Clear thinking

Learn how to improve your proposals and win more business.


Managing sales discovery

 October 30, 2018
by Paul Heron

This month we’ve covered understanding prospects—including the economic buyer, technical buyer and user buyer—and how to organize and position features and benefits for each buyer type.

While it’s helpful to strategize around buyer types, nothing beats knowing the actual decision makers. Knowledge lets you address actual strategic drivers and hot button issues, not just generic buyer types.

Gaining insight into prospects’ needs and wants is a key function of business development. That’s what this post is about.

What should business developers actually do?

If you sell via formal proposals, chances are you’re in a long-cycle, high-stakes business. The occasional brief sales call won’t win contracts. Even cultivating a warm relationship may not be enough, given the rigorous bid processes typically in place for large purchases.

Don’t settle for: “He loves me—our kids play soccer together.” Instead, expect your business developers to go deep inside prospect organizations, meet several people and get answers to specific questions.

Make a to-do list for business developers

Define what your developers need to do. Here’s our list:

  • Gain the prospect’s respect: Cultivate respect by learning enough to be able to ask intelligent questions and offer ideas that resonate. As primary contacts develop confidence in your business developer, they’ll want to bring other decision makers into the conversation.
  • Identify strategic drivers: Knowing your prospect’s specific challenges and opportunities (cost pressures, disruptive technologies, new competitors) is essential to building a client-focussed strategy. This needs to be part of business developer conversations.
  • Get to know evaluators: Developers should try to meet with those likely to evaluate their proposals for two reasons: 1. To learn their key motivators and issues; 2. To show them you want to address their specific needs. A business developer who is trusted (see point 1 above) should be able to obtain these intros. 
  • Find out what’s coming: Learn about RFP timing for upcoming requirements and termination dates for existing contracts held by competitors. A company should never be caught off-guard by RFPs from prospects its developers have targeted. 
  • Document everything: Ask developers to document conversations immediately after each call. Get them to capture key items in the prospect’s words, if possible, so you can play them back in your response. 

Success takes science and hard work

Business development is both art and science. But success owes more to science than to art. Setting specific relationship and information-gathering goals—and then following up—will identify which developers are up to the job.

This post sets a high bar. You can decide where to set yours.

Next month: Value propositions for buyer types




Need help with a pre-RFP approaches for large bid opportunities?

Contact Complex2Clear



Photo credit

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




Profile: User buyer

 October 23, 2018
by Paul Heron

This month we’ve posted on understanding prospects, including the economic buyer and technical buyer. Today we’ll look at users, the third main buyer type.

User buyers are part of the evaluation team in any RFP for services. They represent individuals who will be directly impacted by your proposed solution. They know first-hand the lost weekends and career damage that result from poorly planned implementations, and that not all “improvements” actually make their lives better. As a result, they’re wary of change in general.

Appealing to the user buyer

User buyers will focus on your transition and their role in making your solution work. Anticipate and answer these questions:

  • Does the implementation plan make sense? Describe your transition plan, including a detailed schedule and milestones. User buyers will want to see pre-transition consultation and user training. Identify key members of your transition team and their experience. If you have a clean record of on-time, on-budget implementations, include details of similar projects with references.
  • Is your solution reliable and easy to use? Cite accepted measures of reliability and ease of use for your industry. Identify specific activities that will become easier using your solution—for example, form fields that auto fill as a result of file integration. If available, include survey results showing current user acceptance.
  • Are maintenance and support included and robust? User buyers will want to know how ongoing needs will be met. Is there a help desk providing a single point of contact? If the prospect is large, are you offering a dedicated account manager? Can you include a response time promise for emergency and non-emergency issues?
  • Is your solution safe? If relevant, explain your safety management plan. Include safety records for other sites, using standard measures, such as recordable injuries and lost-time accidents.
  • How do you propose to manage issues? Cite existing contracts with service level agreements similar to those required by the RFP. Provide case examples where you have successfully resolved issues that could have impacted a client’s employees and/or customers.
  • How will your solution affect morale? This is the subtext for all user buyer concerns. Will workload increase or decrease? Will customer issues be easier or harder to resolve? Will I face more or fewer upset customers? Allay these fears with case studies, survey results, etc. that cite specifics.

