How should you position your experience to get the best score? You may need to position things differently in different sections of the proposal where experience is relevant. Make sure you thoroughly tailor any experience write-ups you might be reusing to match the way you will be positioning it.
You can’t be all things to all people. What matters about your corporate experience to the new customer? Don’t try to position against all of these that sound beneficial. Carefully select the ones that will have the most impact on the proposal evaluation and tailor your write-ups around them.
Examples of ways to position your corporate experience:
- Capabilities. Capabilities are easily claimed but difficult to prove. Customers often turn to experience as a proof point for capability. When this is the case, write about your experience as proof of your ability to do the things required by the RFP.
- Innovation. How do you prove your claim that you will be innovative? One way to do that is through past examples of things you did that were innovative.
- Responsiveness. If the customer is concerned about responsiveness, then a demonstration is better than a claim. Show that you’ve been responsive in the past.
- Size. Is your experience relevant? Can you show past projects that were comparable in size to the new project?
- Scope. Is your experience relevant? Can you show that your past projects covered the same range of work, skills, locations, or other scope attributes?
- Complexity. Is your experience relevant? How did the difficulty and complexity of your past projects relate to what the RFP requires?
- Coverage of the SOW. Can you show that you have done everything required by the RFP?
- Achievement. What did you accomplish that’s noteworthy and relevant to the new RFP? Accomplishments trump claims.
- Proven approaches. Can you show that you have implemented all of the approaches that you are proposing, and that they have been proven under similar conditions?
- Resources. Do you have sufficient depth and breadth? Do you have enough depth of resources to cover all contingencies and to deploy them quickly when needed? Do you have breadth of resources to cover every type that might be required?
- Proof. What claims in your proposal can you use experience to prove? Can you make the proof itemized, quantified, or evidence-based?
- Customer satisfaction. Was the customer happy with your performance? Would they do business with you again? Did they ask for more? Did they see a positive return on their investment? Did they say nice things about you that you can cite as testimonials?
- Risk mitigation. Everyone claims to be the low risk provider. What does your experience demonstrate about your ability to mitigate risks?
- Challenges. Every project has challenges. Have you overcome challenges like the ones the new customer is concerned about? Sometimes how you handle challenges matters more than how you handle the day-to-day routine. Examples from your experience can carry more weight than claims about your ability to meet the challenges.
- Surges. Everyone says they can handle the peak workloads. But that’s just talk. What kind of surges have you handled in the past?
- Quality. Everyone says they will deliver the highest quality. Can you prove the quality of your past work?
- Speed. Can you deliver quickly enough? Can you meet the deadlines? Is your project schedule real or a work of fiction? What is your past track record? Make sure you provide details and don’t just claim you have a great track record of on-time delivery.
- Exceeding the specifications. How many times have you written that you will “meet or exceed” the specifications in the RFP? How many times did you prove it? If you have actually done it, then you should consider featuring that in your project descriptions.
- Formalization and maturity. If your new customer is looking for the kind of expertise that helps the customer formalize and improve the maturity of their processes, helps them reduce chaos, improves repeatability, traceability, and all that process goodness, then instead of simply describing the tasks you performed on previous contracts, consider describing how you introduced more formal and mature processes and the benefits they brought to your previous customers.
- Executive oversight. I’ve seen a lot of proposals say that some high-level executive will be personally responsible for customer satisfaction or similar words. Quite often the customer may only interact with that executive once or twice a year. If that level of responsiveness will matter to your new customer, then show how actively involved your executives have been in the past and what a difference it made.
- Improvements. Sometimes a customer needs to make improvements or turn things around. The work you’ve done that brought benefits to previous customers can often be positioned as similar improvements. You might even be able to position the improvements as change management.
- Solutions. There is a big difference between services to operate or maintain something and services needed to solve a specific problem. This is true even though many projects contain elements of both. Because of this many projects could be positioned as either one.
- Stakeholders. Some contracts benefit the customer’s stakeholders more directly than they do the customer. And sometimes there are a number of stakeholders who interact with a project. Make sure you are positioning your experience to focus on the right parties.
- Foundation building. If the customer is preparing for the future, they may see value in experience that shows you built a foundation for your previous customers and how it benefited them.
- Flexibility and adaptation. Sometimes the customer isn’t sure what will happen over the life of the contract. And even though there will be a contract with pricing based on the requirements in the RFP, they may desire flexibility. Flexibility is easy to promise, but challenging to deliver. Examples from your past can help you substantiate that you really are flexible. Claims that you will partner with the customer and work collaboratively are similar.
- Staffing. I have seen a lot of proposals promise that a company will fully staff the project on-time because it has dedicated recruiters. But how reliable is that? If on-time staffing is important to your new customer, consider citing examples of how quickly you’ve staffed previous contracts. The same applies to retaining the incumbent contractor’s staff or retention in general.
- Lies, damn, lies, and statistics. What can you quantify? What can you aggregate across all your projects? Or your entire team? If you can’t roll up the numbers and show statistics, then cherry pick the numbers or provide anecdotes. Sometimes a single example is more credible than all your claims.
- Tools. If specific tools are important to the customer or critical to the success of the project, instead of organizing your experience by the tasks performed, consider organizing it by the tools you used and the benefits that resulted from how you used them.
- Budget. Every customer is concerned about cost overruns. Some projects are particularly susceptible to them. Saying you won’t go over budget just won’t cut it. Showing examples from your past projects where you’ve come in under budget is a lot more credible.
A few more considerations
Consider showing your experience in a table or matrix. Projects in rows and SOW requirements as columns. Or projects in columns and skills as rows. You can use dots or colored backgrounds at the intersections to show coverage, depth, or breadth. You can also add dates or quantities. A matrix makes for a great introduction or summary of your experience.
Consider using the examples above for competitive positioning. All of the examples above can be used to show why you are better than your competitors, and not just for positioning your experience. They are even potential ways to differentiate your proposal. This is because it's really a list of things the customer might care about. Everything in a proposal should be positioned against things that the customer cares about. You want to submit the proposal that the customer cares about the most, because it best reflects the things that matter to them.
Make sure the previous customer agrees. It is entirely possible when writing positioning copy to turn something minor into the primary focus. If there is even the potential for a reference check, make sure that the previous customer agrees with how you have characterized your experience. If there is any disagreement, no matter how defensible you think your claims are, it could damage your chances with the new customer. Positioning your experience should be about perspective and not completely changing the nature of what you did.