Be prepared (obviously)

Apr 23, 2018

‘Why in the hell should we hire you over all these other firms?’ It’s a simple question you’d better be ready to answer if you want the contract.

If you watched any of the Olympics recently you probably saw skiers and bobsledders preparing for their runs by envisioning the course before them; how they planned to negotiate the terrain, twists, and turns ahead. Basketball players and golfers do it, too, envisioning their shot or drive. They’re putting themselves in the place they want to be. They call it “the zone.” It’s when everything seems to work; every shot finds the net and every drive finds the green. In business development and sales, we sometimes experience the phenomenon as well, and here’s a good example.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in a short-list interview with a local unit of government. We were one of four firms being interviewed based on our response to an RFQ/P for a multi-year contract opportunity.

Over the course of the week preceding the interview, we talked amongst ourselves about our “value-proposition,” the phrase we often use to describe the factors that differentiate us from our competition. We asked ourselves why the factors we identified should be important to the client, always looking to answer the question, “This is important because …?”

We were provided no agenda or format for the interview, but we did know who comprised the interview team and who the competitors were likely to be. We did our research and spent time anticipating the questions we were likely to be asked and who would ask them, and equally important, those we hoped wouldn’t be asked. We prepared our answers to each with persuasive responses intended to compel a positive outcome. We practiced and challenged one another. We didn’t know what to expect, so we had to be prepared for everything.

The preparation paid off. We were asked the questions we had hoped we would be asked. We were persuasive in our responses, making sure to answer the questions in a manner that communicated not only what we wanted them to hear, but what they needed to hear.

The thing about good preparation is that it sometimes enables you to steer the interview conversation in the direction you would like it to go. In our case, it was to the question we had hoped they would ask: “Why in the hell should we hire you over all of these other firms?” (Yes, that’s how the question was stated.) It was perfect, because that’s how we had rehearsed our value proposition.

Our response was direct and compelling. Our response was persuasive. We were in the zone we envisioned for ourselves.

Was it effective? Less than 30 minutes later, we received a call from the committee chair saying they had reached their decision and were recommending the selection of our firm.

For everyone reading this, I wanted to share what I think are a few important take-aways:

  • Always be prepared to give a quick overview of your response, your firm, your experience, etc.
  • Always be prepared if a prospective client simply asks why you think you are the best choice for this assignment.
  • Always be prepared for the likely questions (and decide who/how we will respond) as well as how you will react to any unlikely ones.
  • Always be prepared by making sure everyone on the interview team has read (and re-read) the RFP and your response.
  • Always be prepared to speak and concisely explain your knowledge/expertise and experience as it relates to a particular client/opportunity.
  • Always be prepared to accentuate the benefits of your firm and services (e.g., It’s a benefit because … It’s important because …).
  • Always be prepared to tell them why they should hire you (i.e., have a list in your head).

Envision what you’ll need to do to negotiate what’s likely to be the terrain, twists, and turns of your next interview or presentation, and put yourself in “the zone” you want to be in.

Marc Florian is vice president for Environmental Consulting & Technology, Inc., a professional consulting, engineering and scientific services organization serving clients and markets throughout the U.S. and on four continents. He can be reached at

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