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4 Ways to Disrupt the Competition and Win By Breaking the Rules

In the last issue of our newsletter, we discussed how being different is necessary in order to win. This week, we’re going to consider ways that you can achieve a competitive advantage by breaking the rules, challenging the norms, upsetting traditions, and otherwise practicing disruptive marketing. For inspiration, reexamine everything that companies in your industry do routinely — the unwritten rules, the things they do without thinking, or things they take for granted. Then change the rules to your advantage.
  1. Challenge the requirements. The first goal of every proposal specialist, especially those working for government contractors, is to achieve compliance with the requirements in the RFP. You may be able to totally upset the competitive playing field by challenging the requirements — by breaking them on purpose. It’s a high risk strategy, because if it doesn’t deliver an advantage it may very well cost you the bid. Challenging the requirements is all about telling the customer what they could have if the requirements were worded just a little differently. It’s about giving the customer an alternative. If you want to play it safe, offer the customer both alternatives (at the same price, if possible). Challenging the requirements may require changing the specifications, but in some cases you may be able to achieve what you need by reinterpreting the requirements without actually changing them. If you convince the customer that they will get what they want by accepting your recommendations, and if they are able to do so (in government contracting they will not be able to change the RFP unless they change it for everyone), then your offering will be inherently better.
  2. Challenge the evaluation criteria. While this has the same risks and limitations as changing the requirements, it's easier to get away with. Evaluation criteria can more easily be expanded, explained, reinterpreted, or invented from scratch in your proposal. Do not assume, especially with technical subject matter, that the customer fully understands all of the trade-offs involved. You need to teach the customer how to evaluate what you are offering without patronizing them. You need to draw attention to what is important, what trade-offs are involved, and what the customer needs to consider in order to get what they want. This approach works best when you can relate your recommendations to the evaluation criteria they already have in their RFP. Your recommendation becomes a way to interpret the criteria or move down to another level of detail. Challenging the evaluation criteria takes a huge amount of empathy and talent to pull off, but will give you an inherent advantage if successful.
  3. Challenge the acquisition strategy. Challenge whether they need an RFP at all. Or challenge the contract vehicle. Give them an alternative approach to getting what they want that achieves their goals and is more attractive to them. Trial sizes, renting to own, prototypes, leasing, and subscriptions can all be used to lower the upfront costs (hopefully below the thresholds that require an RFP) while establishing a relationship with the customer and possibly locking them in. Challenging the acquisition strategy works best if the customer hasn’t committed to writing an RFP yet. Once they put effort into writing one, it may be impossible to change their course.
  4. Change the contractual terms. By changing the contractual terms, you can change everything. Proposal strategists often overlook the terms and conditions of the sale since that is an area reserved for experts and lawyers. Some RFPs very carefully spell out the contractual terms. Others leave them up to the vendor. Small changes in the terms and conditions can sometimes make a huge difference. But be careful — if you don’t know what you're doing when it comes to contractual matters, instead of just losing a bid you could lose your company.

Seek out the things that people do routinely without thinking in their bids. And then rethink them. Render your competitors obsolete, irrelevant, or simply not applicable.



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By Carl Dickson, Founder of

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