Imagine receiving a request for proposal (RFP) late Friday afternoon. Although your company has been courting this customer for a few years, this project is a surprise. You will have to be the one pulling together this proposal – key people who understand the nature of the work are busy with other jobs. The deadline is only two weeks away and for several areas of the proposal, you are unsure how your company would tackle the work. You’ll need input from your production manager. You head out onto the shop floor and the process of preparing your proposal begins.
You submit the proposal on time, but a month later receive an email saying your firm was not selected. You were disqualified for not meeting the safety requirements.
What? Your company has decades of experience and has won awards for its safety record. Did the junior employee who pulled the documentation together make a mistake? Did you miss answering a question on the RFP?
Situations like this are common but avoidable. After significant marketing and sales efforts to ensure you are on the bid list, give the proposal process the attention it deserves. A two-week rush does not allow you to put your best foot forward in any submission to clients aimed at acquiring work, whether generic proposals, custom-solution sole-source proposals, qualification submissions, or responses to competitive-bid RFPs. The key is to focus on what you can control. A little preparation has a big influence on your chances of winning the work.
Companies are asking the right questions. How can we get a proposal out the door more efficiently? How can we make sure we give the client the information they need? When you focus on questions, you are more likely to win the work.
Saskatchewan’s procurement landscape
The way companies buy from each other in Saskatchewan is changing. We still take pride in doing business on a handshake, but governments and publicly traded companies have adopted formal procurement standards requiring detail, clarity, and information that suppliers never used to provide. This approach is filtering down and mid-size companies are also changing how they buy from smaller vendors. The trend is permanent; all companies must adapt.
Ruba Qaqish, a proposal management consultant with Banda Marketing Group in Saskatoon, describes what is unfolding. “The City of Saskatoon, the City of Regina, and the province are streamlining procurement and in some cases centralizing the function. They are listening to industry’s requests for standardization of processes and templates, and are including important considerations like focusing on best value over price.” Saskatchewan’s entrepreneurial community is quickly adapting to this new reality. “Companies are asking the right questions,” Qaqish explains. “How can we get a proposal out the door more efficiently? How can we make sure we give the client the information they need? When you focus on questions, you are more likely to win the work.”
Preparing a proposal is a costly and time consuming task. Before a company begins spending that time, money, and energy, decision-makers have to be certain they have a good chance of winning. The best way is to have a robust “bid/no bid” strategy.
Download the discussion paper titled Factors to Consider When Creating a Bid/No Bid Strategy and learn what you need to address to come to the decision on whether to bid.
The uncomplicated approach
Preparation is the key to making a proposal submission easy and effective. Don’t reinvent the wheel – there are proven ways of ensuring you are organized and ready to respond. Proposal management is an area of expertise in which people coordinate the preparation of proposals, quotes, or other information to potential customers. Qaqish explains the essential benefits proposal management can provide: “Your average time spent per proposal will go down, and your win rate will likely go up.”
Address the following key areas when approaching proposal management.
• Know your client
Understand your client’s general needs, such as their key initiatives and how they will use your service or product. Identify the priorities of key people involved in planning for, procuring, and using what you sell.
Seeking out information on upcoming work before it needs to be purchased will help you prepare your proposal. In some cases the potential client may ask you for information to help them determine what they require. This involvement doesn’t mean you will get the work, but it influences the client’s process and what they prefer to buy.
• Know your competitors
Most people think you need to have the lowest price to win a bid. Sometimes you do, but price is almost never the only factor. To understand how your customer perceives the value you offer, you need to know your competitive position, which is how your product’s strengths and weaknesses – including price – relate to competitors’ value. It’s how the potential client perceives you compared with your competitors. If you know the project budget, it’s relatively easy to follow your regular pricing process and set a price below or at that budget, though you still won’t know how your price compares to the competition’s. The question gets complicated when the client does not disclose the budget.
“Most entrepreneurs are unsure how to collect pricing information,” Qaqish explains. “One tactic is to gather the information published about similar bids and who won them. In public procurement, transparency is critical and clients often issue evaluation results, including scores for each category, prices, and how award decisions were reached. Consider this information when determining your price. Make gathering these details part of your process when closing a proposal, win or lose.”
• Be ready to respond
Knowing your potential clients and competitors will ensure you have much of the information you need when you prepare a submission. Taking care of a few other core areas that are actually fairly easy to deal with in advance of the RFP being issued will ensure you can work efficiently and effectively to prepare the submission.
“Deciding whether to bid on an opportunity is a crucial step,” says Qaqish. “Is it the right fit for you? Can you deliver what they’re asking for? There are ways to be organized in advance so you can answer those questions. It comes down to the “bid/ no-bid” strategy, which entails answering questions and having information at your fingertips.”
If you choose to submit a bid, having a repository of the information you need is crucial to make the process efficient and to focus your time on preparing answers to questions rather than running around trying to find someone who remembers details about similar projects you’ve completed in the past. “Content libraries contain information such as details on past projects, staff who worked on those projects, and testimonials. There are ways to ensure content libraries are relevant to the types of projects you intend to take on, are easily searchable, and are useful to the proposal submission process,” Qaqish explains.
It is also crucial to know in advance who will be on the team that prepares a submission. You need marketing and sales people, people who know the product or service you will be providing, plus people who will write and review the document before submission.
A crucial step toward winning the job
Marketing, personal sales, and proposal management are all crucial phases of the business development cycle. Managing your proposal process calmly and effectively improves your win rate because it means you provide the potential client with relevant, more complete information tailored to what they need to hear.
An organized approach to proposal management has other benefits. Insight on win rates helps you understand where you are competitive and with which clients. And it allows senior staff to focus on managing the business rather than getting bogged down preparing proposals and allows you to present your company’s brand in a consistent, focused manner.
First published in the March 2019 edition of The Business Advisor.