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9 examples of how good marketing advice can be horribly wrong

Rules of thumb aren't.

A lot of well-meaning people give really bad advice on marketing. Instead of saying "what works for me is…" they say things like "the only way to be successful is to…" Rules of thumb aren't. 

Everything depends on the nature of what you offer. The “rules” are very different if:

  • You offer a commodity than if you offer complex services or solutions. 
  • Your customers are geographically dispersed or numerous instead of being few.
  • You are in a B2G, B2B, or B2C market. 
  • Your proposals are really quotes and your sales are really orders or transactions.
  • Your typical sale is large enough to be a line item in the customer’s budget. 
  • The specifications for what you offer are typically defined by industry standards instead of being unique in every bid.

And who knows how many other differences and exceptions there are? What works for one company may be wrong for another. This can be true even in the same market if the offerings are different in nature. 
Here are some myth-busting examples of great marketing advice that is horribly wrong for some companies:

See also:
Strategic Planning
  1. People buy from people they know and trust. The truth is that people will buy commodities from strangers if they get a good deal. And services can be commodities. It's also true that on some bids everybody is a stranger. Trust and credibility are important, but that doesn't always translate into a need to have a relationship before the RFP is released in order to win. The more complex the services, the greater the need for the customer to trust a vendor in order to select them. For some types of offerings, the number of possible providers is so low that everyone knows who they are. In a market like that, if you are a stranger you are suspect instead of trusted.
  2. If you weren’t aware of the opportunity before the RFP came out, it should be an automatic no-bid. For many RFPs, nobody knows about them before the RFPs are released. Even when companies are “aware” that an RFP is coming out and “tracking it,” they often have no real insight or advantage and waste the extra time they might have. They can be beat. But if you are competing against others who have pre-RFP insight and the customer’s trust, if you can’t offer a credible and viable alternative and do it in the limited time after RFP release, you shouldn’t waste your time bidding. The more complex the procurement, the more insight required.
  3. Task orders are always wired. Some task orders are initiated by companies who inspire the customer to procure something. On some of those, the company provided information that may have influenced the RFP. On some of those, the company might have a close relationship with the customer. This is a minority of a minority and pretty far from “always.” On many contract vehicles, customers have trouble getting more than one or two bids on a task order. A viable alternative on a task order bid might have better odds of winning than a bid on a public RFP. And if the task order announcements are short notice and difficult to respond to, that just further limits the amount of serious competition. Blind bidding task orders is quick, low cost, high risk, and potentially lucrative. But even if you can win, you might not want to play in that market. It depends on the nature of what you offer and your ability to mitigate the performance risks.
  4. Branding is critical. When you bid RFPs that are distributed publicly, name recognition doesn’t matter that much. What matters more is trustworthiness and credibility. This can be part of a branding campaign, but what you say in your proposal will do far more to make or break your trustworthiness and credibility than any branding campaign. Where branding matters is for inbound marketing. If you need the customer to tell you about their RFPs or to initiate contact, then branding is how you establish enough trust and credibility to get their attention and action.
  5. Becoming known as a thought leader will increase your chances of winning. If you sell a commodity, the customer may not care. They’ll take your advice and still buy from the lowest price supplier. If you sell a service, the customer may not care how extraordinary your thought leadership is. It depends on whether what they are buying requires a leader or an operator. And it depends on how well you turn thought leadership into a demonstration of trustworthiness. For most procurements, it’s not about being a “thought leader” it’s about whether you’ve proven you are a better vendor in a way that matters to the customer.
  6. Having a great website is important. If you have a dozen or two customers and the total number of customers you might target is only two-three times that number, you don’t need thousands of visitors to your website. And who cares about search engines? You just need to serve those customers. If you can do that with a one-page site, then great. Then again, if you’re trying to practice relationship marketing in writing and want to provide information that helps the customer, you might want to build a website that becomes part of your customer interactions.
  7. Inbound marketing is more important than outbound marketing, or vice versa. Inbound marketing is how you get the customer to come to you. If you respond to RFPs, you may not need it. For some companies, a new customer relationship never starts with the customer initiating contact. Ever. But if you are selling something very specific to customers who are numerous, widespread, and impossible to identify within their large organizations, you might be able to use inbound marketing to get them to register for your webinars or free content. The value of inbound marketing depends on the nature of your offering.
  8. Word of mouth is the best advertising. This assumes that potential new customers talk to your current customers. In some markets this is definitely true. In others, it never happens. Which are you?
  9. You should never bid blind. If you sell certain commodities, you may only be able to bid RFPs blind, without any prior customer relationship or contact. If your customers are geographically dispersed, numerous, don’t publish forecasts, don’t initiate contact with vendors, and/or only rarely procure what you offer, it may not be possible to find and build a relationship in advance. If the customer cares more about qualifications than insight, you can bid blind and win if you can prove your qualifications.  What matters more than whether you are bidding blind, is whether you are bidding because you have a competitive advantage or just because you can and are hoping for the best.

So what should you do? 

If you give advice, make sure it's applicable to whoever you're giving it to.

If you get advice, make sure it's applicable to you and the nature of what you offer. Don't be afraid to do the opposite if it's based on the wrong premises. Your understanding of the nature of your offering and how your customers conduct their procurements and make decisions is a major indicator of your ability to succeed.

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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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