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Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Expressing differentiation

 March 27, 2018
by Paul Heron

Once you understand differentiators and how to develop them with specifics, the next step is using them to maximum advantage in proposals.

Features only you offer and that your prospect cares about can be your winning advantage. Deploy differentiators often in your proposal, keeping in mind that many evaluation teams divide up large proposals, giving each individual one or two sections to read. That means a differentiator needs to be mentioned in every relevant section to score maximum points.

The following are ideal opportunities to use differentiators.

Executive summary

The executive summary is usually the most read section of any proposal—and often the only section read by the decision maker. This is where you lay out your winning strategy—and win strategies are all about differentiation.

Make key value propositions the centrepiece of your executive summary—and take every opportunity to stress features that make your offer superior. Do not hesitate to draw comparisons with your closest competitors (without naming them).

High-impact page components

In addition to embedding differentiators in proposal text, ensure they are always present in these high visibility locations:

Make your differentiators count: Express differentiators where they will have highest impact, including in section summaries (1), capsule statements (2) and visualizations (3).

Section summaries: These two or three sentence statements explain how your solution satisfies the section requirements. Use a design template that sets off these summaries in large and/or bold face type and places them right after the section title.

Capsule statements: Capsule statements or call-outs are short (8-10 word) sales pitches designed to grab the evaluator’s attention and be memorable. Build each around a key differentiator. Set off capsule statements from body text using coloured text and/or a background tint.

Visualizations: Build visualizations around key differentiators. Examples:

  • If your processes are superior, use the cover of a process manual or independent process audit report to make the point—then stress this feature and one or more related benefits (such as consistent service quality) in a selling caption tied to the graphic.
  • If you have proven success with projects that align with the bid requirements, use a photo, client logo or other graphic to draw attention to a selling caption that expresses this strength (feature) and ties it to reduced delivery risk and/or better quality (benefits).

Use trigger phrases to signal differentiators

Since most evaluators scan and score proposals, rather than reading them closely, don’t risk having them overlook your differentiators.

Instead, consider beginning a sentence or paragraph expressing a differentiator with a phrase such as “a significant strength our team brings to the project is . . .” or “a unique advantage of this solution is . . .” to ensure reviewers understand the following information may be worth additional points.

Add a checklist to make it easy for evaluators

Build a table of RFP key requirements and how you satisfy each. Include this in the executive summary and/or at the end of each section. Include differentiators in the column where you show how you will address the requirements.

Repetition is OK

Don’t worry about repeating the same differentiator in different sections—or even within a section. Evaluators are looking for reasons to score one bidder higher than another. Don’t disappoint.

Next week: Identifying differentiators as part of the strategy process


Need help building your key differentiators into proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

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




Developing differentiators

 March 20, 2018
by Paul Heron

Bidders often squander potential advantage by talking about their differentiators in general terms. Avoid this mistake by adding specifics that make your claims more difficult to match.

This post explains how to better differentiate your team, performance, experience and understanding of the project.

Add specifics to make team claims stronger

In the team leader statements below, note how adding the leader’s name and specific experience increases the selling power in versions two and three: 

  1. Weak: Our proposed team leader has more than 10 years of experience.
  2. Stronger: Julia Menéndez, our proposed team leader, has successfully managed implementations similar to yours since 2001.
  3. Strongest: Julia Menéndez, our proposed team leader, has managed eight similar implementations on time and on budget since 2001, including two in the past year that use the AZ300 technology we recommend for this project.

Add specifics to performance claims

See how adding specifics to performance in a particular area sharpens your performance advantage over competitors. Apply this in other performance areas relevant to your business and the project you’re pursuing. Use statistics, awards, client testimonials and audit results to back up your performance claims.

  1. Weak: We have an excellent on-time, on-budget project completion record.
  2. Stronger: In the past five years, we’ve had a perfect on-time and on-budget completion record across 35 projects.
  3. Strongest: In the past five years, we’ve had a perfect completion record of 35 on time, on budget projects—including 8 brownfield projects similar in size and scope to yours. This performance earned us the 2014 Builder of the Year award from the Ontario Construction Association.

