Separating how you figure out what to offer from writing about it is critical to avoid endless draft cycles that only end when you run out of time and you submit the proposal you have instead of the proposal you want. But you still have the problem of how to design your offering. Designing your offering is an engineering problem. And the engineering approach depends on the nature of what you offer. There is no single engineering methodology that is best for all.
But there are some things that they all have in common. Knowing what they are gives you the ability to start designing your offering early, while ensuring that what you come up with will be what you need to win the proposal.
The items below are a combination of inputs and goals that should be a part of your offering design approach:
- The process and criteria that drive their decision. In an RFP this is usually described as the evaluation criteria. Sometimes this is detailed and formal, and other times it isn’t. Behind what it says in the RFP are interpretations and implementation procedures. Sometimes there is one decision maker, sometimes a consensus, and sometimes there are influencers. You top goal should be to design your offering to achieve the best evaluation. This requires treating the evaluation criteria as input requirements.
- Compliance with the customer’s specifications, typically found in the RFP. If your offering is not compliant with the RFP, you may have no chance of winning. And yet RFP compliance is not enough to win. RFP compliance is the baseline or starting point for a company serious about winning. If your offering is not designed to be fully RFP compliant, you’re not even in the game.
- Compliance with other directives the customer must comply with. They sometimes forget and leave these out of the RFP, but they matter to the customer. A lot.
- Technical issues and solutions. Will your offering actually do or deliver what it is supposed to?
- Management issues and solutions. An offering design should reflect more than just the technical details. Do you have the right organization, procedures, allocation of resources, and oversight to do or deliver those technical details? The easier the technical details are to achieve, the more important the management details become. The more complex the project logistics become, the more important the management details become.
- What matters to the customer? The customer will make their selection not only on what’s in the RFP, but also on how they will be impacted or will benefit or perceive how your offering aligns with what they value. If you are competing with other proposals that all comply with the RFP, but yours reflects things that matter to the customer more than the others, you have a distinct competitive advantage.
- What matters about what they are buying? The customer may not be experts in what they are buying. They may not know which features are important. By showing insight into what features matter, you also show that you matter.
- Trade-offs. All proposals are full of trade-offs. Your offering design should anticipate and decide how you will approach them. When companies second guess their offering, it often revolves around the trade-offs. Getting that out of the way so you can move forward with confidence will help you maintain a focus on winning instead of redesigning your offering during proposal development.
- Differentiators. Customers often make their selections based on what they perceive the differences between the offers to be. Your offering design should specifically call out those differences that are advantages. Designing differentiation into your offering is critical for winning.
- The reasons why. When the RFP requires all vendors to offer the same thing, they base their decision on other things like the way you will prepare or deliver your offering or whether they can trust you to deliver as promised. The reasons why you do things you do and made the decisions the way you did helps to establish your credibility, insight, and judgment. When everybody offers the same thing, addressing the reasons “why” can make your proposal the better value, even if you are offering the exact same thing.
- Whether it is compatible with the price to win and your profitability goals. Did your engineers come up with a Chevy or a Cadillac? Does it match the customer’s budget? Will it be competitive? If you wait until the end of the proposal to find out, you could be in for a nasty surprise that you don’t have time to correct. Designing to the right budget should be done at the beginning and validated before you start describing your offering in writing.
- How it supports your pricing strategies. It’s not enough to just hit the right number. You may also need to reflect the right pricing strategies. For example, do you want to focus on long term or short term costs? How do you want the pricing to scale with volume? What customer behaviors do you want to incentivize?
- Does what you plan to offer support your business unit’s strategies? What are the strategic goals of your business unit? What capabilities, technologies, territories, customer relationships, or staffing are you trying to develop? How does the design of your offering support that?
- What results will your offering produce for the customer? From the customer’s perspective, the best offering is often the offering that produces the best results and not necessarily the one with the best features. Beyond complying with the RFP, your offering design should specifically address and maximize the results it will produce for the customer.
- Why is your offering credible and why should the customer trust that you can deliver as promised? Why should the customer believe that your offer will do what you say it will do for the customer, or that you can deliver it? An offering design that is not credible cannot win. Believing in yourself does not make it credible. You need to be able to prove the credibility of your offering design.
- Performance risks, customer risks, scope creep, supplier risks, economic risks, staffing risks, and all the other risks. All customers care about risk. Some more than others. All offerings come with risk. Some more than others. The design of your offering will have a risk profile. If it is well designed, those risks will match the customer’s preferences. Matching the customer’s risk expectations should also be an offering design input requirement.
The result of an offering design for a proposal is not just functionality, it’s a value proposition. You not only want to know what your value proposition is before you start writing, you want to validate that the customer perceives that value the same way you do. By making sure your offering design incorporates the considerations above, you provide the information you need to articulate your value proposition. Doing this separately from writing the proposal gives you a chance to change or perfect your offering before it’s tangled up in a narrative, where even small changes can be extremely disruptive to the proposal effort. It also sets you up to write a proposal that is focused on delivering your value proposition instead of one that is desperately focused on trying to discover a value proposition before you run out of time.
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