Understanding differentiators

Proposals typically describe all the features of a proponent’s offer. Many will be cited in the RFP as compliance items. Nearly all will be items every competitor can provide.

But a precious few will be differentiators, which are features that possess two characteristics:

  1. They are unmatched by your competition
  2. They are important to your prospect

A feature is only a differentiator if both qualities are present. Identifying and calling them out is critical to success in winning competitions.

Understanding your differentiators

In tight situations, the difference between winning and losing often comes down to knowing and expressing differentiators. You need to:

  • Understand your prospect: Just as some home buyers are motivated by location, others by operating costs and still others by curb appeal, RFP issuers will find certain features more appealing than others. What features deliver benefits this prospect considers most important? Finding out should be a key deliverable for business developers.
  • Know your competition: Like you, your competitors are constantly adding and changing features. If you rely on outdated information to claim uniqueness for features others have, you’ll lose credibility. Ensure your team is working with up-to-date competitive intelligence.
  • Know your offering: Arm your writers with as much detail as possible about your features—especially those you rely on to differentiate. Avoid throwing away your advantage with generic claims, such as: “Our team is highly experienced,” when you could state: “Our proposed team members have an average of 12 years of experience on projects similar to yours.”

Continually re-evaluate your differentiators

Even bid teams that have moved well beyond the “search-and-replace” stage of writing proposals, often assume differentiators that worked in the past will bring success this time around. That’s a dangerous approach.

Instead, ask your business developers and relationship managers to stay current on which features will appeal your prospect, based on changes in strategy and shifts in decision-making power. Also, continually monitor competitors’ offerings to ensure they haven’t matched or leap-frogged features you’re counting on for your edge.

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