For two years Lockheed Martin was pursuing the sale of C-130 transport aircraft to a foreign government. The contract was valued at nearly $300 million (USD). The V.P. of International Business Development was convinced he had the sale wrapped up and announced in front of his entire sales force that he personally was on his way to the country to “sew up the deal” and bring home a contract. The team cheered because the company was desperate to land an international customer for this new (and significantly more expensive) version of the C-130. A month later he returned, without an order.
I had just joined the Lockheed team (coming from Boeing) and had some knowledge of this particular international customer. This customer was famous for telling you what you wanted to hear in meetings. In their mind it was rude not to. If you asked,“How high a priority is it to replace your aging transport fleet?” The answer you would likely get at the commanding General level is, “It is a very high priority indeed.” The more senior the meeting, the more polite they would be. It wasn’t until you saw them put pen to paper, or real actions by staff that these polite words became deeds.
No work was being done at the staff level to back the kind words. In this case, we were drinking our own bathwater, hearing what we wanted to hear and believing it. No independent assessments were done on our side to catch this. Nay sayers who tried to point this out were belittled as not being team players.
After several months of frustratingly little to no progress (but always nice words) the V.P. reluctantly handed the campaign over to me. I called a meeting of the entire team (consultants, field office, U.S. Embassy personnel, suppliers familiar with the country, etc...) and over a three-day period conducted a detailed assessment of this campaign.
After analyzing the array of decision makers and their priorities it became clear that we were competing for the coins at the bottom of the couch from this customer (i.e. what’s left after all the “priority” projects were funded). That despite our efforts this was not a priority project for the country leadership and NEVER would be. We also discovered through this candid assessment process that if they had sufficient leftover funds (which they did quite regularly), they would spend it on a product from a country who would most appreciate the gesture.
Three entirely different products (heavy artillery, shipborne radar, our C-130 transport aircraft) from three countries were competing for these leftover funds. The countries were the UK, France and the United States. Since this gesture would be to pay-off past geo-political favors, the leadership of this country would make the selection of the program based on which country would appreciate the gesture the most. It wasn’t at all how we assumed this decision would be made. It wasn’t at all similar to the way our government makes decisions. But if we wanted to win this deal we would have to show, at the highest level of our government, that this gesture would be received warmly. We knew the Prime Minister of the UK was doing all he actively could as was the French Prime Minister.
Upon hearing what it would take to win and weighing this against our other company priorities in Washington D.C. we chose to not invest the political capital required to garner the necessary political support. We made a conscious sound business decision based on real facts. We walked away.
A sale was made 10 years later.
Do you know the true priorities that are driving the decision of your next big pursuit? Does your sales process welcome, or better yet, encourage independent assessments? Is your sales campaign culture such that outliers are shouted down, muted or their unpopular views just outright dismissed? You can see how these factors impacted this sales campaign. Have a similar experience?