Nearly every bidder dreams of the perfect proposal, one so well written it works for every future opportunity. All that’s needed is to search on the last prospect’s name and replace it with the current one. OK, maybe there’s a bit more to do—but not much.
Unfortunately, that perfect proposal doesn’t exist—at least not in the world we’ve been living in.
The problem with telling
The search-and-replace idea is based on a false belief that our job is to tell the prospect how wonderful its solution is. If we can do that clearly and convincingly enough (and our price is competitive) we should win—right?
Wrong—and here’s why. When we interview procurement specialists, their number one complaint is that bidders fail to understand their needs. In one simple example, the issuer wanted to replace several thousand point-of-sale machines. In addition to functionality, the new unit needed to fit a very specific countertop footprint. Despite clear instructions, more than half the bidders offered machines that exceeded the specified footprint by 50% or more.
So dusting off an existing proposal for a similar need wasn’t going to work. If that’s what those bidders did, it was a waste of their time—and it frustrated the prospect.
Watch a good sales professional
Successful business developers ask lots of questions. They avoid what a sales coach we know calls “premature explanation.” Asking those questions—and showing they understand the buyer's responses—earns them the right to propose a solution. And, because their solution is likely to fit the buyer’s needs, it will get careful consideration.
We don’t get the opportunity to ask questions in an RFP situation, but we can—and must—still show we understand. We do this by tying our response to the prospect’s stated requirements and, beyond that, showing insight into the prospect’s hot button issues and appealing to specific buyer types.
RFPs suggest (or dictate) response structure
Standard proposals fail for another reason. Most RFPs request responses in a specific format, often as responses to a set of questions. That makes it easier to compare offers using an evaluation matrix.
A search-and-replace proposal—even if it addresses the prospect’s needs—won’t line up with the requested format. That means evaluators will have to sift through your submission to complete their matrix. More likely, they will set it aside in favour of one that conforms.
Streamlining your bid proposal process
While search-and-replace is an impossible dream, there are ways to leverage past proposal efforts in future opportunities.
We’ll explore these in coming posts.
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