8 ways to win a proposal even though you started at RFP release

A late start makes things harder, but it doesn't mean you can't win

It is possible to start at RFP release and win. It may be challenging, maybe even extra challenging. It’s not something you should attempt if you’re going to be ordinary in your approach. It’s not something that should be your routine. But it is one of those things that if you are going to do it, you better seek to do it better than the folks who had time to prepare. But how? 

See also:
Dealing with adversity
  1. Avoid being disqualified. Do you have the minimum registrations, certifications, and qualifications for their purchasing department to be willing to contract with you? You can’t count on them working with you to fill in the gaps after they select you. They are far more likely to reject you without any further consideration. So find out before you write your proposal what those minimum requirements are before you bother to prepare a proposal you might not even be eligible to win.
  2. Understand how what the customer is buying impacts what they are concerned about. If the customer is buying a solution to a mission-critical problem unique to their organization, they are really going to have to trust the provider. And they are a lot less likely to trust a stranger to be that provider. If the customer is buying a commodity, they may only care about the price and not care about who provides it at all. If it’s labor intensive, they may be concerned about your ability to quickly provide enough people. If it’s specialized, they may care about your ability to provide people with the right qualifications. If it involves their legacy systems, they’ll likely want experience with them. To win, you’ll need to provide more of what they care about than anyone else. Even if you start at RFP release, you can anticipate what that will be.
  3. Give the customer a reason to select you instead of the company currently doing the work. Don’t bid because you can do the work. Bid because you can prove your ability to do the work so much better the customer will be impressed. When the customer already has someone capable of doing the work, they need another reason to switch. And that reason must be compelling enough to make switching worth it.  
  4. Be easy to work with. Contract the way they like to contract, on the vehicles they prefer to use. Allow payment the way they like to pay. Don’t create extra steps. Don’t try to change the customer. Anticipate their needs and provide the information they need before they ask for it. An outsider showing up at RFP release who is more work than the companies they already know is not likely to win.
  5. Assume the competition has problems. If the incumbent or other competitors are perfect, then you’ve already lost. If you don’t know the competition, make assumptions. Solve the problems you imagine them having. When you show up with a solution for something that’s caused the customer pain, they might see you as a better match for them. Bid as if your competitors are unresponsive, lack innovation, have fallen behind the times, missed opportunities to excel, have quality problems, aren’t efficient, are too expensive, don’t produce the best results, are slow to improve, and anything similar you can think of. Then prove that you are not. Sure it’s better to have intelligence that tells you what their problems are, but not all problems get reported. Sometimes a less than satisfied customer can be lured away when they realize something better is available. Only they won’t be impressed by claims and promises. They need proof. So show up with solutions to the problems you assume they have.
  6. Eliminate their worries. If things are going well enough, the customer may not want the hassle of changing vendors. Your mission is to prove that there will be more hassles if they stay with the status quo than if they select you. You need to show that not only have you anticipated and eliminated all the hassles, you’ve made improvements that will make their future even more hassle-free. 
  7. Get the top score. In a formal evaluation with written evaluation criteria, the company that gets the top score wins. Before you decide whether to bid, determine whether you can outscore everyone else who might bid. If the evaluation criteria put weight on qualifications, staff, or experience you don’t have, walk away. But if they put weight on your approaches, you have an opportunity to prove that you’ve got the best way to do things. Don’t propose being capable. Be the company that matches the evaluation criteria perfectly.
  8. Avoid killing your past performance record. You can always skip everything above and simply win by having a low price. But then you have to deliver. Every proposal you win is a chance to fail in performance. If you want a top past performance record and a customer that will write you testimonials so you can continue to beat future competitors, you must deliver. Past performance that is merely satisfactory is enough to hurt your win rate. If you can’t win and then perform in a way that the customer will love, you shouldn’t bid.

If you can do the work, that’s not good enough — don’t bid. Only bid if you can get the top score. You won’t get the top score by watering down your message and sounding just like everyone else. You won’t get the top score by claiming to be great. Your greatness will either be proven or you will lose to someone better prepared. Maybe today will be the day they didn’t try hard enough, and your hard work will pay off.

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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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