Clear thinking

Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Analyzing prospect needs

 February 27, 2018
by Paul Heron

Earlier posts stressed the need to develop proposals that address an issuer’s specific requirements and how to build relationships that provide the needed input to proposal strategy, including business development in large prospects.

As a team, that means understanding your prospect’s needs, the ideal solution, and what other bidders are likely to offer to address each key requirement.

The Venn diagram below will help organize that understanding.

How do you, your prospect and competitors intersect?

The small circle (upper centre) represents the prospect's needs and hot button issues, or “solution wish list.” The medium circle on the right represents the features of your potential solutions. The large circle on the left represents the features available from other offers. You can think of this circle as all competitors, or your closest competitor—whichever makes more sense.

Analyse the overlaps

Looking at the areas where the larger circles overlap with the small circle:

  • Segment A includes features both you and your competitors´ offer, and that the prospect needs or wants.
  • Segment B contains your features you offer, that the prospect needs or wants—and that competing solutions can´t match. For example, while both you and one or more competitors have the ability to perform, you may be the only proponent with key individuals who successfully completed the exact type of project on bid (same size and scope) in the past year. Since you´ve learned that recent proven success in a similar project is on the prospect´s wish list (in the small circle), it is a differentiator.
  • Segment C contains features where at least one other competitor offers features you cannot claim.

NOTE: While you can infer the prospect’s preferences from past experience, some will be less obvious than the recent experience example above. Nothing beats a proposal based on intimate knowledge of the prospect’s needs and issue—which is why pre-RFP discovery is essential.

What actions will you take?

This model prompts two questions:

  1. Which features—both compliance items and those your sales discovery tells you are important—belong in each of A, B and C?
  2. Having identified A, B and C items, what actions will you take?

We’ll tackle these questions in coming posts.



Need help writing more responsive bids?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Developing large prospects

 February 20, 2018
by Paul Heron

Many bidders seeking to adopt our strategy-first approach find their biggest stumbling block is lack of a prospect familiarity and/or project knowledge. They often realize this only after the RFP is released—when the window for communication has closed.

Last week we posted about the critical importance of developing intimacy with your prospects. The aim is to build deep relationships that also enable learning about strategic drivers and hot button issues. 

Complex2Clear doesn’t focus on pre-RFP sales processes—but our strategy facilitation and implementation work relies on the information it produces. This is true for all opportunities—but especially when chasing large contracts issued by large organizations.

Team selling in large accounts

For large prospects—a financial institution or government agency, for example—one-to-one selling is seldom enough to be seen as a serious contender for large contracts. In these cases, the most successful companies deploy teams.

Savvy teams use the fact that most individuals prefer to deal with those in comparable or more senior positions. CEOs, for example, are most comfortable working with other CEOs or board members. Below this level, prospect company individuals often welcome relationships with those at a higher level in vendor companies. So, rather than focussing solely on their peers at a prospect, sales team members should also build relationships with those at a level below (see illustration).

Within this network of relationships, one or more connections usually become critical to the sale, and can be developed accordingly.

What if you’re small?

For small companies, selling into larger prospects is challenging. Two strategies that can help build the needed relationships and understanding are these:

  • Invite a colleague to meetings with large prospects, to lessen the pressure on you, and to gain another perspective. Be sure to agree on your respective roles in each meeting.
  • Expand the conversation: Once you’re comfortable with your main contact, ask as often as possible: “Who else should be involved?” or “Who else will be part of this decision?” If your contact hesitates, use your sense of likely technical buyers and user buyers and be more specific.
  • Partner with others: Seek out one or more allies who can help you build a more robust solution. Your ideal partner also knows the prospect. It’s better to share a large opportunity than to lose it by looking too small. As above, be sure to agree beforehand on your respective roles.

Start early

For large projects, two years or more pre-RFP is not too early to start building relationships and gathering facts—not to mention shaping the requirements to better suit your solution. Well managed, this patient work always pays dividends.



