A lot of companies do exactly the wrong thing when faced with a must win opportunity. They try to make sure that they don’t lose. They give the customer exactly what they ask for in the RFP. They may even make improvements here or there, if they can do it within the boundaries of the instructions. They try to be exactly what the RFP says the customer wants. They never realize that they are setting themselves up to lose.
When your goal is to write a good proposal, here is what you get:
The problem is that “a little better” means a little better than what the RFP asked for, and not necessarily a little better than your competitors. You’re counting on them facing the same constraints, and hoping your picks will be “a little better.” Sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose. Maybe if you win 1 in 3, you can make it up in volume. All you need are more RFPs to respond to. And your job is secure because you didn’t make any mistakes — you followed the instructions precisely.
- A little better on specifications, but not enough to increase your cost
- A little better by teaming with other companies so you can claim their qualifications even though it won’t impact what the customer actually gets
- A little better on price by trimming how much you pad your estimates, but not so much that you lose money on the deal
- A little better on staffing by offering a few more years of experience with no way for the customer to know whether your staff will actually do a better job
Your proposal will be good. But you are who I want to bid against, because you are easy to beat. Here is how I’m going to do it:
I love to compete against people who write good proposals. Because my proposal will be extraordinary. While you’re aiming to follow the instructions and be a little better, I’m going to be overwhelming and great. I’ll comply with the instructions but I’ll use them as a starting point and not a boundary.
- I’m going to offer them something that achieves their goals better. Even if we offer the same thing, mine will deliver more and better results.
- Depending on the bid, I’ll either team with no one, or a lot of other companies. I’ll either win with better management or way more resources. It won’t just be your small collection of companies vs. my small collection of companies. We’re not trying to win after a difficult deliberation and detailed comparison. We’ll be so different that it won’t even be a difficult decision for the customer to make. We’re going to offer a clear choice and then show why our approach is better.
- I’ll change the rules on the pricing by changing the scope. Forget shaving bill rates by a nickel — I’ll change the number of staff needed by changing the nature of the project. And I won’t do it by giving something up. I’ll do it by giving them something better, just less labor or resource intensive. If the RFP specifies a pricing format that forces me to compare apples to apples, then it’s all about value. I’m going to make sure that the customer can evaluate the value of everything we do that adds value, and I’m going to make sure that there’s a lot of it. When I’m done there will be a clear difference in what they get from us, and the customer will know what it’s worth.
- I’m going to do a lot more than just fill the hours or give them bodies. I’m going to give them something tangible. I’m going to give my people tools. Procedures. Resources. Access to information. Ways to solve problems. Oversight. Advice. Surge support. The customer is going to know that our people will not show up empty-handed or be on their own. They’ll know we’re all hiring from the same labor pool. But regardless of who shows up, our people will come with an advantage.
A good proposal wins because the other proposals made mistakes or didn’t rack up quite enough points. Because of the bell curve, you can get by being like that. But unless I totally misread my customer, I’m going to steal away your business. Because I have no fear of losing. Because I will not play it safe and stick to the RFP and try to just be “a little better.”
Do you want to compete with me? All you have to do is take some risks. If you’re at the kind of company where losing a proposal gets punished and everyone is trying to cover themselves, you won’t be able to do it. But if you are at a company that’s not only able to think outside the box, but it is willing to set aside enough time to conceive of and write an extraordinary proposal, then it’s going to get interesting. The winner will be the one of us that best understands what the customer wants. I wonder which of us it’s going to be...
Wow! That was fun to write! But it opens some topics that are just begging for discussion or even debate. Join us in our group on LinkedIn to discuss this article.