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12 ways to turn proposal weaknesses into strengths

Show the customer that your approach to the issues make you a better selection

This is an article about doing proposals The Wrong Way. That is what you have to do when you are required to submit a proposal your company is not prepared for and you don’t have the information you need to win it. With all the problems and weaknesses that you have to overcome, maybe your company shouldn’t be bidding it at all, but that decision isn’t up to you. The best practices are all about preparation and won’t help you in adverse circumstances like these.

So you’ve got some challenges. It’s too late to fix your weaknesses, and you’ll just have to write around them. Ugh. That’s no way to win. It results in an evasive, unimpressive proposal. But sometimes that's all you can do. Sometimes, you just have to get something submitted and survive the experience. We feel your pain, and have been there ourselves, too many times. So here’s a list we put together with a dozen examples of how to take those weaknesses and turn them into strengths in your proposal:

See also:
Dealing with adversity
  1. If you lack relevant experience, explain how the experience you do have will give you unique insights. Instead of focusing on the quantity of experience, and who has more of it, focus on the relevance of your experience. Turn your experience into a strength that has prepared you for success instead of a weakness.
  2. If you don’t have the required staffing at the time of submission, then talk about how that enables you to right size the project or seek new expertise. If you do this well, you can turn your competitions strengths into a weakness by showing that their staffing is actually not what is needed.
  3. Insufficient knowledge becomes a strength when you focus on what you do know. Who, what, where, how, when, and why. Make your proposal about the ones you know and skip the rest. For this to become a strength, you must demonstrate that what you do know is critical for the success of the project.
  4. When you have options and aren't sure which to choose, you can still position as an expert on how to choose. Simply focus on both the pros and cons and leave the trade-offs unresolved. Show that you understand the issues and can help the customer make more informed decisions. The more insightful you can be about the trade-offs, the better your chances of making not knowing which to choose a strength.
  5. If you don't know anything about the customer's needs beyond what they've told you, you can still position as an expert in relevant matters. This becomes a strength when you can show the impact of your knowledge. What do you know that can affect the results? The bigger the impact, the more important your knowledge becomes and the more likely the customer will see it as a strength.
  6. If you can't be an expert, be experienced. If you can't be experienced, be insightful. If you can't be insightful, be capable. If you can't be capable, be compliant. If you can't be compliant, be fun. At each level, be a company the customer would like to work with. That is your strength.
  7. If you lack information about the customer and opportunity, position as being innovative (and risk conscious at the same time!).
  8. If you're not sure what your win strategies should be, steal your competitors' win strategies (or what you imagine they might be) and be more of whatever they are. If they are strong, steal their strengths. 
  9. If you can't give the customer what they want, give them what they should want. Maybe they don’t know what they want and will like the way you describe it better.
  10. The relevance of your past performance is what you make of it. If you don’t have relevant past performance, that just means you haven’t thought hard enough about how the experience you do have is relevant. Just hope the customer goes along with your rationalization.
  11. If the customer does not know you, then make it all about reputation. Focus them on the fact that others know you and think well of you. Make the evaluation about your reputation so that they have to think about you. By thinking about you, they are getting to know you. Make them doubt how well they know the incumbent.
  12. If your weakness is time and you just don't have enough of it, focus on compliance. Roll as many RFP requirements into tables as possible. If you can't describe how you comply, then simply state the RFP requirements that you comply with. This can get you thrown out, but (especially when the proposal pages limit is much lower than the length of the Statement of Work and the evaluation criteria emphasizes price) sometimes you can get away with it.

If all of that fails, then go all Sun Tzu and the Art of War on them. Instead of confronting on ground where you are weak, go somewhere else. Find ground where you have strength and make them come to you. If you have less technical capability, emphasize management, and vice versa.

The trick is knowing when to do proposals The Wrong Way. If winning is your highest priority, you should do things the right way by preparing and following the best practices. If you do things The Wrong Way on a bid you think you have a shot at winning, it just might ensure that you lose instead. If the biggest risk you face is that you might miss your deadline or not have anything to submit, then doing things The Wrong Way may keep things from falling apart.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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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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