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10 things the customer might choose to do instead of accepting your proposal

The customer has more options than just deciding whether to accept what you propose

If you lose your proposal, it’s because the customer chose another alternative. Maybe they chose another proposal, or some other alternative. 

The best way to win a proposal is to prove that you are the customer's best alternative. And being their best alternative requires anticipating the others and positioning against each one. Winning a proposal is about helping the customer make a decision, not just about your proposal, but about which of the alternatives they should move forward with.

What are their other alternatives?

  1. Do nothing. This is their easiest alternative. At least in the short term. And maybe the problem will go away or be overtaken by events. If the proposal is not solicited or if you are the only one submitting a proposal, this could be your biggest competitor. What do you need to do to motivate them to take action? And what action do you want them to take? What will happen if they do nothing? What will compel them to do what you are recommending?
  2. Delay. If the customer is not decisive, then they may just wait. Take their time and think about it. Get advice. Run it up the chain of command. Let it be overtaken by events. This can be the passive form of doing nothing. It too benefits from motivation and direction. Why do they need to take this action now? What makes it a priority?
  3. Do it on their own. They could choose to insource instead of outsource. If they prefer to insource, then a proposal to outsource is swimming against the current. But a proposal to support the development of their internal capabilities might been seen as a beneficial bridge. What might make them prefer to outsource? How do the benefits outweigh the costs?
  4. Do it over. If they haven’t thought things through, or have written an excessively bad RFP, they have the option of just cancelling the procurement and starting over. Being the one who helps them think it through before the RFP is released is a good position to be in. This can prevent the customer from having to do it over. But if they do decide to start again, maybe you can help...
  5. Go small or make it larger. Sometimes the customer realizes that they should change the scope of the problem. Maybe they should combine procurements. Or separate this one into smaller ones. This is usually a budget issue, but sometimes it can also be a strategic issue based on economies of scale. If they can’t afford what you propose, maybe they can start with something smaller. And maybe you can offer them ways to scale it up once proven. 
  6. Pick something better. How does the customer define “better?” Are they ready to commit to investing for the future and focused on value instead of cost? Are they being strategic? Or do they want something in particular? If they choose to move forward, then they will want the best of their alternatives. It really helps to understand how they define “best.” Sometimes you can help guide the customer to what to consider and help them understand why your alternative is the best. This is the core of offering design and proposal presentation.
  7. Pick something cheaper. In the customer’s eyes, what constitutes “good enough” for now? If they get that and aren’t motivated to procure something better, they might just pick the cheapest proposal that is good enough.
  8. Negotiate. If you’re close, maybe they can get you to make the necessary adjustments. Maybe they just want to be sure they’re getting the best deal.
  9. Choose all the options. Why do they have to pick just one? Why should they limit themselves to one vendor? 
  10. Choose someone else. The customer can like your proposal and still like someone else's proposal better. What happens if they like what you propose, but already have a preferred vendor? What if the uniqueness of your company and offering simply aren't? What if your buyer likes your proposal but The Powers That Be don't like it, don't want to pay for it, or have something else in mind?

These all apply, even in an RFP based procurement. It’s just that in an RFP based procurement, some may only apply before the RFP is released and with government RFPs there are rules that must be followed. 

But the point is not to explain why a customer did something after the fact. The goal is to anticipate what a customer is most likely to do so you can position your proposal to win. What alternatives can you anticipate? What can you do to mitigate the risks and possibly eliminate some of the alternatives? Writing your proposal as if you are their only alternative leaves you exposed to the fact that you are not.


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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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