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Ghosting your competition

 August 28, 2018
by Paul Heron

This month’s posts explore taboo subjects—areas proposal teams typically avoid in responses—and suggest ways to handle them. Earlier posts covered service issues, risk and price. This post recommends ways to address your competition.

Mentioning competitors by name really is taboo. It risks provoking a negative reaction from evaluators—and legal action from those named. Instead use “ghosting,” the practice of skilfully explaining how your understanding, decisions (components, pricing, etc.), and team are superior to those of an invisible but ever-present “other.”

Ways to use ghosting 

Ghost to offset competitor strengths, exploit competitor weaknesses, reinforce your relative strengths and defend your perceived weaknesses. For example:

  • Ghost your closest competitor’s weaknesses (e.g. safety issues, weak customer support, poor delivery performance), by playing up your relative strengths in that area.
  • Ghost a competitor’s richer feature set by explaining its drawbacks (expensive, failure-prone, not required for performance, costly to repair).
  • Ghost your relative size. If your company is smaller, ghost the size argument by stressing your responsiveness, ability to provide a single point of contact and track record of successful projects. If larger, ghost with your service footprint, depth of technical resources and bench strength.
  • Ghost anticipated price differences. Ghost a competitor’s lower price by citing features of your offer that reduce total cost of ownership (longer life, low maintenance design) and costs attributable to satisfying the prospect’s list of must-have features. If you expect to have the price advantage, avoid being out-ghosted by showing your solution is as robust and fully-featured as your competitors’.

Use trade-offs to add credibility to ghosting claims

Trade-offs show you have carefully considered and dismissed alternatives, thereby demonstrating understanding and boosting credibility. Use trade-offs to reinforce your strengths on hot-button issues. See below for two examples.

  • Desire for on-time completion:  “We typically use one paving contractor on projects of this size, but have included two on our proposed team. This will require more coordination on our part, but increases deadline certainty, even in the case of unexpected delays.”
  • Need for high reliability: “We considered the AR470-B, which complies with the RFP requirements, but selected the AR580-B for its superior reliability due to the high cost of downtime for your operations.“

Effective ghosting takes competitive intel

You need to know your closest competitors’ strengths and weaknesses to ghost effectively. Most ghosting arguments also show responsiveness, but the impact is magnified when you target areas of relative superiority. If you are not investing in competitive intelligence, you risk being ghosted without defence. 

Avoid condescension and overuse when ghosting

Some evaluators may find ghosting preachy. Be sure to use restraint and ask reviewers to watch for instances that could cause offence.

Ghost sparingly. Even if well done, excessive ghosting will turn off evaluators. Plan your ghosting opportunities during the proposal strategy phase and deploy them where they’ll have the greatest impact.



Need help writing stronger bids?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Taboo subject: Risk

 August 21, 2018
by Paul Heron

Some bidders avoid raising the issue of risk in proposals. Their reasoning often runs along the lines of: “Why bring up a negative?” or, in the same vein, “If the RFP doesn’t ask, why would we open that can of worms?”

In some sectors, risk is always on the table. Complex construction projects, for example, face multiple risks to on-time, on-budget completion. A bidder who did not identify and explain its strategy for mitigating risk factors would be considered naïve at best.

The fact is, every project contains risk—especially large projects that extend over multiple years.

When to raise risk in a proposal

Here’s a good rule of thumb: Whether or not required by the RFP, include a discussion of risk if either of the following is true:

  1. The project’s success or failure has strategic consequences for the prospect
  2. Your prospect’s size and business operations suggest it routinely analyses risk

So an IT solution for a financial institution meets both criteria, and a large cleaning services bid for the same institution would meet the second.

Identfying risks

Risk identification is a big subject and beyond the scope of this post. Different kinds of projects have their own sets of risks. Project managers often brainstorm around four main categories:

  • External (regulatory compliance, weather, external stakeholder actions, labour unrest, etc.)
  • Internal (governance, budget, scheduling, quality management, procurement, etc.)
  • Technology (components do not perform to spec)
  • Unforeseeable (so-called “black swans”—rare events with catastrophic impact)

Well established risk tables exist for most project types and make a good starting point for those new to identifying risks. Begin with your industry organization or search online.

Analysing risk

Make a four-column table with the following column heads:

  1. THREAT: Identified threat to success 
  2. IMPACT: Assessment of the project’s vulnerability to the threat, ranked high, moderate or low
  3. LIKELIHOOD: Chances the threat will occur—again expressed as high, moderate or low
  4. MITIGATION STRATEGIES: Measures to reduce the chance of occurrence, and to minimize the impact if it does

Assign a row to each threat, organized in order of priority, based on vulnerability and likelihood. Within each threat organize column four by priority as determined by your risk management strategy.

Include a risk table for each section

Earlier this year we posted on how content consistency makes bid proposals easier to read and score. Risk analysis provides an opportunity to show consistency.

Analyse threats and include a risk management table for every main section, if possible. The presence of even a short table, will signal that you’ve considered the issue. Place the tables in the same location within each section—one logical place is immediately following your plan for fulfilling the section’s deliverables.

