September 28, 2007

What Matters the Most in Winning

If you want to improve a process, it helps to know which parts of the process matter the most. To improve our proposals process, we need to know which steps count the most toward winning.
That's what this message focuses on. Based on our research and interviews with hundreds of evaluators and decision makers, here's what really matters.


Here's a painless little quiz. Glance through the following list of proposal attributes and put a mental check mark next to the three factors that you think will have the most impact on whether or not you win.
  1. Accuracy of the content
  2. Addressing the customer's needs and objectives
  3. Addressing the requirements of the RFP
  4. Case studies / success stories
  5. Clarity of the writing
  6. Completeness
  7. Compliance
  8. Conciseness
  9. Cost justification / ROI / Life cycle cost analysis
  10. Facilities section
  11. Graphics
  12. Management plan
  13. Pricing
  14. Prior experience
  15. Project plan
  16. References
  17. Resumes
  18. Technical innovation
  19. Technical plan
  20. Vendor's history / capabilities / experience

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. They're all important. And depending on the deal, what matters most may change. But based on 25 years in the proposal biz and based on interviews with dozens of people who make their living evaluating proposals, here are the three that seem to matter the most:

  1. Addressing the customer's needs
  2. Addressing the requirements of the RFP
  3. Cost justification / ROI /Life cycle cost analysis

People want to know that they're getting what they need, that you're going to deliver it in a way that conforms to their expectations and technical requirements and that will offer good business value. The other stuff? Background support. Substantiation. Sometimes a reason to eliminate a vendor. But ultimately not as important.

Here's an anecdote that's related to this quiz. A few years ago a company that hauls garbage surveyed 400 sales reps, asking what the most important factor was in winning a deal. Overwhelmingly, the answer from the sales people was: Price.
Meanwhile, the company surveyed 400 customers and potential customers, asking the same question. The number one answer: Reliability. In fact, price appeared sixth on the list for customers.

The company's proposals, of course, were focusing primarily on price. And even though they had a great story to tell on the issue of reliability, with several differentiators that set them apart in the industry, it wasn't being emphasized.

It's tough not to feel that price is the primary factor in a competitive market. But sometimes we set ourselves up for that kind of pressure by not offering an alternative vision.