In every case avoid assurances unless you can prove you’re able to follow through. User buyers selected as evaluators are immune to empty promises.

What about non-services contracts?

Bidders on construction projects, for example, should adopt user buyer thinking when describing their approaches to governance and reporting, stakeholder communications, traffic management and similar requirements. In each case, evaluators will be asking: Will this plan make our lives easier by arming us with the information we’ll need and minimizing negative feedback from outside stakeholders? 

How much clout do user buyers have?

User buyers usually have less formal status than other evaluators. Also, they tend to base conclusions on emotional and subjective factors, rather than hard facts. These factors can reduce their influence on evaluation outcomes, compared to technical buyers. On the other hand, user buyer issues are typically respected by other evaluators and help shape the consensus.

Win them over now

User buyers represent the front-line people who will implement and use your solution. For better or worse, they will have a large impact on its eventual success. Get them onside early by respecting their concerns in your proposal by including their issues when making strategy.


Need help writing more client focused proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Profile: Technical buyer

 October 16, 2018
by Paul Heron

Technical buyers are gatekeepers. They don’t have the economic buyer’s power to make the final decision—but they can keep your proposal from getting shortlisted.

Technical buyers use specialized knowledge to analyse whether solutions meet the RFP requirements. Because their arguments are based on facts, technical buyer findings command respect.

Technical buyers are not all techies

The label “technical buyer” suggests a technology specialist. But the term refers to any evaluator applying specialized knowledge. Technical buyers include:

  • A contracts manager, who evaluates how performance, cost savings, on-time, on-budget delivery, service levels and other specifics can be built into an enforceable agreement with appropriate remedies
  • A risk management specialist, who will examine a solution’s impact on corporate security, liability and insurance
  • A regulatory manager, who can evaluate for compliance with applicable laws and regulations

Writing for technical buyers

Technical buyers are not swayed by general arguments. They typically use checklists to search bid responses for specifics. They aim to gather and marshal facts on which to base their recommendations.

To appeal to technical buyers:

  • Begin by understanding their needs: Identify all technical evaluator issues as a part of your strategy and create checklists by section as part of pre-kick off planning.
  • Prove your solution meets requirements: Create a compliance matrix of all features required in the RFP and show how your solution satisfies each requirement. Use quantitative measures wherever possible. 
  • Address potential technical concerns: For example, in an IT proposal, clearly explain that you’ve recommended an older technology or software version to ensure compatibility with legacy systems. Alternatively, show that your next-generation solution is robust, well accepted and compatible with the prospect’s existing systems. If possible, prove your arguments by citing an authoritative third party.
  • Ghost your competition: Use phrasing such as, “some vendors will offer . . . but we” to position your solution’s strengths against those of other known bidders. This is especially important if you offer a disruptive or new-to-the-market technology and the RFP calls for old technology.

Localize technical information and arguments

Many technical buyers don’t read proposals. Instead, they immediately jump to the contents page, and then to sections containing the information they need. So keep any explanations close to the facts they’ll seek.

Use fact-based graphics and/or callouts to highlight your defence of any features that could be considered non-compliant. 

Respect the technical buyers’ credibility

Their fact-based reasoning enables technical buyers to express their conclusions more objectively than other evaluators. This often gives them outsize clout with decision makers. In a close competition, it’s usually technical buyers who cite differentiators that give one or two bidders an edge over others.

For this reason alone, it’s critical to anticipate and satisfy technical buyer needs.


Need help writing more client focused proposals?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Profile: Economic buyer

 October 9, 2018
by Paul Heron

Last month, we posted on the need to think deeper than the RFP language if you want to win large contracts. Part of this is understanding the buying process and those who will influence the purchase decision.

This post profiles the economic buyer, the ultimate decision maker in complex sales. Only he or she can say yes—although technical buyers and user buyers may also influence the decision.

About the economic buyer

The economic buyer, often referred to as “the one who writes the cheque,” is typically a senior executive, often an owner or business unit leader. This individual typically focuses on value for money and is willing to make trade-offs to get the best deal. The economic buyer relies on recommendations from the other buyer types, but bears ultimate responsibility for the purchase. Often he or she gets involved late, after compliance and major technical thresholds have been satisfied.

So how do you appeal to the economic buyer for your proposal?