Partner with your prospect

Risk analysis is an opportunity to position your company as a partner, rather than a mere service vendor. By including risks, you will demonstrate you’re strategic and have the prospect’s best interests in mind.



Need help writing more successful bids?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Taboo subject: Price

 August 14, 2018
by Paul Heron

This month’s posts offer ideas for handling taboo subjects—items most proposal teams would avoid if given the option. Last week we looked at service issues.

Price is another taboo subject for many. Nearly every proposal needs to include a price, either in the main response, or in a separate envelope. Despite the effort teams make to work up their pricing, the price itself often appears only as a number on the last page, or as entries in a vendor-supplied worksheet.

Price is important. Even if the RFP scoring is weighted in favour of the technical submission, technical scores are often closely bunched, which makes it difficult to overcome a price disadvantage of even a few percentage points.

State price upfront if allowed

Approach stating price in proposals as follows:

  • In informal proposals (those submitted outside a competition), state your price in the first or second paragraph. Believing you can bury the price until you’ve won over the prospect is unrealistic. Everyone we know flips through proposals to find the price before beginning to read. Be sure to re-state your price, along with your terms and conditions, in its own section.
  • In formal proposals (RFP responses), follow the rules. If pricing is included in the main proposal, also state it in the executive summary.

Add context

Proposal evaluators benefit from information that supports your price. The goal is to show your offer is fair and reasonable. This is critical in the case of informal proposals, since there will always be pressure from within your prospect organization to issue a competitive RFP.

Depending on your industry and offering, consider:

  • Showing how the price aligns with those of similar projects
  • Breaking down the price by major phase and/or subcontractor
  • Diagramming the process used to estimate costs and prices
  • Identifying expected cost savings and return on investment
  • Reinforcing the strategic needs and issues addressed by the purchase
  • Breaking out costs related to specified requirements (e.g.. system speed, reliability, durability, service response time, extended service hours, etc.)

In each case, use graphics to visualize key point in your pricing explanation.

Include a pricing summary

In a two-envelope RFP submission—especially where pricing must be supplied on issuer-supplied worksheets—consider including pricing summary in the pricing envelope. Before you begin, confirm that the RFP does not prohibit including additional information.

In addition to providing context as above, a pricing summary can prevent evaluator errors in scoring complex offers. Here’s an example:

In response to a distributed system RFP, Complex2Clear’s client offered various endpoint options at a range of prices. The pricing worksheets assumed a one-size-fits-all solution—which all other bidders were offering. We feared the evaluators would simply multiply our highest price by their number of endpoints. We included a pricing summary to minimize this risk. It explained how to optimize price and performance at each site type and included pie charts showing alternative endpoint combinations and the total cost for each. Our client won.

Bottom line

Don’t let price be a taboo subject, especially where the offer is complex and/or multi-year.

Next week: Talking about risk


Need help tackling difficult subjects in your proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear




Photo credit

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




Taboo subject: Service issues

 August 7, 2018
by Paul Heron

Most proposal blogs—here and elsewhere—focus on what teams already strive to do, such as comply, show understanding, write clearly, use visuals to convey key messages, etc.

This month’s posts take a slightly different angle, addressing topics teams might consciously avoid—let’s call them taboos.

Taboos are areas proposal teams are tempted to leave unaddressed. The four most common are service issues, risk, competitors, and pricing. It’s easy to view these as potentially harmful to your chances (service issues), or too hard to address successfully.

We’ll start with service issues.

Why incumbents should address service issues

It’s tempting to ignore service issues when preparing a rebid. After all, the argument goes, why bring up a negative? In fact, there are two good reasons to step up:

  • The client hasn’t forgotten: Clients have long memories for persistent service issues and brief but significant lapses. Glossing over these, or ignoring them completely in a rebid, risks offending those affected. Decision makers may believe you don’t recall the issue and/or don’t understand its seriousness.
  • Your competition knows: In any large rebid situation, non-incumbent business developers have been hovering—sometimes for years—waiting for their chance. You can be sure your strongest competitors are well acquainted with any weaknesses you’ve displayed and will emphasize their ability to outperform in exactly those areas where you’re vulnerable.

How to address service issues in rebids

Assuming you have a solution, we recommend addressing any service issues head-on. Tailor your approach to the status of the issue:

  • If the issue has been successfully addressed, detail your resolution process, any investments you made, and the result. Stress (if true) that your team moved quickly to accept responsibility, identify root causes, and design and implement a solution—while proactively communicating progress.
  • If the issue is ongoing (a less ideal situation), use your incumbent knowledge to set out a well-designed resolution plan. Detail the exact steps you’ll take to improve service and the schedule. Name the individuals who will lead the improvement initiative, be clear about their time commitments, and provide an expected completion date.

Leverage your incumbency

Customers are well aware of the stress, costs and risks of a transition, and would rather stick with an incumbent than switch. Most contracts lost at rebid go to a low-ball bid, with the winner often later regretting the resulting losses.

Few customers will write off an otherwise competent and trustworthy vendor over a service issue that has been corrected, or for which a satisfactory solution has been proposed. Don’t make the mistake of appearing indifferent or failing to mount a defence against competitors’ attacks.

Next week: Talking about risk


Need help writing effective 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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