I participated in an interview this past week as a result of a short list on a proposal response where we were asked to present our team, our services and our ability to a potential new client.
Now before you think here we go with another consultant with the same old approach; talk up the team, talk about the projects we’ve done, defend the fee and answering the obvious question of why we are well suited to meet their needs I have to tell you the approach we took was much, much different.
So, let’s break it down.
- We have a ton of skills that relate to what the client is looking for. Check.
- We have precedent projects that relate to what the client is looking for. Check.
- We have the right partnership consultants in place. Check.
So what? The same as EVERYONE else, right?
Well, here’s where it gets woolly. We received their agenda the evening before the interview. I was at home. The agenda arrived by email and I just happened to read my blackberry (funny how that happens). A list of 17 questions to respond to and the interview was the next morning at 10am. Normally, this wouldn’t faze me so much but we knew the client was interviewing two other firms that day and both would have much more time to prepare.
What are the opitions?
Get no sleep. Rally a team to pull a presentation together and try to form responses in advance. Just in time.
We did nothing. Considering the circumstances we made a decision to get the team together a half hour before the interview to discuss the questions, our approach, who addresses what and what our position will be on any of the difficult questions. Cold. That’s the best way I can describe it.
Would we take this approach with every opportunity? No f**king way but that’s what we did THIS TIME. Extremely out of the norm don’t you think?
So what happened?
Well, I can say we were not well prepared and they knew it.
What’s the best approach in this case? There was a projector and lap top set up in the interview room and 8 participants anxiously awaiting their first of three interviews. So, here we are sitting in front of a panel of people with a list of questions in front of us with less than a day to form a response and a client anxiously waiting to hear from us.
So, what do you do in this situation?
You HAVE to be honest. Complete honesty and complete disclosure. We explained that we did not have a presentation and that were not well prepared to provide answers on the questions and that we preferred, under the circumstances, to simply have a collaborative up front honest conversation. They asked us to bring the ENTIRE team and we did not. We told them why we chose not to.
Honest. No excuses.
What happened next was incredible.
Silence….for a few seconds and then they apologized.
We got a resounding positive response for our honesty. Riding that wave we launched into introductions and got onto addressing their concerns and issues. We suggested that we just talk openly about what they saw their needs were. We talked about how our collective experience could benefit them, discussed some experiences on past projects that worked well as applied to their problem statement but most importantly we remained enthusiastic about their input, asked THEM a lot of questions and answered theirs as honestly as we could.
We talked about their firm and we talked about ours. We discussed the collaborative nature of how we work in honest straight forward language. We had an hour and like any great dinner party, yes I said dinner party, we made some new friends and the time flew. We actually had to stop in the middle of a great discussion to wrap it up.
Then something that I have never experienced happened. One of our interviewers said “It sounds like your company is a great place to work”. We said, in unison, “Yes, it is!” The response floored me, “Are you hiring?”
Are we hiring? WOW! Do you think we made a good impression? Dam straight! Of course we understand that it was a rhetorical question or meant a little tongue-in-cheek but all the same it TOTALLY counts.
Honest, real and candid conversation got us a very long way that day and it’s actually easy. It’s NOT difficult to be honest. That was one of the most comfortable interviews I have ever participated in. It just felt right. Yeah, it was a big risk going in without a well crafted presentation but well rested, clear purpose and no preconceived notions about how the client would react gave us the right edge.
Confidence and knowing the content (i.e. no bulls**t approach) come across in a big way and body language plays a huge role in that. It was clear, at least to me, that that client was comfortable and that was a fantastic feeling.
Stick around to find out if we won the bid. My guess is that we will. Personally, I couldn’t wait to tell this story and regardless if we win or not I think we won that day.
We left that interview with a great feeling and the rest of that day was stellar as a result.
Are you hiring?
What a great complement.