How do you win before the RFP is even released?

The RFP is out. Have you already lost?

Imagine that when the RFP is released, you already know the customer and they trust you 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 them, and have turned what you know into win strategies and themes for the proposal.

When the RFP is released, you’ll have an information advantage and be in position to win. No one will have the insight that you do, or 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. There’s a good chance you will have already won.

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 do you do at becoming like this is what determines whether a contractor is ultimately successful or not. 

If you put each part of that first paragraph on a timeline, you'll find that success starts before you start your proposals and not after. Your success depends on the things you do before the RFP is released. Here are six areas to focus on, with links to more information about what to do to achieve them:

  1. Collect 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, or forgot to try. And the reason they don't try to get the right information is that they haven't anticipated the information they need to write a great proposal.
  2. Have the right goals and action items to achieve them. You should do things like influence the RFP, properly position your company against the competition, and possibly form a team all before RFP release. If you don't have clearly articulated pre-RFP release goals, then you just aren't trying to win. If you haven't reviewed your positioning before you start writing the proposal, what points are you trying to make?
  3. Have a means to measure your progress and ensure it gets done. This is what most companies do not have. They overlook things and waste time. They have "progress" meetings that hurt their chances of winning. They give it their best effort, but always seem to end up at RFP release feeling unprepared.
  4. Show up prepared. If you want to influence the RFP, you need to know about the customer’s acquisition strategy and procurement policies and procedures first. If you want to form a team, you need to know who the potential competitors are and who the incumbents are first. To achieve your goals, you have to do first things first. You have to anticipate the information you will need and collect it long before you actually need it. Most proposals are lost before they begin because they start without an information advantage. Just make sure you prepare to write the proposal in the right ways.
  5. Turn what you’ve learned into something you can use in the proposal. Most companies do a really poor job of this. They collect information in the wrong format or don’t even pass it on to the proposal team. 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 created something we call Readiness Reviews to provide the guidance people need to achieve all of the above. Each Readiness Review has a list of questions, goals, and action items to be achieved. The review tracks the progress and the scores provide the metrics for continuous improvements. We recommend four reviews that are spread across the time available until RFP release. This helps you do things in the right sequence so that they build on each other. The review also help you track whether you are trending in the right direction.

The first review is pretty easy and focuses on lead identification. The second is a lot more detailed and focuses on lead qualification. The third is the most difficult and focuses on gathering intelligence. The fourth review is a little different, shifting the focus to assessing what you’ve discovered and converting it for use in the proposal.

The result 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 it. 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.


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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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