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6 examples of value propositions that are intangible and how to win using them

Even if what differentiates your bid can't be quantified, you still need to show that it's the best alternative

When the RFP forces everyone to bid the exact same thing, the ways people differentiate their bids tend to be intangible. This makes it difficult for the customer to evaluate. How, other than price, do they rank the bids based on intangible differences? How do they justify selecting a winner that costs more when the difference in value can't be quantified? It's difficult, but if your proposal is full of unsubstantiated claims, you don't have a chance.

Consider each of the following ways companies try to position themselves as better than their competitors:

See also:
  1. Experience. Sometimes it's pretty easy to show that you have more experience. But too many companies leave it there and fail to pass the "So What?" test. For your experience to become a value, it has to result in something that matters to the customer. Experience on its own has very little value. How many experienced people do you know who, let's be honest, aren't really that good? And yet, experience can make a difference. But it's the difference you want to emphasize, and not just the experience. The difference is what the evaluator can use to justify their decision. Justifying paying a higher price just because an organization has more experience is a lot more difficult than justifying a higher price because their experience matters in a particular way. 
  2. Quality. If you say you offer better quality, it won't be clear what you mean. Just what does quality mean in this context? Just like with experience, quality has to result in something to matter. Does it result in fewer defects, less downtime, better performance, more durability, or what? Unlike experience, when claiming better quality, you also have to prove how you achieve better quality. What do you actually do that makes the delivery of the better result credible? That's what the evaluator will look for. The claim is meaningless unless they find it. If they do, and if you really are doing something that your competitors are not, then the result is a value they will get from you and not from your competitors. That is something they can use to justify a selection in your favor.
  3. Performance. Sometimes you do better work, but it can't be quantified. For example, maybe you recruit better staff or staff who are a better match. Whatever it is, even if you can't quantify it, you have to define it. You have to make it into a something that your competitors don't do, have, or deliver, and then link it to a value that matters to the customer. The place to start is by articulating just what makes your offering better and then by articulating why that matters to the customer.
  4. Risk. Risk is a popular topic for making unsubstantiated claims. It's so bad that you can pretty much count on everyone bidding being "the low risk provider." Or at least claiming to be. Saying that you are the low risk provider because you have more experience is just combining two unsubstantiated claims. If you work in an area where the risks and their impacts can't be quantified, then you have to give the evaluator something beyond your claim so they can make a selection in your favor based on risk. So what do you do about the risks that's special and what's at stake? If the risks are unpredictable, then provide examples.
  5. Skills. Does your staff or organization have more skills than your competitors? How do you make that credible? More importantly, so what? The customer will only care about those skills if they matter. And they don't matter... until you explain why they do.
  6. Understanding. Everyone bidding will understand the customer. Or more accurately, no one bidding is going to say that they don't. Every single one of them can parrot back what they read in the RFP and find by searching the internet. Telling the customer about themselves, in addition to being patronizing, is not a winning strategy. Besides, it's not really what the customer wants. What the customer wants is to see if you know enough about their environment to actually deliver on your promises. They care more about your ability to deliver than what you claim to know. The best way to show understanding is through results. If you get those right, then it's clear that you understand. If the customer tells everyone to bid the same results, then what matters is how you achieve them and whether it's credible. That's where understanding can make a difference. If your approach or your results are different because of your understanding, then your understanding becomes something that matters to the evaluator.

There is just one thing you need to do with your intangible claims, and there are three ways to go about it:

  1. Substantiate your claims to make them credible.
  2. Substantiate your claims to make them differentiated.
  3. Substantiate your claims to make them matter.

You must substantiate your claims in all three ways if you want the evaluator to be able to use them to justify selecting you. If you don't do that, you're just wasting everybody's time by saying things that make you feel better but don't impact whether you win.

The good news is that most of the proposals we review don't do these three critical things. This means that doing them gives you a competitive advantage. 

It's also a great way to unseat an incumbent, since incumbency is also an intangible value if they don't follow this advice.


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More information about "Carl Dickson"

Carl Dickson

Carl is the Founder and President of CapturePlanning.com and PropLIBRARY

Carl is an expert at winning in writing, with more than 30 year's experience. He's written multiple books and published over a thousand articles that have helped millions of people develop business and write better proposals. Carl is also a 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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