Winning your proposals by understanding these 3 paths to victory

It helps to start your proposals by understanding what has to happen for you to win.

Victory for a proposal means that the customer accepts your proposal instead of their other alternatives. Depending on the customer, there are different paths that can get you there. And sometimes getting there means taking more than one path.

The paths to victory include:

See also:
Winning
  1. Getting the top score. This is not nearly as straightforward as it sounds. First you have to assess the categories that get scored, and then what you have to do to maximize your score in each category. If the language is simple, bland, and generic, it won’t help you understand what is important to the customer. But sometimes you will gain insights that are tremendously helpful. For example, if they assess your ability to perform by giving points to experience, and they assess the quality of your staff based on their experience, and they assess your ability to manage the project based on whether you’ve managed projects of similar, size, scope, and complexity, and they have a separate experience section with a point score of its own… what do you think is most important to the customer? What do you think the entire proposal needs to be about? What context should everything be written in? Even if the evaluation criteria aren't this obvious, you should still write to put everything into a context that best reflects the evaluation criteria they gave you. Try looking at various combinations of the evaluation criteria and how they add up. You might find that a certain combination of evaluation criteria guarantees a win. When that's the case, guess what your proposal should focus on?
  2. Reflecting the customer preferences. The fewer details provided by the evaluation criteria, the more being able to write in a way that reflects the customer’s preferences matters. And on occasion, customer preferences matter more than the evaluation criteria. But either way, to maximize your score your offering has to reflect the customer’s preferences. The way you become the vendor that the customer prefers is when what you offer is what the customer prefers, the trade-offs you select are the ones the customer prefers, the approaches you take are the ones the customer prefers, the benefits you deliver are the ones that the customer prefers, what is in your proposal is what the customer prefers, and it is presented in the way that the customer prefers. If you read the evaluation criteria and can't find any particular path to victory, then look to what you know about the customer's preferences. If you read the RFP and you still don’t know the customer’s preferences, you will have to guess. But it’s much better when you know the customer well enough that you don’t have to guess.
  3. Having competitive pricing. Sometimes this means having the lowest pricing and sometimes it doesn’t. If pricing only counts for 10% of the evaluation, you can win by having a score that is less than 10% higher everywhere else. If pricing counts for 30% of the evaluation, your pricing is the second lowest, and the lowest price gets 30 points to your 25, you only need to be ahead by 6 points elsewhere to win. If pricing the most important evaluation criteria, then being competitive means having the lowest price and it’s not worth trying to maximize your score elsewhere if it means increasing your price.

When trying to figure out what to say in your proposal and how to present it, search for the path to victory. The path to victory will be what the customer needs to see in your proposal in order for it to be the one selected. When you can see what has to happen during evaluation in order for you to be selected, you can use that path to guide how you build your proposal.

Start by figuring out what the RFP tells you about how to win. Fill in the blanks with what you know about the customer’s preferences. And make sure you are competitively priced, realizing that can mean something different in each new RFP.

Treat each one of these paths as a journey of discovery. Don’t assume you know the path before you read the RFP. The RFP contains clues, but they can be cryptic. Look for the new twists and turns hidden in the RFP, and plot a path to victory that takes them into account. The customer is waiting for you. You just have to find your way there. Otherwise, you're just writing while wandering around hoping you end up in the right place.

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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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