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8 alternatives the customer has to accepting your proposal

It's more than just a decision whether to pick your company

If you lose your proposal, it’s because the customer chose another alternative. That could be another proposal, or it could just be another alternative. 

Winning a proposal is about being their 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?
  2. Delay. If the customer is not decisive, then they may just wait. Take their time and think about it. Get advice. Let it be overtaken by events. This can be the passive form of doing nothing. It too benefits from motivation and direction.
  3. Do it on their own. 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. Unless they prefer to outsource.
  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 it and starting over.
  5. Go small or larger. Rescope the problem. Combine procurements. Or separate them. 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.

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. RFPs are occasionally cancelled for these reasons after release.

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. Writing your proposal as if you are their only alternative leaves you exposed to the fact that you are not.


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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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