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The Ten Percent Push

Rise Above the Competition to Win More Work

By: John Tillison
Last updated 1/27/2014

As a project manager, engineer, or key team member, we all know too well to win work in this competitive environment your proposal must fly above the crowd.

Having a razor-sharp presentation that smokes the competition is what puts you in the winner’s circle, but it takes an extra kick to get there. It’s called The 10% Push. You plan, you practice, you prepare, or you perish.

Here are a few push principles to pull in more work.

Differentiate or Die

Although knowledge and experience are crucial elements with any successful proposal, the spoils go to those who push for excellence and differentiate from the crowd.

Firms are often equally qualified with equally talented people. When you are short-listed along side five or ten companies vying for the same business, things can get jaded for a decision maker having to sit though another insufferably bland PowerPoint demo.

Do you smell opportunity here? It’s waiting for the well-prepared. If you understand perhaps the not-so-obvious challenges facing the client, and then follow up with a powerfully unique presentation, you can rocket to the front of the line.

However, if you dance into an interview primed to parrot a canned presentation, you’re setting yourself up for a crash landing. Clients can smell boilerplate presentations a mile away.

Worse yet, if you look and sound like all the other kids on the block, you are giving the decision maker absolutely no reason to pull you from the pile.

Build the Relationship

You can have killer qualifications, a great proposal, and a blue light special price, but if you walk in not knowing the person, you’re at a distinct competitive disadvantage. Whether we like it or not, this is a relationship business.

Even before the very first meeting or telephone call, you need to take definitive action.

At the top of your list should be intel. Do some sleuthing. Gather more information about the potential client than you think you need. Who’s going to participate in the interview? What’s their background? What is their area of expertise? Are they listed in Facebook? Linkedin? What honors, awards, or news have they or their company earned recently?

When you meet, don’t try to pitch the project. Partner instead. Talk, ask questions, clarify needs. Decipher…listen. Are there underlying concerns? Politics? Past successes? Failures? Be easy, open-eared, and interested.

In the process, you will find another advantage to this relationship building process. It will calm you down during the interview.

Now, with the groundwork set, it’s showtime.

Acing the Interview

Your delivery technique should create differentiation and enhance client trust. Therefore, it is imperative that you look and sound calm and confident.

But here’s the rub. If you say you’ll deliver on time, on budget, and squash any problem with professional aplomb but appear nervous or verbally weak-kneed, you will present a huge discrepancy to the decision maker. Your promises must be congruent with your posture!

The following tips will help you maintain symmetry and allow you to project your message with confidence.

Get Physical

Movement helps dissipate nervousness and makes you appear more in charge.

To stand (or sit) in a frozen position begs for boredom. Even if everyone customarily remains seated, consider getting out of your chair to make an important point.

As you “walk the room” you become a more interesting target. If done correctly, you can completely differentiate yourself from the competition and create a more memorable and trustworthy image to the client and simultaneously energize yourself in the process.

Why is this powerful? Because so few people actually do it!

Project Your Passion

A sure way to sabotage your carefully crafted presentation is to appear bored or uninterested with the very message you’re trying to convey. This happens when you are so familiar with the subject that you go on emotional autopilot. You may not be aware of the lackluster impression you’re giving everyone, but it registers just the same.

A way to avert this (and become more authentic as well) is to subtly integrate your greatest joy, passion, or hobby into your message.

One normally quiet project manager we worked with had a passion for race cars, specifically, the Audi RX8.

In his interview, Kyle prefaced his opening remarks with a brief but colorful description of the “ultimate driving machine.” He effectively sucked any lethargy from the room when he ingeniously segued how his company would guarantee the very same precision and dependability to the client’s upcoming project.

When he sat down (yes, he walked the room) mouths were agape. He had established a 10% push by virtue of his no-nonsense commitment to differentiate--and win.

Survive any Snafu

The threat of a foul-up hangs over every presentation. However, there is a technique used by pilots and airline companies alike that can help you prepare for and overcome the unexpected. It’s the art of snafu survival. You simply take time to map out and anticipate in advance an alternative game plan for any glitch or surprise catastrophe that may come your way. Are you listening BP?

For example, suppose your projector suddenly smokes, spits, and quits. Now what? Have a scenario thought out in advance. Put on a poker-face and praise the fact that bullet points will haunt no one today! Then continue the show.

Blindsided during a tough Q&A? Review those scratchy questions in advance. Consider a seamless hand-off to another team member or branch to similar topics to buy time to think. These tactics send a clear message to your nervous system: I can handle any snafu.

Visualize yourself giving the best presentation of your life, handling sticky situations with aplomb. It works in high-stakes airline training, and it will work for you as well. Most of all, it will give you that all important 10% push over your rivals--a push that will help you pull in more work!

About the Author(s)

John Tillison is a presentation trainer, author, speaker, and 10,000-hour instrument flight instructor. He coaches engineers, project managers, and related professionals how to win work though more effective presentation techniques. For more information, visit www.tillison.com