Business proposal management and RFP response- Part 2

Introduction: Understand!

The client has asked for a proposal. Or the sales/ research team has found out about an RFP. And you are responsible for the RFP response.

That’s a fun part of writing a business proposal: whatever your role may be: Proposal Manager; Solution Architect; Solution design team member; Sales; Marketing; Account Manager; Product Manager; Subject Matter Expert; EA to the CEO…. It does not matter. You might be called upon to write a proposal. It will be expected that since you know the subject matter, you can handle a project and you can communicate (and communicate well, I hope), you will be able to get the proposal out the door.
What now? What should be your first step?

Understand! Simple as it may seem, understanding the client, the RFP and the purpose your deliverable document expects to serve, is the first step to get a good proposal written.
And it is often (and sadly) neglected in the crazy quest for content; for the SME, and for the financial proposal.
Not saying that they are not important. They are extremely important – but you are putting the cart before the horse if you concern yourself with the price you quote before you have understood the proposal.

Points to remember: 

  1. Understanding is the key to success:
    You will have to understand your client and their need, if you want to win this deal. Here’s a basic (non-extensive) checklist. Get 30 minutes from the sales rep or the senior management representative and try to get answers to these questions (and then document the findings). They will not think that these are stupid questions to ask, take it from me.
    a. Why has the client chosen to float this RFP? Why does the client want to see your proposal?
    b. What does the client want through this proposal– direct and implied?
    c. What is the biggest pain-point of the client organization? What are the other known pain-points?
    d. Who is / are the decision makers and influencers to this deal? Are the organizational pain-points (as above) the pain points of the decision makers too? Why?
    e. What are the business drivers? Example: Cost reduction? Efficiency improvement? Productivity improvement? Unhappy clients? Lack of quality resources? Management mandate? Introduction of a new service?
         This is absolutely critical. If you have not identified the business drivers, you will NOT win this deal.
    f. What is the as-is state with the client? (If this is mentioned in the proposal already – make 3-4 bullet points on this, and discuss to ensure. What meets the eye through the proposal might not be the absolute truth on-ground)
    g. Who will be adversely affected by the changes due to the implementation as per the RFP? Is one of the influenced parties in the decision-making team?
    h. How is this proposal different from others (or not)?
    i. Who are the other clients bidding for this proposal?
  2. “Every proposal is different. Every client is different”.
    Very true. You will hear this from your sales team often.
    But…
    More often than not, the same template, the same flow, the same content with minor changes will be put in your proposal. And then your proposal will not win.
    Don’t!
    You are the master of your proposal. Take ownership. If your proposal deserves and demands to be different from the standard, then for all practical purposes, make it different. Similarly, don’t be different for different’s sake.
  3. The proposal / RFP response is NOT an informational tool, it is a marketing tool.
    Many experienced proposal managers will tell you – “Answer the question!”
    And they are right. Do answer the question. Never fail to answer the question.
    But….
    If you just answer the question, then you are depending on your product being so good that it does not matter what your competitors say or project, unless they lie (and lie they would not)
    Are you really THAT good?
    If you are not, you will have to project yourself and market yourself. Heavily.
  4. Don’t lie.
    Apart from the fact that you should never lie…
    You are also ensuring that a failed due-diligence will ensure that the client is a no-go zone for you; and what’s more, word does get around.
    Does that mean you’d have to only stick to the straight and narrow? No, of course not. Project your forte. Ensure that your efforts to improve your foibles are heavily highlighted. Market yourself. Sell yourself.
    You can do all that without lying. Trust me, you can.
  5. Take ownership. You, and only you, are accountable for this proposal. Everyone else is a responsible party, or an influencer.

And if your sales team insists that the proposals and RFP response does not win you deals: They are wrong!
While you do need efforts in other areas also, good proposals do indeed win you deals.
And bad proposals definitely, definitely, definitely lose you deals.

 

 

*Previously on Business proposal management and RFP response: Introduction.

 

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4 thoughts on “Business proposal management and RFP response- Part 2

  1. All valid points for a company that is at scale and has a clear understanding and strategy around the sandbox they operate in. For a growing company, it is critical that there is an internal evaluation, led by one or more executives, on whether they want to participate in the RFP or not. The temptation to add logos and potentially engagements of large size can temporarily blind the most seasoned players (especially a sales person chasing targets and commissions) to the fact that what the client wants is not something that the organization can provide and more importantly, that skills needed (either to be acquired or internally built) are not in line with the larger roadmap of the organization. The ability to say no is one of the toughest things to do for a company and one ability that is in short supply.

  2. @Arun – Wonderfully well said. The former Chief Sales Officer at my previous organization spoke about, and created the template for a “Pond Map” which every practice leader had to create for his/her practice. The concept was about ‘which pond do you want to fish in?’ i.e. who is your client? – parameters were created to define and refine the identity of the client for each practice. And every new RFP and every new proposal went through this pre-defined pond map, and were rejected if the client and the pond did not fit.
    Two observations:
    One: everyone likes to throw a bowl of spaghetti on the wall, hoping that some will stick. Maybe some will… but the resource used up for this exercise is immense and worthless.
    Two: It trained me and the other strategy people to ask the basic question to every practice leader – ‘who is/are the client that you would definitely not go for”. Unsurprisingly, the most common response from almost every practice leader was – ‘you know, I don’t think anybody is out of our pond”.

    Well, as the CSO said, if everybody is in your pond, you don’t even know what is your pond. And that would get us back to spaghetti throwing.

    Maybe this warrents another post, later, detailing about the pond map. Smart smart tool, this was.

    Helps in way too many things, even in the initial stage market identification and market sizing as well. And even, as you say, in the ability to say no. That is: you have yourself defined this to be your pond. This falls out of the pond. So this project is out.

  3. Pingback: How to know when NOT TO bid for an RFP | Virtual Ruby

  4. Pingback: Business proposal management and RFP response- Part 3 | Virtual Ruby

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