor and send him this post. I know he would be proud!