It’s easy to get overwhelmed when thinking about all the things you could do to try to improve your win rate. Where should you start?
What makes this complicated is that the answer is different for every single company. Your strengths, weaknesses, and issues are different from others. The nature of your offering and who your customers are is different. What you should focus on to increase your win rate will be different from everyone else.
But there are some issues that most companies struggle with. In fact, they often get so distracted by fighting fires that they fail to address these issues.
8 things that affect your win rate the most
Having the lowest price. Is price the only thing the customer cares about? Yes, for some customers. No, for others. It may seem like price is the most important thing when everyone blames it for all your losses, but that’s usually a lie. The closer what you offer is to a commodity, the more price matters. Think about how you buy things. Sometimes you compare prices and sometimes you don't. Sometimes you can be upsold and sometimes not. Sometimes you pay for quality or convenience. And sometimes not. One of the most important parts of sales is to figure out what's important to each customer. What it will take to win must be discovered. And how the customer perceives and acts on value will be a key part of it.
The problem of working with other people. If you want to win a proposal that is bigger than one person, you have to figure out how to get everyone on the same page in order to do a proposal together. It can be like herding cats, but working with other people is the most important difference between doing small proposals and doing large proposals.
How you interpret the RFP. What is the customer really looking for? Why did they say it that way in the RFP? How do you interpret what they’ve said in the RFP? Your ability to understand the customer and the RFP are worth investing in. They give insight into how the customer’s evaluation process works, which is important for increasing your win rate. When you see that the evaluation criteria are based on “strengths,” what does that mean? How do they make trade-off decisions? What does “best value” mean? Different customers can define them differently. It’s important for you to know so you can write your proposal accordingly.
Whether proposal quality is explicitly defined. Differing opinions over what makes a “good” proposal means that your win rates are suffering because people are not writing and reviewing to achieve the same goals. Although it’s related, this is different from how you define your review process. Instead of struggling to get people to go along with changes to your review process, start by getting everyone to use the same definition of proposal quality. Knowing how proposal quality is defined and what your proposal quality criteria are is necessary for writers to be able to deliver a quality proposal. Any other way is just guessing.
Whether you do first things first. Proposal writing requires a flow of information. Fail to anticipate and deliver what is needed to answer your proposal writers' questions and they'll have to water down what they write instead of being specific. This may require gaining customer intimacy and building an information advantage long before the RFP is released. Fail to address bid strategies early enough and your writers will have to make them up, usually without adequate customer awareness. Fail to address bid strategies early enough to test them in front of your customer and you risk emphasizing the wrong things. Procrastination kills your win rate. The corollary to this is that most proposals are won or lost before the proposal starts. The way you deal with this is to realize that if you fail to do first things early enough, they have a snowball effect that hurts your win rate.
Forgetting to include important things. I have seen more proposals lose based on noncompliance because someone forgot to include a form or sign something than I have from noncompliance in the narrative. It’s the little things. Fiddle with the narrative past the deadline and rush final production at your own risk. The odds of introducing a mistake are higher than the odds that your last-minute changes will make a difference.
Staffing the proposal inadequately. Are you trying to keep costs low by using cheap staff? Or simply using the staff who happen to be available and convincing yourself that they are good enough? How many staff do you need? Even if you’re willing to invest in proposal success, identifying capable proposal staff is challenging. While some experience is necessary, the quality of proposal writing people produce has very little to do with experience. You need special techniques to assess proposal specialists. If you have good staff, are you maximizing their ability to win and investing in their training and growth, or are you trying to win more by working them beyond their capacity to maintain a high win rate?
- Treating proposals as an expense instead of an investment. Treating proposals like an expense means putting as little into them as possible. This is what leads people to seek out proposal reuse strategies that do more harm than good. Reuse can lower costs today but also reduce your win rate in a way that sacrifices far more future revenue. The proposal function should be managed like an investment, with the return on investment measured. When you do this, you will spend more on the things that produce a better return. And less on things that have no impact or lower it. And you’ll be incentivized to find out which things are which. Your win rate will go up as a result.
In addition to the items above, here are some of the things that separate the companies that normally win from the companies that normally lose.
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 email@example.com. To find out more about him, you can also connect with Carl on LinkedIn.