Show strategic fit and economic value

Economic buyers come closest to representing the strategic needs of the prospect. Get buy-in from these buyers by arguing that your solution:

  • Aligns with the purchaser’s vision and strategy: Connect the immediate purchase to the buyer’s corporate vision and/or strategy, based on first-hand conversation, the company website, annual report, or public remarks.
  • Achieves business goals: Cite specific goals from your sales conversations or other sources and show how your solution will achieve them.
  • Fits the budget: Show the cost of your solution is within the budget range for the required features and performance
  • Offers business improvements: Demonstrate how you will improve productivity, growth, competitiveness and/or profitability

If you offer the most price-competitive solution, stress that it fulfills all requirements at the lowest cost. If your price is higher, use a lifetime costs model to show how your extended warranty, higher performance, ease of use, lower maintenance and/or other factors justify the higher initial cost. Economic buyers will consider cash flow as well as accrual impacts, so use both in your arguments. Because the economic buyer is likely to spend little time with your proposal, make bite-sized arguments in section summaries, captions and call outs.

Don’t leave it to the evaluators to figure out your price competitiveness. If you can do so within the rules, ghost your competition—even in proposals that do not include prices, or where pricing is evaluated separately.

Hot button issues

Because of the power economic buyers have, prioritize discovering and addressing their key issues in your sales discovery.

When preparing an unsolicited proposal, check out the economic buyer’s online presence (LinkedIn, public remarks) for possible sources of information on his or her hot buttons. 

Do economic buyers even read proposals?

Depending on the individual and the situation, the economic buyer may be highly involved—or a rubber stamp.

Business owners are almost certain to be involved and may also be the main technical buyer. In large public organizations, the final sign-off may be a formality—especially for small contracts with limited impact on the organization. In some cases, a committee will make the decision.

But that doesn’t mean you can skip the economic buyer arguments. When making its recommendation, the evaluation team will still want to position a solution as the best combination of cost and value--especially if they are not recommending the lowest priced solution.  


Need help with an important bid proposal?

Contact Complex2Clear


Photo credit

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




Understanding prospects

 October 2, 2018
by Paul Heron

Low bids lose RFP competitions when evaluators have doubts about the technical solution’s reliability or completeness, or the vendor’s ability to perform, or to meet the delivery schedule, or some other aspect of the bidder’s offer.

And nothing raises doubts like a bidder who fails to show insight about the issuer and its needs. When a response simply parrots back the RFP requirements, evaluators can’t risk assuming the bidder understands.

Thinking beyond the RFP

For obvious reasons, RFPs don’t include issuer motives such as “due to a 20 percent drop in market share” or “because of persistent quality issues with our products.” But most prospects willing to make a large financial investment are responding to some current or anticipated pain.

Your job is to trace the “chain of pain” so you can tailor a solution to address it—and express through your offer that you understand. Do that with:

  1. Sales discovery: Effective business developers build relationships and work to understand exactly what’s needed, which departments are impacted, who are likely to evaluate the responses and who is driving the process. This firsthand knowledge is ideal for strategy planning. If this is not available, try options 2 and 3.
  2. Research the prospect: Visit the company website. If it’s publicly traded, check its most recent MD&A, shareholder letters and press releases. Read the analysts’ reports. Look for mentions in trade and business publications. Google for media mentions of senior executives by name.
  3. Research comparable companies: Search the Web for similar companies. What issues are they facing? Google combinations of your prospect’s name and those of its main competitors to uncover rivalries and who is winning. Search financial news sites for industry trends.

Even without firsthand knowledge, an hour on Google may help you shape a solution that responds to your prospect’s unstated needs.

Thinking about who’ll make the decision

In the end, companies don’t feel pain—people do. So you need to learn who will be involved in the contract decision and how to appeal to each. That's the next stage in your research.

One classic approach to buyer theory defines three categories corresponding to organizational roles:

  • Economic buyers are the final decision makers—they “write the cheque.”
  • Technical buyers are specialists who analyse technical features and act as gatekeepers
  • User buyers are those most directly impacted by the solution

The next three posts will look more closely at these buyer types and how to craft value propositions that show you understand and will satisfy their main concerns.

Next week: Appealing to the economic buyer


Need help developing more 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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