There are so many ingredients that go into winning a proposal that we developed a whole methodology to account for them all. But one stands out. It is an attribute that should be a part of every other ingredient. Understand it and you gain a key to unlocking the secret to winning in writing.
The way most people approach proposal writing is not competitive. Or at least not reliably so.
Most people try to enhance their offering by piling on features. If they are smart, they’ll even describe the benefits to the customer of those features. But that’s not the best strategy for winning a proposal.
When the customer evaluates your proposal, they compare it to their other alternatives. A feature that all of your competitors also have is not going to help them select you.
There is something that is far more important than your features. The aspects of your proposal that differentiate you from your competitors are what the customer needs to make their decision. No matter how formal the evaluation scoring criteria, the differences will outscore the undifferentiated features. Once you have achieved RFP compliance, differentiators are the most important thing to talk about in your proposal.
You can pretty much assume that everyone bidding has experience. At least those who will get seriously considered will have it. You can pretty much assume that their approaches are fully compliant with the RFP. You can pretty much assume that they are all just as committed to the success of the project as you are. Saying that you have experience, that you are compliant, or that you are committed does not help you win.
What helps you win is when you show that your experience results in benefits that no one else can deliver. What helps you win is when you offer features that no one else does or when you offer the same features in a way that delivers benefits no one else does. What helps you win is dumping the lame promises about commitment and giving the customer differentiators instead.
Sometimes it can be tough to figure out what you can offer that is different. This is especially true when the customer has set up the RFP to tell everyone to bid the exact same thing. But you can always differentiate your offering:
- Even if you have to bid the same thing, you can offer unique ways of creating it, delivering it, or making sure it is without defects.
- Even if everyone has the same approach, the reasons why you do things and the way you approach the inevitable trade-offs can show unique insight.
- You can always be better, faster, stronger, etc.
- If you can show better alignment with the customer’s goals, then you can show better results, even from the same exact offering.
The easiest way to differentiate your proposal is not based on what you offer. It's based on why you chose to offer it that way.
If you are a PropLIBRARY Subscriber and want more inspiration, check out "22 Ways to Beat Your Competitors Through Differentiation" in our Win Strategy Recipe Library.
Consider: Two proposals for the exact same thing at the same price. One focuses on differentiating how the offering is delivered and how those differentiated approaches better achieve the customer’s goals. The other proposal contains undifferentiated themes that present its offering as fully compliant. Both are in actuality compliant, and it shows in the details. Both deliver the exact same thing. But the two will score differently and the one that focuses on differentiation should score higher because the features will have more merit and appear to deliver more benefit to the customer.
Now, take a bunch of non-proposal specialist proposal contributors. Ask half to write about the strengths of your approach. Ask the other half to make sure that all strengths differentiate your approach. Without any special training or coaching, which group is more likely to produce a higher scoring submission?
The secret to winning is differentiation and not piling up undifferentiated features. Everything you say in your proposal should be a differentiator. Every. Single. Thing.
Differentiation should be the top standard that you measure the quality of your proposal writing against.
That is how you outscore the competition. When the customer starts comparing features and strengths, it is the differentiators that enable them to make their selection. A feature that everyone has is not a strength, no matter how positive it sounds. You need to make your features into differentiators for them to count as strengths and give the customer a reason to select you.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.