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Why an information advantage is the best competitive advantage

The most important thing your proposal writers need to write a great proposal

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 that they do not matter. The customer who will be making the decision matters far more than you do. A much better way to find your competitive advantage is to focus on what they prefer.

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A competitive advantage is something that will make it more likely the customer will pick you over their other alternatives. The best competitive advantage is to discover your customer’s preferences.

When the customer follows a formal evaluation process, an information advantage regarding what it will take to get the highest score can be decisive. When the customer will award to the lowest price technically acceptable offer, an information advantage regarding what they mean by "technically acceptable" gives you a definite edge. When there are trade-offs involved in fulfillment, an information advantage regarding which of the trade-offs the customer prefers give you a competitive advantage. Instead of looking inward for a competitive advantage, you should gain insight about the customer that amounts to 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. When it's too late to get to know the customer, all you can do is look inward for competitive advantages. That is one reason why many people favor not bidding when the company has no customer insight.

In order to develop an information advantage, you should ask:

  • 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, especially regarding trade-offs?
  • How do we turn what we know into a better evaluation score?

Your information advantage should be turned into a positioning advantage by presenting your company and offering in the context of what you have learned. Your information advantage 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. Often the same feature can be presented as having different benefits. Which benefits matter most to the customer? The exact same feature may be perceived as having better or worse value based on which benefit you present. An information advantage enables you to maximize the value to this particular customer.

When it’s not clear whether the evaluation will focus on price or value, an information advantage can make all the difference. Should you emphasize value? How will the customer consider value? Or is the lowest price more important to them? What would make a low priced offering unacceptable to the customer?

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Your bid process should be structured around developing your information advantage. It is far better to start early, when you can take active measures to gain customer insight. But even when you start late, the process should drive you to make the best use of the information and knowledge that you have.

Some companies make better use of what they know about the customer, opportunity, and competitive environment in their proposals than other companies do. We call these companies "winners." Some companies bid blind and send as many customers as possible the same proposal, reusing their proposal text as much as possible to keep costs low and bid at a high volume. We call these companies "losers." They celebrate when they win (on price), without realizing this can doom them to a future of declining margins.

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. Your proposal process should not be a document assembly or production process. It should be an information advantage development and exploitation process. This is exactly what we have built into the MustWin Process that is available to subscribers on PropLIBRARY.

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 and turn it into an information advantage.

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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a frequent speaker, trainer, and consultant and can be reached at carl.dickson@captureplanning.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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