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Proposal strategies based on the number of proposals anticipated

What matters to the customer changes when they get swamped with proposals

With government multiple award RFPs of huge value becoming routine, this is a good time to reflect on the customer and how the number of proposals they receive impacts how they make their selection decisions. 

What if they only get one proposal?
If the customer only expects to get one proposal, or if that’s just the way it turns out, they approach the proposal with a few considerations:

See also:
Bid Strategies and Proposal Themes
  1. Does it meet their requirements? They have no other proposals to compare it to. So they compare it to themselves. Will it meet their needs?
  2. Can they do better? With no other proposals to compare it to, this is guesswork. Do they believe that they might find a better offer with some time and effort? Do they have the time to cancel and conduct another procurement?
  3. Should they cancel the procurement? Do they have rules that require more than one vendor response? What do they need to do to satisfy their procurement process when they only have one proposal? Do they need to go find someone else to bid? Will they consider the other bids or are they just to enable them to move forward with the one they really want?

Winning when you are the only proposal is typically about showing them that you meet all of their requirements, do it effectively and competitively, and represent far more value than cost. It's only if the customer can get by without what they are procuring that you may also have to convince them to complete the procurement.

What if they get several proposals?

The first consideration if they have several proposals, is whether any fail the minimum requirements for consideration. If they do, and they follow “the rule of three,” they can consider the bid competitive and more easily move forward.

But now they have to do a real evaluation and select one from amongst the alternatives. How do the bids compare to their evaluation criteria? Will they compare the bids to each other? Will they pick based on the differentiators? How will they handle any cost differences? 

This is the majority of procurements. It is why we focus on not merely being compliant and put so much focus on differentiation, relationship marketing, and developing an information advantage. You want to be the proposal they compare all the others to. Even if they don’t compare them, well-written differentiators are far more likely to register as strengths during evaluation. It also helps to be the company that they already know and trust, and not the ones that are unknown risks.

But this is also where bad habits tend to set in. If you are compliant and there are only a few bids, you can win some of them just based on your qualifications, without putting a lot of effort into strategy or proposal writing. You won’t have the best win rate, but maybe you’ll get by and convince yourself that your bad habits “work” because you win one in five and are profitable.

Some companies stay like this because they think it’s the best they can do in their circumstances and it becomes a comfort zone. The majority of companies are like this. It's easy to find a comfort zone and get distracted by everything else that goes into running your business. Comfortable and distracted, they don't realize that they aren't winning nearly as much as they could. Until something goes wrong. And then all those bad habits catch up with them.

PropLIBRARY helps companies that want to be strategic and stay competitive. It contains so much information about win rates and return on investment and it shows how a little bit of effort can lead you to winning two to three out of five. The difference from one in five and three in five is huge and well worth the effort. PropLIBRARY shows how easy most companies are to beat.

What if they get dozens of proposals?

Now the customer can’t just read a few and compare. They need to be organized about it. The level of formality goes up. They need evaluation forms and scoring tables. They need excuses to throw some out to lighten the load. They need a team of evaluators. 

To win, you need to be compliant and not get thrown out. But compliance is not enough to win. You need differentiation. But you also need a scoring strategy. If your proposal is not intentionally optimized to maximize your score, your win rate will suffer. Having an existing relationship with the customer will give you some advantage, but the more bidders the more chances there are that someone new will score high enough to win. However, if you are to turn your relationship into an information advantage, you can also turn it into a potential scoring advantage. PropLIBRARY also contains dozens of articles to help you maximize your score.

Winning a procurement like this usually involves focusing on the win strategies that separate your proposal from the pack and enable you to outscore the competition. It helps to have a solid proposal process that surfaces win strategies and focuses your team on getting the highest score and not just getting something submitted.

What if they get hundreds of proposals?

Now the customer needs an enterprise approach just to simply evaluate them all. They need to process the proposals and not read them. They will have a rubric for what they are looking for. 

How do you stand out from the pack? Ease of processing.

If you're facing this kind of competition, don't put all of your effort into telling a story. Prepare your proposal for easy processing.

Can the customer find what they are looking for? Have you anticipated what will make a difference and matter to the evaluators? If they are well organized, the RFP will provide their rubric. If not, you’ll need to guess it. The more narrative you have to supply, the more important it becomes to know how the rubric applies to the text. 

Once you know what they need to see in the text of your proposal, then you should ask yourself whether you buried it in a bunch of irrelevant self-gratifying noise. Or did you stick to RFP terminology and design your proposal to highlight the details they need to process your proposal quickly? Can they evaluate the text by processing it instead of reading it? Can you make it checklist-simple for them?

Don’t expect to win based on claims. Expect to win on proof points. If each proposal makes dozens of claims and there are hundreds of proposals, the evaluator will gloss right over claims. 

Descriptions are almost as bad. Most descriptions, whether they are about your company, its approaches, or its experience, say very little that would actually impact the evaluation. Take any page from one of your past proposals, and highlight all the things you said that wouldn’t typically appear in the proposals of competitors responding to the same RFP, and aren’t just minor details or your grand aspirations. Everyone will be experienced. Everyone will have qualifications. Everyone will be compliant. The things that everyone claims will not get you the top score.

But facts, numbers, examples, and details that matter and are succinctly highlighted get attention and are scored. You help the evaluator process your proposal by pointing out the details that are worth taking note of because they differentiate your proposal and make you worth selecting. The easier your proposal is to evaluate, the most like a checklist they can process, the more differentiated it is, the better your chances of winning.

An example of this is the recruiting process. If you give them the typical sourcing, screening, selecting, and onboarding process, you’ll be just like everyone else. It probably won’t matter much if you’ve added more detail to each phase. With hundreds of proposals, they may not be drilling down to details like that. However, if you cite statistics and examples that demonstrate your ability to quickly hire and retain your staff under adverse circumstances, the numbers and details that make up your proof points will get noticed more than the same process noise everyone else will submit.

If you hide the good stuff in the middle of paragraphs, they might never see it. But if you put things in tables, lists, or other visuals, or even just bold them, they stand a better chance of being seen. Just make sure they are not only worth being seen, but are also worth taking note of and awarding them evaluation points.

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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.

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