When you are a contractor, sometimes deadlines are missed, budgets are exceeded, or specifications go unmet. Sometimes it’s because of an oversight, bad estimates, or mismanagement. And sometimes it’s because the customer was unclear or changed their minds. Either way, your past performance record may suffer. Customer complaints, cure letters, or termination of a task can do irreparable damage to your ability to win future work.
It can be worse when you are trying to bid a recompete, because you can’t hide from it by not saying anything about it. The customer knows.
So how do you win a proposal when you know you might have negative past performance information?
Start by looking it at from the customer’s perspective. You have a vendor that had a problem. Do you care? What matters to you as the customer? Did they make things right? Did you have to drag them, kicking and screaming, to make things right? Or did they respond in a way that impressed you? What do you anticipate from them in the future? Do you still trust them? Are they better than your alternatives?
These are the questions that you need to anticipate and have answers for. You may have noticed that a lot of them depend on what you did. What you say about it now may not matter. The problem is that if negative performance drove the customer to complain, the odds are that you weren’t being responsive and how you did respond did not impress them. The least effective way to address a past performance problem is in a proposal. And yet, that may be just what you have to do…
Here are some of the proposal strategies we’ve tried with customers who had past performance problems:
- Change before the new RFP comes out
- Let them see the changes that are coming when the new RFP comes out
- Say that the new contract frees you from the restrictions of the old contract, so now you can bid the changes you wanted to implement all along
- Put the emphasis on how you responded instead of what occurred
- Show that you are an example of the right way to respond to a problem
- Show how the issue demonstrates that you are trustworthy
- Arrange for your president or a senior executive to meet with them, show commitment, and get feedback
- Talk about what changed during the course of the old contract
- Show that you proved your willingness to partner with the customer in difficult circumstances, even if it wasn’t in your financial interests
- Prove that every challenge you’ve faced has made you a stronger, better company
- Add staff
- Replace staff
- Add new resources, software, or tools
- Add or replace subcontractors
- If you can’t show a rapid response, show a thorough investigation and comprehensive resolution
- Explain why it can never happen again
- Put a new emphasis on prevention instead of repair
- Improve transparency and real-time status awareness
- Track metrics and then share the data
- Make everything new
- Give them a reason to believe things will be different, and give them something to want
- Show that how you have changed or responded makes you a better choice than any of your competitors who lack that experience and will show up unprepared
Remember that when the RFP comes out, the question in the customer’s mind is who they should pick. If you have a negative issue you may not be doomed. It just makes it harder to be the better pick. It is critical that you show why you are the better pick.
Out of all the things we’ve tried, what actually worked?
The only time these techniques work is when:
- You have a positive relationship with the customer and they trust you
- The customer has seen the changes you describe
- Your competitors suck worse than you do
If you don’t interact with the customer except when there’s a problem, then all you can hope for are competitors who have messed up worse than you did. That’s not a winning strategy.
A winning strategy turns the negative into a positive by making it about a better future. A winning strategy makes the result of the problem something you can brag about. It’s not about hiding. It’s about using it as a stepping stone to becoming something better than your competitors.
Many more strategies and tips like these are available in the PropLIBRARY MustWin and Recipe Libraries. Information about how to get access to them is available here.
Subscribe to PropLIBRARY
Unlock our premium content, including the recipes, forms, checklists, etc. that make it easy to turn our recommendations into winning proposals.
The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is an expert at winning in writing. He is a prolific author, frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant.
In addition, the groups Carl moderates on LinkedIn provide a place for tens of thousands of business development and proposal professionals to discuss best practices and network.