Need help translating sales discovery into strategy?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Pre-RFP discovery

 February 13, 2018
by Paul Heron

Last week’s post identified the critical role pre-RFP discovery plays in successful proposals. This week we look at critical factors in gathering that knowledge.

One of our friends, a highly successful consultant, sums up what matters in winning an opportunity as “the three A's”—Available, Affable, Able. During the pre-RFP stage, focus on being affable—someone prospects like and want to work with. 

Because most large RFPs assign less than half the points to price, buyers have considerable flexibility to award contracts to proponents they like. Being affable will also get you the best answers to your capture planning questions, so you can position your solution and team as available and able. 

How close can you get?

Another friend, Mark Bowden, included a hierarchy of relationships in his book, Winning Body Language for Sales Professionals. We’ve adapted it with his permission in the diagram below.

The lowest level, “Customary,” describes perfunctory, “How are things?’” conversations. Higher-level, “Emotive” and “Self-reflective” interactions involve asking deeper questions that result in increasingly more intimate sharing. Business developers who communicate with prospects at these levels uncover the knowledge needed to build a powerful RFP response.

Risky business

Moving up the intimacy scale requires courage and judgement. It also involves risk. Seek increased intimacy too soon and you’ll be written off as pushy. Fail to get close enough and you’ll never learn what you need to craft a winning proposal.

Part of success is understanding the need and the levels you want to reach. Another is discovering which conversational tools work best for you. And the most important part, of course, is practice.

We’ll leave the understanding and practising parts to you. Meanwhile, here are two questions to try adapting and using.

  1. What one or two improvements would make you happier in the next contract?
  2. What are your top two or three takeaways from the current contract experience?

Each can help move your conversations from Evaluative towards Emotive and Self-Reflective. Constraining the responses to one to three items forces the client to reflect and prioritize, increasing his or her investment in the conversation.

It’s about the prospect

The best business developers aren’t the slickest or most clever—they’re ones who show over time they really care about the prospect’s success. Reinforce that message—and back it up with consistent action—and you’ll get the trust and answers you need.

Next week: Big prospect selling


Need help with your pre-RFP discovery efforts?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 




Bidding vs. marketing

 February 6, 2018
by Paul Heron

Some marketing departments also handle proposal responsibilities. On one level, this makes sense. Marketing people are familiar with their company´s products and their features and benefits. They also understand the market and tend to be good writers. 

So, especially in small businesses with low volumes of bid opportunities, it seems logical to assign bid responses to marketers.

You’re not bidding to the market

But if your marketing people rely solely on product and market knowledge, your proposals won’t perform as well as they could, especially in competitive situations. For that you need capture planning that results in a client and project-specific strategy.

Effective capture planning enables responsive proposals that express strategic insight and understanding, and a solution that closely aligns with the requirements. Responsive proposals will always outscore those that simply comply using generic product information.

This client, this requirement, at this time

Capture planning relies on knowledge in three areas:

  • Prospect: Why has the prospect issued this RFP at this time? What’s the strategic purpose driving the purchase? What business pressures and opportunities does the prospect face? What issues are top-of-mind for the individuals who will evaluate the bids? How well do we know these influencers and decision makers?
  • Project: How exactly does the solution need to perform to meet the prospect’s needs? What kinds of trade-offs (for example, performance vs. price) are appropriate in this situation? How do we need to modify our standard offering to win each section of the response?
  • Competition: Who else is likely to bid? What relationships do they have in the prospect organization? How closely can they align their offer to the requirement and at what cost?

Fully answering these questions requires a combination of sales, product, engineering, and solution owner input.

By all means use your marketers

Marketing departments are capable of writing winning proposals. But only with support from individuals who have intimate knowledge of the prospect and project—far deeper knowledge than you'll find in the RFP.

So use your marketers, if it makes sense—but give them the support they need to win. Because bidding is an extension of sales, not marketing.

Next week: Winning over prospects


Need help writing more responsive proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

Paul Heron, MBA, is the founder and managing partner of Complex2Clear, and leads our bid response practice. LinkedIn 





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