Proposal strategy development is one of the critical first steps in making your business proposal a winner. You would not run your business without a business strategy – neither should you write a proposal without a clear strategy to ensure its success.
Here’s a step-by-step guide to proposal strategy development that all of your proposals are on target.
Think about some past deals you may have pursued, particularly those where you ultimately won the business on the basis of a proposal. Now consider why you won that business.
Most decisions reflect the purchaser’s concerns at the time the decision is made, and most can be traced back to one, or a combination, of the following concerns:
You might well have won the business for one of the following reasons:
- Lowest price, or
- Best price/performance, or
- Return on Investment (ROI).
In this instance the lead decision-maker was most likely a senior technical officer in the client organisation. You will likely have won because of:
- Superior specifications, or
- Programme/solution design, or
- Better technical personnel.
A quality orientation can manifest itself in either of two ways:
- “Snob” value, or
- Proven high quality/reliability.
There are two ways in which you may have found your proposals were successful on the basis of competitiveness:
- The extent to which you proved that your solution was vastly superior to that of any of your competition, or
- The extent to which you convinced your client that your solution would afford them some significant competitive edge over their own competition — an edge which would not be afford them by any other vendor’s proposed offering.
Whether the lead decision-maker is technically, financially or administratively oriented, the credibility of your organisation can be a compelling argument for or against your proposal. You could have been selected because of:
- Who your organisation is, or
- Your team members, or
- Client industry experience.
Is That It?
There are of course many other reasons why you might previously have won business, but you will find that most of these can be slotted in under one or other of the headings above.
There is usually one dominant reason for winning the business. Devising a proposal strategy is all about recognising what the prospect’s dominant decision criteria will be (what represents the dominant orientation in your decision-making group) and what other decision criteria will be important. Your proposal strategy development focus must be upon constructing and presenting your proposal to demonstrate and prove your superiority in these terms.
Selecting a Strategy
The most effective strategy for winning any given piece of business will be one whereby you design your proposal around those criteria which intelligent reasoning tells you your client will use to decide which proposal best meets their requirements – this is genuine strategic writing.
The Winning Strategy Mix
The strategy underpinning a Winning proposal is always based on a mixture of:
- Your client’s perception of their needs, and the decision criteria that are important to them
- Consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of your solution, and your organisation, in the light of the client’s perception of their requirements
- Consideration of the strengths and weaknesses of your competitors’ solutions, and organizations, in the light of the client’s perception of their requirements, and their likely decision criteria.
Figure 1: Proposal Strategy Development Flowchart
So, Where To Start?
Figure 1 (‘Proposal Strategy Development Flowchart’) graphically outlines the recommended approach to selecting an appropriate Proposal Strategy. This simple seven-step procedure is discussed in more detail below.
1. Your Pre-Proposal Review & Your Decision-Makers
In the module on the ‘Pre Proposal Review’ (PPR) an integral part of the success of this key meeting was a series of questions that you designed to equip you with the knowledge you would later need to select a Winning Proposal Strategy.
Consider your client’s responses to these questions and decide what the orientation of the lead decision-maker will be in selecting a vendor. Consider also who else will have an input into the decision — what sort of orientation will they have? Try to prioritize these orientations to reflect what you believe are the power dynamics of the decision group.
Figure 2: Proposal Strategy Development – Client Profile Chart
2. Create a ‘Client Profile Chart’
Create a large chart on a flipchart page, with a column for each of the orientations you have identified in your decision group.
Reflect the priority of the orientations by placing the most important in the column furthest to the left of the chart. In the example illustrated in Figure 2 (‘Proposal Strategy Development – Client Profile Chart’), the PPR indicated that the primary consideration – the primary orientation of the client decision-makers – was one of cost.
The PPR also indicated the importance of technical, quality and presentation factors (in descending order of importance - from left to right). From here on, this chart will be referred to as the Client Profile Chart. Try not to have more than three or four columns on this chart, otherwise the process can become unwieldy.
You will use this chart, and copies of it, to facilitate the next steps in this process.
3. Select Your Initial Strategy
Working with the Client Profile Chart you developed above analyze your strengths under each of the headings on the chart. Work through your Solution Map drawing red boxes around those areas/requirements where you are sure that you will be superior. When you have examined the whole Solution Map, transfer the points in the red boxes into your Client Profile Chart, in whichever column each fits most readily.
When you set up the Client Profile Chart, you recognised the ‘pecking order’ within the decision group by placing what you felt would be the dominant orientation in the column furthest to the left on your chart, and the remaining orientations in descending order of importance from left to right.
Now that you have brainstormed all of your strengths onto the Client Profile Chart, examine it and select the strongest, left-most column.
4/5. Analyze Any Weaknesses in Your Solution
Create a blank copy of the Client Profile Chart and use it to map your weaknesses in the same way as you did your strengths.
Once again, your Solution Map can be of great help in this pahgse of your proposal strategy development. Unless you are lucky enough to have the perfect solution for each and every deal, you will sometimes find yourself with gaps in the Solution Map – aspects of the requirement which you cannot directly address. Most of your competitors will have similar gaps – although they will most likely be in different areas of the requirement. Record each of these gaps as a weak-ness under the appropriate column on your chart.
Examining your weaknesses in this manner is a useful exercise insofar as it allows you to double-check your selected strategy to ensure that there are no particular weaknesses in the profile of your organisation or your proposed solution, which would later render the selected strategy ineffective.
Are there any show-stoppers? Are there any points that will render the selected strategy ineffective? If so, then reconsider your decision on strategy, reverting back to Step 3 in Figure 1 above. If not, then continue.
6. Think About Your Competitors
Brainstorm Their Strengths/Weaknesses
Proposal strategy development is not all about you – it’s also about minimizing the impact of any competitors. To do that create yet another two copies of your Client Profile Chart and brainstorm firstly your competitors’ strengths, and then your competitors’ weaknesses onto them. Do this by using your Solution Map to identify Competitor Pains.
Adding in Responses to Competitor Pains
Competitor Pains are aspects of the requirement which (from your knowledge of your competition) you can speculate your competitor will address more effectively than you.
Work through the Solution Map, drawing black boxes around points where the competition will be superior. When you have completed this exercise, transfer all of the points in the black boxes to appropriate columns on your Competitor Strengths Client Profile Chart.
Is There any Impact on Your Selected Strategy?
It is important that you re-examine your selected strategy again — this time in the light of your competitors’ strengths and weaknesses. Examine particularly those competitors’ strengths in the column representing your selected strategy.
Is there anything there that weakens your case sufficiently for you to consider a change of strategy? Then consider competitive weaknesses under all of the columns. Sometimes you will identify in key columns weaknesses sufficiently pronounced to prompt you to reconsider what at first had seemed to be a less desirable strategy option.
Has an examination of your competitors’ strengths or weaknesses uncovered sufficient reason to warrant re-examination of your initially selected strategy? If so, then return to the proposal strategy development exercise at step 2b above and reconsider your strategy.
7. Think About Other “Sub-strategies”
In selecting the dominant column from your Client Profile Chart above, you selected what you and the team felt should be the core strategy for your proposal.
However, pay attention to those columns — those strategies that came in close second or third.
They also indicate what general themes you will need to address in your “Executive Summary” to get the attention of those senior personnel who will read only this summary of your proposal.
Always, But Always, a Strategy. . .
A coherent, well thought-out strategy is key to the consistent production of winning proposals. Never be tempted to go entirely on your hunch as to what will work.
Next time you consider how to write business proposal to address any opportunity work through the proposal strategy development process above first to determine the best possible strategy to make your proposal a winner. Then, and only then do should you start writing.