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How do you win before the RFP is even released?

The RFP is out. Have you already lost? Or have you already won?

Imagine that when the RFP is released, the customer already knows you, and they trust you and your capabilities because you've demonstrated that you have insight into what can help them. You've shown them how to get what they need. Along the way, you’ve made recommendations to ensure the RFP doesn’t contain anything that would be a problem for you, as well as inserting some things that give you an advantage. Most importantly, you’ve gained some insight into the outcomes they are trying to achieve and what their preferences are. You have also learned who else they do business with, what they are happy with, and what needs aren't being met. You have an idea of who else might bid. You’ve given some thought to how to position against those potential competitors, and have turned what you know into win strategies and themes for the proposal. You've even started identifying the staff you'll need.

When the RFP is released, you’ll have an information advantage that enables you to show more insight about the RFP requirements than your competitors. No one will be able to write to the results the customer is looking for as well as you can. You’ll be starting the proposal with a competitive advantage. You'll be in position to win. There’s a good chance you will have already won.

Making this dream a reality

See also:
Winning

This dream can become real. It takes some work. But guess what? That work easily pays for itself many times over by increasing your win rate. How well you do at becoming like this is what determines whether a contractor is ultimately successful or not. 

If you don't achieve these things, you will be stuck writing a proposal based on only the RFP. Instead of being insightful, the best you can hope for is to be generically beneficial. No matter how much you claim to understand the customer, your proposal won't be competitive with someone who is prepared like this. Your proposal will be based on them being even less well prepared than you are. That's not a winning strategy.

These things need to happen

If you put each part of that first paragraph on a timeline, you'll find that winning depends more on what you do before you start your proposals than what comes after. Here are six areas to focus on, with links to more information about what to do to achieve them:

  1. Gather the right intelligence. To have an information advantage you have to collect the right information. The number one reason why companies are unprepared at RFP release isn’t because they couldn’t get the information, it’s because they didn’t ask for it. You won't gain good intel simply by fishing for it. You have to know what intel to seek and who to seek it from. To get the information you need, you must anticipate what will be needed to write a great proposal.
  2. Have the right pre-RFP goals and action items to achieve them. Instead of waiting for the RFP, you should influence the RFP and properly position your company against the competition. If you don't have clearly articulated pre-RFP release goals, then you are just waiting and not trying to win. If you haven't reviewed your positioning before you start writing the proposal, then how will your writers know what points they should be trying to make?
  3. Have a means to measure your progress and ensure it gets done. It's easy to look busy and sound like you are preparing when you are really just waiting. Instead of preparing, companies have "progress" meetings that reduce their chances of winning instead of increasing them. If you always end up at RFP release feeling unprepared, this could be why.
  4. Show up prepared. To achieve your goals, you have to do first things first. If you want to get customer insight, you have to engage them early in discussions that they find valuable instead of making it all about you. If you want to influence the RFP, you first need to know about the customer’s acquisition strategy and procurement policies and procedures, so you can show up with the information they will find helpful in the moment they need it. If you want to form a team, you need to understand the competitive environment first. You have to anticipate the information you will need and collect it so that you will have it when you need it. Most proposals are lost before they begin because they start without an information advantage
  5. Turn what you’ve learned into something you can use in the proposal. It's not about who you know or even what you know. It's about how what you know impacts your strategies and the words you put on paper to close the deal. If you collect information in the wrong format, fail to turn it into something useful, or don’t pass it on to the proposal team, it has no impact. A status report to The Powers That Be is not the same thing as instructions that tell writers what to do about the intelligence you've collected. Intelligence on its own does not achieve anything. You need to convert what you have learned into win strategies, themes, differentiators, and positioning that define the winning proposal.
  6. Have a means to collect and track continuous metrics. How well are you doing at collecting competitive intelligence? Do you start your proposals with an information advantage? How much is it impacting your win rate? Can you quantify your readiness to win?

How do you achieve all of that?

We recommend implementing Readiness Reviews to provide the guidance people need to effectively prepare before the RFP is released. Each Readiness Review has a list of questions, goals, and action items to be achieved. The reviews track the progress and the scores provide the metrics for continuous improvements. They help you do things in the right sequence so that they build on each other and also track whether you are trending in the right direction to maximize your chances of winning.

The result of Readiness Reviews is that before you start the proposal you not only have a bunch of juicy intel you can use to write a better proposal, you already have your plan for how you are going to win. On top of that, being able to convert the review scores into metrics gives you a way to continuously improve and unlock the hidden factors that are impacting your win rate. Readiness Reviews enable you to quantify how well you are "getting into position" to win before the RFP is released and to refine your techniques over time.

Let's discuss your challenges with preparing proposals and winning new business...

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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.

Click here to learn how to engage Carl as a consultant.

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