When most people think about what their competitive advantages might be, they tend to focus on themselves. They ask questions like “What do we do better?” and “How can we exceed the requirements?” But they are missing a much better way to find their competitive advantages.
A competitive advantage is something that will make it more likely the customer will pick you over your competitors. The best way to find a competitive advantage is to discover your customer’s preferences. When the customer follows a formal evaluation process, the best way to find a competitive advantage is to influence the criteria used during the evaluation in your favor. When the customer will award to the lowest price technically acceptable offer, the best way to find a competitive advantage is to discover exactly what they mean by technically acceptable.
In every case, what drives the search for a competitive advantage is information. Instead of looking for a competitive advantage, you should look for an information advantage.
When people turn inward to look for a competitive advantage, it’s often a sign that they are trying to identify their competitive advantages too late in the game. At the back-end all you have is your own resources so at that stage people tend to look inward for competitive advantages. That is why they ask the wrong questions.
Developing an Information Advantage
In order to develop an information advantage, the questions they should be asking themselves include:
- What do we know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment that others might not?
- What can we find out about the customer’s preferences, opportunity, and competitive environment?
- How do we turn that knowledge into a better evaluation score?
Your information advantage should be turned into a positioning advantage. It may result in you developing a better offering, or it may result in a proposal that scores better with the exact same offering.
An information advantage can help you make better trade-offs in developing your offering so that you come in at a lower price. Or it could help you target the right features to better meet the customer’s needs. Or it could give your offering strength where your competitors' offerings are weak.
When the RFP requires everybody to propose the exact same thing, an information advantage can enable you to show your offering in better alignment with the customer’s goals. When it’s not clear whether the evaluation will focus on price or value, an information advantage can make all the difference.
Your bid process should be structured around developing your information advantage. It is far better to start early, when you can take active measures (influencing what’s in the RFP) as well as passive measures (discovering what’s in the RFP). But even when you start late, the process should drive you to make the best use of the information and knowledge that you have.
Your business development, sales, capture, and proposal activities and hand-offs can all be thought of as information hand-offs and steps toward adding to what you know and converting it into what you need to say and do in order to win.
The data you obtain, the reports you produce, the format you write things down in, how you assess what you’ve discovered, and what you do about it should all be done in ways that make it easy for your data to build and change into an information advantage. If your bid process is just about reports and reviews, it may not be doing everything it can to carry information forward in the best ways to turn it into an information advantage.
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