“Begin with the end in mind,” is one of Stephen Covey’s famed “7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” For a successful bid team, the end to keep in mind is the production of successful bids, bids that win the business.
The process to get there also begins with another of the 7 Habits: “Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood!”
Seek First to Understand
There is much to be understood before a bid team begins to build a winning bid. A recommendation made without first fully understanding the customer’s need is nothing more than a shallow attempt to sell a specific product. Buyers see through this.
Whether it comes in as a Request for Proposal (RFP), a Request for Quote (RFQ), Request for Information (RFI) or some less informal quotation request, the document itself is only the start of the information gathering process. After a careful reading, the bid team must generate a cogent list of questions that will unearth deeper levels of need and more specifics. The more attention paid to detail the better the bid will ultimately be.
Key issues including a timeframe for purchase, deadline for complete deployment, budget considerations, inherent expectations, and other details must be carefully and thoroughly gathered.
Customers buy based on their confidence in your knowledge of their business and their specific needs for each proposal. The more detail you provide in your bid, based on your knowledge in greater detail of the customer’s current state and desired end state, the more likely that yours will be the winning bid.
It is important to determine, as you approach the information gathering process, whether one of your competitors has assisted in the preparation of the RFP, RFQ, RFI, or other. Many customers have a preferred provider who they may turn to for assistance with the difficult and burdensome process of producing a valid request document. It is very likely that the vendor who helps them will win the bid, making you nothing more than a “check-in-the-box” to show they gathered competing bids. You don’t want to invest time or effort if you know “the fix is in” unless you have an excellent strategy for overcoming that advantage. It is usually almost impossible to overcome that level of incumbency.
Then to be Understood
Once you’ve gathered all possible information, and asked all possible questions, it’s time to create that winning bid. There is nothing simple about this.
Your bid must present all the reasons why the requestor should select you. This begins by clearly stating your understanding of their needs in the initial summary and then backing that up with incisive details and evidence that your understanding is superior and your proposal is totally founded in that understanding.
Your approach to fulfilling their request must be clearly, concisely, and compellingly defined. You may not have an opportunity to present your proposal personally, as most sales professionals would prefer, so the written form must get the message across without question.
Your pricing must also be concisely presented. Any ambiguity in pricing may result in outright rejection of your proposal with no further consideration.
Many bidders feel compelled to include boilerplate information about their company. If the requestor really doesn’t know who you are before requesting a bid from you, then put this information at the back. What you are going to do for the customer is what’s most important. Anything else is secondary.
Treat the closing of your proposal as you would the closing of a sale. Let your passion in the belief that you are best suited to fulfill this request come through.
Xerox’s Channel Chief, Pete Peterson, gives channel partners an in-depth look at what it takes to build a strong bid support team
It Takes a Village
Winning bids take work by many people with various skills. While you may be tempted to combine these roles into one person, the more specialized skill each person brings the better your bids will be:
- Account Expert: Every bid begins with a relationship with the customer, one that is cultivated, developed, matured, and managed by an account management professional. This is a person, or in some cases several people, who have deep understanding of the customer. The natural first person you’ll think of in this category is the salesperson who owns the account. Other candidates include lead engineers, solution architects, consultants and others who work closely with the account on a regular basis. They often know much more, in much more depth, than you might suspect.
- Subject Matter Expert (SME): This is the technical resource within your organization with the best understanding of the technologies underlying this specific request for bid. Deep understanding of the challenge and deep knowledge of the solution are not something you want to take shortcuts on.
- Pricing Expert: This is the person in your organization who owns responsibility for the services P&L and making sure that your pricing strikes the ideal balance between market competitiveness and profitability. They own the magic balance between wanting the business and protecting the bottom line.
- Proposal Writer: There are far more wrong ways to write a proposal than there are right ones. Since the proposal may stand alone without the benefit of personal presentation it must be written as compellingly as possible. This is a vital skill that should never be assumed to be present in a salesperson or manager. If nobody on staff is a professional writer, consider the profit available from winning the bid to determine whether or not an external professional should be identified and engaged.
- Bid Manager: This is probably the most valuable person on the team, as they are the one responsible for making sure that everyone involved in producing the proposal delivers what they are responsible for on time and at a high level of quality. They will assemble the final bid document and must have the clout to compel everyone to step up as required to get the winning bid delivered on time. Late bids don’t win. Rushed bids don’t win. Poorly constructed bids don’t win.
One last of the 7 Habits to consider. It’s easy enough to win a bid by “lowballing” your price. It’s also easy to lose your shirt that way. A winning bid must not only be a win for your customer, but also for your organization. Approach every request as resulting in a project you’d like to promote as a signature case study, something you will be very proud to produce. Something your customer will be proud to tell their customers about, too. Add your key partners to the team described in this post, and include them in the win as well.
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