Add specifics to experience claims

Here’s how to build selling power using specifics in your experience claims.

  1. Weak: We developed and delivered more than 100 websites in the past three years.
  2. Stronger: In 2014, we completed 12 e-commerce sites, including 6 with requirements very similar to yours.
  3. Strongest: In 2014, we built 12 e-commerce sites, including 6 with requirements similar to yours. The table below contains the URLs for these 6 sites with columns aligning with your 5 top functionality requirements.

Show you understand the project

Prospects are naturally most comfortable awarding contracts—especially for complex solutions and/or ongoing support—to vendors who clearly understand their strategic drivers and the hot button issues they care about.

Use notes from pre-RFP discovery conversations to show you are responding to the prospect’s needs. Wherever possible use the same language as the prospect. Tie features of your proposed approach and solution directly to your prospect’s overall strategy and expressed needs and wants.

What if you can’t make strong, specific claims?

If you have no areas where you can claim superiority, you need to ask whether you should bid at all. Using a disciplined bid/no-bid decision process will help you avoid spending effort on unwinnable bids.

Another decision point is after you’ve fleshed out your strategy, but before kick off. Sometimes an opportunity that seemed worth pursuing looks shaky when subjected to a post-strategy review (See our posts on conducting proposal Blue Team and Black Hat reviews).

If post-strategy reviews paint a bleak picture of your prospects, the best course is to swallow your pride and pull the plug.

Consider getting help

Many bidders have trouble identifying and maximizing their differentiation opportunities. If you suspect this is true in your case, please follow the link below.

Next week: Expressing differentiators in your proposals


Need help standing out from your competition?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Finding your differentiators

 March 13, 2018
by Paul Heron

In last week’s post we described differentiators as features that a) cannot be claimed by your competitors, and b) are important to your prospect. In tight competitions—especially where there is little difference in price—small degrees of differentiation is often the difference between winning and losing.

If differentiators are like diamonds, where do you start looking for them?

Focus on differentiators in four areas

Look for opportunities to make unmatched claims in four areas:

  • People: No two people or teams are identical. Highlight your team’s distinguishing attributes and its members’ abilities. Don’t rely on evaluators to read resumes tucked away in an appendix to learn your team is superior. Instead, find opportunities to stress this edge in narratives wherever possible.
  • Performance: Zero in on areas where strong performance aligns with important prospect issues. Think about performance in broad terms. Safety, implementation, communications and responsiveness all provide opportunities to compare your performance to that of competitors.
  • Experience: Define your experience in ways that closely connect to the specific needs of this prospect and opportunity. Don’t trust the evaluators to draw parallels—instead spell them out.
  • Understanding: RFP and RFQ issuers favour vendors who really understand their business and priorities. Don’t limit yourself to expressing strategic understanding in the executive summary and (if you get there) the orals presentation. Instead, demonstrate understanding throughout your proposal. 

Later this month, we’ll show how to connect your differentiators to the prospect’s hot button issues and how to use them to appeal to different buyer types.

Include systems and processes

Show prospects you have reliable, repeatable systems and processes in place to deliver what you promise—especially if your competitors fall short in this area.

Companies fear being let down by unfulfilled service delivery promises caused by their vendors’ lack of the robust systems and repeatable processes they claimed or promised. If your prospect has been burned this way, win over evaluators with proof your systems and processes are in use satisfying similar clients today.

Coming up: More on differentiators

In the upcoming posts, we’ll show you how to make the most of your differentiators, including:

  • How to use specifics to strengthen differentiators
  • Where and how to express differentiators in proposals



Struggling to identify your differentiators?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

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




Understanding differentiators

 March 6, 2018
by Paul Heron

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.

Next week: Where to look for differentiators


Interested in developing better bid strategies?

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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