What matters about winning competitive proposals

Proposals are always competitive

All proposals are competitive. Even if the RFP is completely wired to give the advantage to one preferred company and no one else bids, that company is competing against themselves. They can still blow it. And a naïve upstart can always come in and steal it away because they don’t know they can’t win. It may be rare, but it does happen. And customers are sometimes ready for something new.

Which will the customer select?

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Winning

You should go into every proposal assuming it’s competitive and pushing to be better than you were yesterday. If everyone proposes the same best practices, who would the customer choose? You need to push past the same best practices so that what you propose is better than the “best” practices. What do you do that’s different from everybody else? And most importantly, why? The reasons why you do things differently are also the reasons why the customer should select you. Why is your approach better?

Winning is competitive. Customers often select the winner based on what’s different about their proposals. They look for the differences and consider whether those differences make one vendor more attractive than the others. By highlighting the things that make your proposal different and the reasons why, you are halfway to articulating your differentiators and why you are the customer’s best alternative.

The customer will compare your proposals to the other proposals

It helps to do a competitive assessment, so you know who you are competitive against. After all, the customer is going to compare you to them. A competitive assessment will help you can position your strengths in contrast to their weaknesses. If you really do a good job of explaining yourself, you can turn their strengths into weaknesses. When you discuss why you chose the trade-offs that you did, there is nothing wrong with comparing the negative outcomes of selecting differently. And if a competitor happens to be taking a negative approach, that’s too bad for them. 

To do this, you need to know what your competitor’s strengths and weaknesses are in relation to the RFP requirements. You also need to know your own strengths and weaknesses. But most importantly, you will need to know why your strengths matter. It’s not enough to have a good approach, you need to explain why your good approach matters.

Figuring out what to propose is full of trade-off decisions. Should you emphasize speed, performance, or cost? It helps greatly if you can make trade-off decisions that give you strength where your competitors are weak. It helps even more if you are sufficiently aware of the customer's preferences to choose the side of each trade-off that reflects the customer’s preferences.

Why?

But ultimately you’ll need to know why your approaches should get the top score. If you have the customer’s evaluation criteria, you need to describe your approach in ways that will maximize your score. A “best practice” that does not get the top score is a losing practice. The evaluation criteria are even more important than the SOW in determining what to offer. If you are figuring out your approaches based solely on the SOW and not on the evaluation criteria, your win probability will suffer.

This is why winning competitive proposals has more do with the reasons “why” than the features you propose. Spend a little less time obsessing over your qualifications and the features of your approaches, and a little more on why those qualifications and features make what you are proposing the customer’s best alternative. After all, that’s what the customer is trying to figure out. The winner is usually the company who helps them with that the most.

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Carl Dickson

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

Carl is an expert at winning in writing. The materials he has published have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a prolific author, 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.

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