Organizations that want to improve their proposal win rate should begin by analyzing their current performance. Done well, you’ll gain insight into what you’re doing well and what are aren’t doing so well. A comprehensive program will include some or many of these components.
1. Do an internal “lessons learned” review
I recommend beginning each post procurement evaluation by interviewing the people involved in your proposal development effort. This includes everyone: sales, SMEs, proposal writers, and even the person who prints and assembles each proposal. Make certain you create a safe environment where they can speak freely, where they’re safe from retribution. Then ask them for their honest opinions. You may be astonished by what you learn.
2. Request copies of competitive proposals
If you are bidding on state and local government projects—this does not apply to commercial projects—you should always request copies of your competitors’ proposals. It’s a simple idea; if you have the opportunity to read their proposals, you gain insight into the message they’re sharing with the buyer. You also learn what they think their competitive advantage is and, if you’re lucky, how they’re positioning themselves against you. Clearly, this is good information to have; it’s the kind of intelligence that is actionable in future sales pursuits.
3. Do a deep dive, answer-by-answer comparison to a competitor’s proposal
One of my customers was placing second behind another vendor too often, and they weren’t sure why. To remedy the situation, they got a copy of their competitor’s proposal, and then they did an in-depth analysis comparing and contrasting their proposal against the competitor’s proposal. They took it seriously, too, as evidenced by the time they invested in the effort.
They commandeered a board room with two projectors. On one screen was their proposal and on the other screen was their competitor’s proposal. It took them a day and a half to complete their review, but as a team, they reviewed each response to each question. They considered how each proposal was scored, they took notes about ways to improve their response, and they identified areas in their proposal that were deficient.
Obviously, this sort of deep dive is time consuming, and it’s probably not a process most small businesses could afford to do more than occasionally. Still, even if you only do it occasionally, I can’t imagine any other effort that would reveal as much about your position relative to a specific competitor.
4. Perform post-decision interviews with buyers
Organizations that respond to RFPs on a regular basis can learn a great deal by interviewing buyers after a procurement is concluded. You can learn what you did well, what you did not do well, whether your message was well received, their perception of your competitive position, and much more. For organizations serious about improving their proposal success rate, there are few methods that allow you to collect information as quickly as you can through buyer interviews.
5. Develop metrics to track your performance
Win rates are an excellent way to quantitatively measure the effectiveness of an organization’s proposal program as it is today. After calculating this baseline, these metrics are also an excellent tool for measuring progress. After all, making changes to your existing processes are useless unless you can be certain the changes you’ve made result in better outcomes.
David Seibert is a professional salesperson and consultant for businesses that respond to formal procurements in non-federal markets. Dave publishes a comprehensive curriculum of online, self-paced proposal training classes, delivers onsite and online proposal training programs for dedicated proposal teams, and provides proposal and business development consulting services for businesses that want to improve their win rates.
Dave is founder and president of The Seibert Group, a proposal consulting and training organization serving businesses that sell to other businesses, A/E/C firms, schools, and to state and local governments. Dave authored the popular proposal book, Proposal Best Practices, is active with the Association of Proposal Management Professionals (APMP), and is a member of the APMP Speakers Bureau. You can contact Dave at David.Seibert@ProposalBestPractices.com.