Your bid strategy is only ever going to be as good as the information you feed into your bid strategy formulation process.
So it goes without saying that you want to make sure the information and insights gathered in by your Business Development operatives – as your frontline, primary research gatherers – are as accurate and as “real” as possible.
On which note . . . . in the same manner as clients will often be cagey or omit key information in tender debriefs, they’ll often be not quite as upfront in pre-probity meetings as you’d like to think or hope.
So it’s incumbent upon your “BDs”, to make sure they make a savvy judgement about the accuracy of the inputs they’re getting from the prospect’s personnel.
Here are some critical cues that your fellow meeting participant isn’t being completely on the level with you.
- Evasiveness (a la classic politician-style behaviour):
Typical signs are long responses to a question, but no actual direct answer.
For example, the procuring organisation might not be certain that they’re really going to actually award a contract at the end of the tender process. Maybe they haven’t got their funding secured yet – but don’t want to disclose that, because that would certainly discourage any bidders that don’t wish to waste time or budget bidding for a project or contract that might be an illusion.
A prospect being questioned in this scenario might, for example, go into all manner of sideline issues.
- Exclusionary qualifiers:
For example, “fundamentally”, “not really”.
These all amount to a desire to give an indirect answer or an indirect denial.
They beg for a follow-up question. And you should ensure you ask one – gently, but savvily nonetheless. You’re going to be investing major resources if you decide to go for this bid, and you want to be doing it on a foundation of true and accurate information.
- Dressing up the lie:
“To tell you the truth.” “Frankly.” “Honestly.” “To be honest with you.”
You know them. By the way, sometimes these can be simply habitual for someone . . . maybe you do this yourself. Be careful with it. The question may well be asked, Aren’t you always telling the truth? Aren’t you always being honest? So why bother with making a special point of it with the particular statement you’re about to make this time?
- Offering too much information (especially if some of the information is irrelevant) in answer to a specific question:
This can (depending upon the context) be indicative of a desire to smoke over the facts. It can also be a ploy to manage your perception and convince you of a greater degree of honesty than is actually the case.
This tactic is closely related to the evasiveness tactic.
- Attempting to be over-convincing:
This is the opposite of evasiveness. It’s basically an attempt to ensure believability.
The skill with this tactic is to work out whether your prospect is over-compensating, or just passionate about the issue you’ve raised . . . which makes it particularly important to have your antenna up throughout the conversation leading up to that point.
THEY’RE ALL DIVERSIONARY
In a sense, all of these are diversionary tactics . . . and any combination of them can be employed.
A particularly key point of awareness for a BD in a situation in which they suspect their fellow meeting participants aren’t being straightforward, is to take the prospects’ language literally. For example, “wouldn’t” does NOT equate to “won’t” or “haven’t” or “didn’t”. What these are, are protesting statements without an actual denial.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of listening through the filter of your own emotions or your own logic, or your own ethical standards, and to try to make sense of what you’re being told, from that perspective. And that’s a very easy way to allow yourself to be misled.
Two Massive Red Flags
Two massive red flags that you’re inadvertently threatening to uncover information the prospect doesn’t want uncovered, are:
- An aggressive or overly defensive response (i.e. attacking the questioner . . . not a good sign), and
- Turning the question back on the asker, in a particularly animated way.
Of course, any of these could be habits in their own right. BUT . . . too many in quick succession, form what is known as a “cluster” . . . a combination of tell-tale signs that definitely spell cause for concern.
Also in the outright dishonesty category is a verbal / non-verbal disconnect. A simplistic example: A prospect nods his head while giving a “No” answer verbally. That’s a cue that the brain is so confused with trying to disguise or protect their ingenuine position, that it can’t keep up.
Closely related to that – in the arena of body language – is a new, sudden physical movement at the point where the body connects with the floor or the seat e.g. bouncing the foot or shifting in the chair. Investigators say this is a big one.
Similarly, sudden grooming gestures, such as fixing a tie, or running the hand across the hair, glancing at a watch, moving the hands to the face. This is a typical, unconscious response when someone flicks into the“fight or flight” mode of the autonomic nervous system.
The Eyes Are Indeed the Windows of the Soul
Still on body language, remember the adage, “the eyes are the windows of the soul”.
Looking up to the right, means they’re visually picturing or constructing something that’s never actually happened. But looking up to the left, means they’re remembering something. However, that applies only if they’re right-handed. In the case of a left-handed prospect, the opposite will apply . . . so be careful with that one, especially since you may have no idea whether your prospect is a right or a left-hander.
And still on eyes, shifty eyes usually indicate dishonesty. Here’s the big clue with a shifty-eyed meeting participant: Does he or she look straight back at you after completing a statement? If so, he or she is typically trying to see whether you buy what’s just been said.
Of course, on the phone, you lose the nonverbal cues. But you can, for example, still hear a chair moving or paper shuffling, or a keyboard being tapped, when a question leaves the other party feeling awkward and fiddling unconsciously while trying to think up an unnatural answer.
Aside from being aware of these cues per se, and the likelihood that they’re being employed more often than you’d like to think, your most critical communication strategy is not to allow your mind to fast-forward to your next intended question or statement. As soon as you fall into that trap, you stop yourself picking up all the cues being projected in the answering of your current question.
A WORD OF CAUTION
Mastering this is the field of the expert. It’s easy to learn these general principles and then make the mistake of applying them universally, in an overly simplistic manner.
There’s a wad of variables to take into account:
- Is something entirely normal behaviour for the individual you’re conversing with (versus does their communication modus operandi suddenly change . . . especially in mid-conversation)?
If you know someone and you’ve got a baseline understanding of them, you know how that individual typically communicates and conducts themselves . . . then any variance on this is a reasonably reliable flag.
- Is someone demonstrating “closed” body language (arms crossed, for example) purely because they’re cold? Make an indirect observation that helps you confirm or deny that.
- Is someone jiggling their foot simply because they actually are a jiggler? If it appears to be a response to a statement or a question that made them uncomfortable, move on to a more comfortable topic . . . and then move back towards the less comfortable one. Does the jiggling stop and then resume?
When someone is stressed, the body emanates that stress . . . generally. Compulsive, pathological liars can, of course, be a totally different kettle of fish. They take a whole elevated level of smarts to deal with. Let’s hope we don’t encounter too many of those in the organisations of our prospective clients.
BUT if you DO ever encounter someone you suspect falls into that category, here are three key cues to look for:
- Indirect answers.
Yes, it’s a typical ploy that some people use to get out of a tight spot. But compulsive liars turn the indirect answer into an art form.
- Repeated vagueness in statements.
People who lie will typically avoid being detailed; they know there is too much to have to remember in a future conversation.