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Winning even though you started at RFP release

You better be good at guessing...

If you don’t sell a commodity, starting unprepared to win at RFP release is an organizational failure. You’ve missed your chance to develop an information advantage and are about to spend time and money on a proposal that you (by definition) aren't prepared to win. It is an organizational failure because it has failed at resourcing, planning, prioritization, and ROI calculation.

Now that I’ve said that, let’s talk about starting at RFP release and winning anyway. Because it happens. If you want to achieve a high win rate, you won’t let it happen. Moving from a 20% win rate to a 30% win rate increases your revenue by 50% with the same number of leads. You won't increase your win rate by bidding more unprepared bids. But for many reasons, sometimes you find yourself bidding even though you're unprepared. Sometimes it even makes sense to do so.

Maybe. Just maybe.

See also:
Dealing with Adversity

Winning at RFP release can be like playing a game. How do you get the top score? Can you do a better job of executing a high scoring proposal than other companies who are starting with an information advantage and better prepared? The answer is probably not. But maybe. Just maybe...

Achieving the maximum score without any real customer insight involves optimizing the proposal around the evaluation criteria and process. It’s about organizing your proposal and using the right words to score well. It’s easy to fall into the "say anything to win" trap, because words are all you’ve got to work with when you lack insight. 

It helps to understand the specific customer’s evaluation process. If the customer is scoring you based on “strengths,” you really need to know what they consider a “strength.” Is it a feature or qualification that fulfills an RFP requirement? Or is it something that goes beyond the requirements? Is it just something that appeals to them? Does it have to be a differentiator? Different customers define the term differently. But if you’re starting at RFP release, you probably don’t know. You have to guess.

You may also have to resort to word games when designing your offering. Designing your offering by writing about it is bad engineering and can be a terrible mistake. When designing your offering, you are going to have to consider trade-offs. If you don’t know what the customer’s preferences are, you’re just going to have to guess.

Or you may have to weasel-word it. You might have to make the wording a little fuzzy to avoid committing so you can offer the customer both sides of a trade-off while appearing to be flexible and willing to partner with them. It's bad ethics and can set your company up to ruin its past performance, but if the customer likes your positioning more than they dislike your lack of insight and detail it might work. Not consistently or reliably. Not as a standard practice. But maybe. Maybe just this once...

Taking a chance at winning vs. taking a chance at submitting

In proposals, it is better to take risks and be decisive than it is to try to be everything to everybody. Your win rate will come down to how good your guesses are. A proposal that is everything to everybody will score below a proposal that is exceptional and insightful every time. 

It is better to risk losing by being exceptional and wrong than it is to be merely satisfactory and acceptable. Satisfactory proposals only win when they are the only one submitted or their price is lower. As a standard practice, it is a recipe for declining profit margins.

It is better to risk losing by being exceptional. The odds of winning may even be higher because you offer something special. If you guess what they want well you can appear insightful. And if you guess wrong, well the odds were against you winning anyway. And while it's rare, sometimes a better prepared competitor will produce a substandard proposal, even though they had the insight to create an extraordinary one. They have to get their insight on paper. If they don't you have a chance to appear more insightful, whether you really are or not.

If you find yourself starting at RFP release, seek differentiators that correspond to the evaluation criteria and an offering design that differentiates by taking risks to be categorically better than simply meeting the RFP requirements. You can't beat a better prepared competitor by trying to be a little better than the unprepared company you really are.

Take risks to offer substance instead of weasel-wording. Take a stand and offer something great without worrying whether they'll like it or not. Guessing at how to be great has better odds of winning than reliably being ordinary.

Be the stranger that people want to meet

If you are starting at RFP release, the customer probably doesn’t know or trust you. If you are meek, compliant, and ordinary you can only win on price. But if your proposal inspires the customer with aspirations that turn out to match theirs, while also being compliant, qualified, competent, and substantiated, they might just pick you over someone else they already know who submitted an ordinary proposal.

Make sure your exception doesn't become a routine

A word-game playing weasel guessing at who they should become is not the company you want to be. But it could be what you have to do to win today. Who will you be tomorrow?

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

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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.

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

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