The ‘suck up’ scene from Pretty Woman parodies so much of the narrative that I read in bids where people think that sucking up to a prospective client is the best way to connect with them. People seem to think that being deferential or supplicatory is a complement and that their client will be persuaded to pick them over a rival, which is simply not going to happen.
The ‘suck up’ scene is a great reminder of what not to do if you want to connect with your client in the right way, and it goes something like this:
After being rebuffed from a high-class store, Vivian Ward (Julia Roberts) returns with Edward Lewis (Richard Gere) who asks to speak with the manager, Mr Hollister (Larry Miller) and the following dialogue ensues…
Lewis: we’re going to be spending an obscene amount of money in here. So we’re going to need a lot more help sucking up to us. That’s what we really like. You understand that.
Hollister: sir, you’re in the right store and the right city for that matter. Excuse me, sir, uh, exactly how obscene an amount of money were you talking about? Just profane or really offensive?
Lewis: really offensive.
Hollister: Mr Lewis, sir. Mr Lewis, how’s it going so far? Pretty well, I think.
Lewis: I think we need some major sucking up.
Hollister: very well, sir. You’re not only handsome, but a powerful man. I could see the second you walked in here, you were someone to reckon with…
Lewis: Hollister. Not me. Her.
Hollister: I’m sorry, sir. I’m sorry.
When you’re on the receiving end (and unless you’re really shallow) it doesn’t leave a very nice taste and you start to wonder what the real motives of the butt kisser are. By wasting time flattering your client you’re failing to get to the point and say how you will solve the problem they’ve come to the market to remedy.
In a bidding situation there are likely to be a number of tenders, often complex ones, that need to be assessed. The assessors are usually very experienced and read the same type of content time and time again – just think about all those words that you use that grate, like; innovative, robust, immense, inspirational, in order to, etc., etc. and how they make you feel! And then you go and add in a load of butt kissing so it’s even harder for assessors to find what they’re looking for.
If you don’t believe me, here are some real examples to demonstrate – I’ve removed any tell tale signs so the authors remain anonymous!
In the tender documents you’re usually asked a number of questions that require you to describe, outline, explain or illustrate how you will solve a particular aspect of the project. If you think of being in a shop when you’re in a hurry, you want to find the item you want to buy quickly, pay and then leave without any hassle. And it’s similar for assessors in that they want to understand how you will fix something as soon as they start reading and not waste time with a load of obsequious dribble before they can start to mark your response.
The questions in the tender are designed to assist your client evaluate who is likely to be the best partner with the right skills for the job. What they aren’t looking for is a servant, so there is no need to placate them or flatter them in a vain attempt to gain favour. What they do want is a company that can provide a service and solve the problem that they need fixed. So provide the best, most professional advice you can about your solutions and demonstrate what that will mean to your client when you’ve finished.
Check some of your old bids, preferably ones that weren’t successful and highlight any sentences that are obsequious, flattering, placatory or servile. You may find they are more prevalent in the earlier part of your responses so just consider the impact if you were to remove them completely and how much more you could say that is of interest to your client.