In a competitive market, you can sometimes gain an advantage by introducing change that disrupts your competitor’s strategies. It is easy, especially when bidding against an RFP, for everyone to do what is expected of them. It only makes sense to join them when you are confident you can outscore them that way. If you are not, or you are the under dog, you need to rearrange the competitive playing field to put you on top. Here are some ways to do that.
- Challenge the best practices. If everybody competing follows the “best practices” then you need to be even better to win. Or at least be different. Maybe the “best practices” are out of date. Maybe you can do better and ghost your competition at the same time.
- Give them more. Better specifications, metrics, procedures, involvement, reach, capabilities, resources, speed, quality, risk mitigation, knowledge, results, proof, detail, accountability, transparency, etc. Giving them more does not have to cost more. Sometimes it just means being more thoughtful about what you are doing and taking the time to explain it better.
- Start early. You can start before winning the award. Obviously you don’t want to spend a lot of money when you are at risk of losing, but you can identify things that you are able to do without incurring a lot of cost. Do those things immediately so that you can include the results in your proposal. Some examples might include recruiting, design, prototyping, research, sourcing, testing, validation, etc. If you're pursuing an opportunity to develop software, you can squash the competition submitting not just paper, but a prototype as part of your proposal. Or if you're planning to use software on a project, you can set up a demo server so the customer can see the software during evaluation. Better yet, allow them to start using it to plan the project start-up before award. If you can get them using your services, you not only cement your relationship, you make it so the customer doesn’t want to give up your services by selecting someone else.
- Change the tone. You can propose the exact same thing and be more friendly, wise, interesting, conversational, collaborative, humorous, careful, knowledgeable, practical, clear, confident, accessible, credible, trustworthy, etc. Don’t hide behind business-speak. Don’t sound the same as your competitors. Sound better. Sound like someone they’d like to work with.
- Change the focus. Focus the customer on what matters. Change what the procurement is about. Then be the best at delivering it. You do not have to change your actual offering to achieve this. You can change the context, results, priorities, trade-offs, concerns, etc. This has the effect of changing how the evaluation criteria are interpreted.
- Change the metrics. How is success defined and measured. If it isn’t, then start (and this becomes your discriminator). If success is defined and measured, then change the numbers. Raise the bar by tightening the numbers. Track more metrics. Provide better analytics. Turn metrics into improved results. Leave your competitors inferior.
- Go where your competition does not. Expand the scope of the project to areas your competitors don't cover. Offer tools they don't support. Use techniques they don't offer. Provide a demonstration or a trial service that the customer didn't ask for. Provide additional information online. Provide options. Provide related capabilities.
- Disrupt the business or delivery model. Get clever regarding what you charge for and what you don’t. Change how deliverables are delivered. Or supported. Change the contractual terms. Offer a warranty or guarantee that is amazing. Offer a fixed price instead of an hourly rate. Offer upsell options. Or volume discounts. Introduce the Internet to a material world. Or introduce bricks and mortar to a virtual world. Obsolete your competitors.
- Convert your weaknesses into strengths. Trade-offs always have two sides. If your weaknesses are the result of a trade-off, there's a reason that your weaknesses are better than the alternative. Position your weaknesses as an advantage. If you're inexperienced, you're also new, fresh, innovative, and unshackled. If you can’t afford something, then you've found a way to lower costs. See how it works?
- Deflect and redirect. If you have a problem, redefine it. Better yet, turn it into an advantage. Reinterpret. Spin. Position problems to minimize their impact. Position competitors' strengths so that they do not matter. Position your strengths as their weaknesses. Play verbal Aikido.
- Attack. Tell the customer what’s wrong with your competitors. Name names. Generate fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It’s not libel if it’s true.
- Be honest. If your competitors dabble in the dark arts and practice some of the more aggressive strategies listed above, then one way to counter them is with honesty. Over the top honesty. Don’t hide behind business-speak. Just tell the simple truth. Make sure everything is provable and transparent. Be credible. Let the customer see status information in real time. Give them the same information you have access to. Nobody wants a vendor they can’t trust. So give them one they can.
Using some or all of these strategies is much better (and more fun!) than the same old boring RFP compliance that everyone else is doing. You'll win more contracts and leave your competitors wondering what happened. Why fight fair?