(MoneyWatch) In sales, the deal is never done until it is done. So what if you've actually landed the big contract? Only rookies think that is the end of the matter.
Before you pop open the champagne, you have to endure the claw-back efforts of the incumbent vendors, the fears of internal staff, and the normal bumps and bruises of a new client relationship to navigate.
In short, you can still easily lose a deal at this point. Here's how to ensure that doesn't happen:
1. Move fast. An old Irish toast includes the line, "...and may you be a half-hour in heaven before the devil knows you're gone." In applying this logic to the art of the deal, you need to move on the schedule you put forth in your solution very quickly. This should include peer-to-peer conversations immediately at the point a contract is awarded. If you have to invent reasons to connect with the client, exchange information, and develop relationships, DO IT. The deal-killing gremlins are lurking in this domain, and you need to keep them at bay. Specifically, you do not want there to be any sort of prospect's remorse or a loss of momentum with the deal. These often happen right after the award phase. "Yes" doesn't mean "yes" until you are doing big business and they are paying big invoices.
2. Manage expectations. You need to re-connect with your executive sponsor at the point the deal is inked. Review the time-line, the milestones, the team roles, and responsibilities, as well as any foreseeable bumps that may occur in the process of initiating this new agreement. They have awarded you the business, but that doesn't mean they are focused on the issues of what implementation will require. You are the responsible party for driving the deal and keeping everyone on track.
3. Over-communicate. No one is watching this deal as closely as you are. This means you need to serve as the feedback loop to the prospects and the key people in your own company. The risk is reflected in that eternal poor excuse, "I thought they knew that..." I have heard these words hundreds of times on deals that were going south. The client was thought to scrutinizing the deal with the same vigilance we were. Another mistaken is believing that when we sent the reports/invoices/updates, they were being read with the same rigor we were reading them. NOT TRUE. The client has moved on and is going about his or her normal lives. Once there is an award, the communication has to increase, even though the client may not be as engaged. They stopped being engaged because this process took a lot of effort and they have other projects. People won't remember their disengagement when a deal starts to flounder. They will just put the blame on you. That is why you have to over-communicate.
4. Back-channel everything. You must hold onto your executive sponsor. Your "champion" is every bit as important after the award as he or she was before the award. There will be bumps and bruises along the way. You need to make certain during the initial stages and through the engagement you are preserving that voice of support. Also, you need to gauge the internal level of satisfaction with the relationship. Too often a company trusts what they hear every day from the day-to-day contacts about how things are going, only to be called to the carpet by an angry client. At this point, you are stuck backing up and trying to explain. Not a good place to be.
The award is the beginning of another process, not the end of the closing process. You have to anticipate what that process requires if you want to keep and maximize your big deals.