Proposal Heroes Not Needed

You know who your proposal heroes are; they’re the bid managers and proposal writers who work round the clock and weekends to get their sales teams’ proposals in by the RFP deadlines. 

Proposal heroes ARE needed when the timing of proposal work is mismanaged.

Proposal heroes ARE NOT needed if you have a proposal methodology and work it throughout the B2B sales process.

If the following scenario sounds familiar, well then, I feel for you. Like you, I have been involved with too many of these over the years.

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way.

First, read below about this all too common occurrence. And then I’ll layout several ways to remove the need for proposal heroics – and get better sales results at the same time.

Heroic Proposal Scenario

The Heroic Proposal Scenario

Friday. 4:40 pm.

In a web meeting, a contractor’s Bid Manager in Minneapolis is making 11th-hour revisions (and corrections) directed by the sales team leader in Boston and the operational VP in Nashville.

The tension is clear in everyone’s voice as they race against the 5:00 pm RFP deadline.

After all, this is for a $130 million, six year B2B service contract…and this contractor is the incumbent. Not much to gain with a win, but a lot to lose if the contract isn’t retained.

The technical proposal writer and two account-dedicated operations managers are also in the web meeting but are quiet; they don’t want to distract from what little time remains with another comment or additional observation.

4:51 pm.

All last-minute edits are believed to be complete. The Bid Manager converts the Microsoft Word doc into a PDF.

4:53 pm.

The Bid Manager uploads the PDF into the customer’s RFP portal

4:55 pm.

A confirmation message from the RFP portal confirm’s the contractor’s submittal made the deadline. The sales and proposal teams erupt into cheers. Lots of virtual patting one another on the back, and lots of genuine relief.

A few even congratulate themselves for their teamwork and collaboration under pressure. All are grateful this baby has been delivered on time.

6:57 pm.

It’s two hours after making the RFP deadline and separately several team members begin to reflect back on what’s recently occurred. They start to have thoughts about:

  • Errors they might have missed – maybe they’ll go back and peek at their submittal?
  • Presenting their information better – maybe less wordy, skinny down fat responses?
  • Better solution design – maybe more innovative components, more creative configurations, or something new altogether?

But what the heck, the RFP deadline is over. The team only had three weeks from the RFP’s release to the submittal deadline. And they made it. Case closed. On to the next proposal/RFP crisis in the cue.

RFP Deadline Made: Best Response Not

RFP Deadline Made: Best Response Not

Making an RFP submittal deadline is only the floor when trying to secure large-dollar B2B service contracts. It’s the mandatory minimum to play.

But contractors want to win the contract, not just be RFP compliant. Their ceiling is to win more large contracts than they lose. And this is even more important when they’re the incumbent.

This is where proposal methodology comes in. It connects sales activities, before the RFP is out, to producing a great proposal when the RFP is finally released. And proposal methodology is about knowing the… 

Destination First

Destination First

In the B2B contract world contracts are needed to start work, and contracts need proposals/RFP responses from which customers can select their desired suppliers.

So, if the B2B contract ends up with a proposal/RFP response, why don’t reps begin with that in mind from day one? In each customer conversation?

The problem is that many sales reps don’t know what intel they should be gathering; they don’t know what questions they should be asking.

This is because they lack a proposal methodology that tells them ahead of time what the specific intel they’ll need to gather.

Start Preparation for Large-Dollar Contracts before the RFP is Out

Start Preparation for Large-Dollar Contracts before the RFP is Out

Timing, and having a proposal methodology, for large-dollar contracts is everything. These bigger deals are run by procurement departments as Technical RFPs.

And you’ll want to get your team preparing for them long before the RFP’s release. Because once the RFP is released, your sales team will be running around surveying customer sites, working on pricing, and no one will have time for creative thinking or innovative solution design: It’ll be all hands racing for the deadline.

When should you start your proposal/RFP preparation for large-dollar contracts?

1) Guesstimating when RFPs are likely to be Released

It’s easy to estimate the timing of when RFPs will be released. Start at the contract termination date and work backwards. Typically, they’re released about three (3) to six (6) months before the term date.

If you’re the incumbent contractor you’d better know your term date and plan for it. For the other major pursuits, the contract term date should be the first thing your sales reps find out.

What preparation can you do ahead of time?

2) Preparation you can begin before RFPs are Released

Once you have the contract term date, work backwards and start your proposal/RFP preparation six (6) to nine (9) months before that.

Why would you want to begin preparing before the RFP is out? Because:

RFPs and service specifications don’t tell you what you need to know to win.

They do tell you scale and scope, which drives pricing.

However, they don’t tell you what customers are buying or how to persuade them to select you.

The reasons why customers select a particular supplier over another are relatively stable. They don’t change quickly; their buying rationale is set for some time.

Therefore, your analysis of their situation can be completed in six (6) to nine (9) months before contract term date, or three (3) to six (6) months before the RFP is released.

Specifically, here’s what you can do to prepare before the RFP is out:

1) Begin and complete an analysis of the bid opportunity’s company, their department, their expected decision makers, and your likely competitors.

2) From that analysis:

  • Draft an emotionally engaging narrative
  • Outline an intellectually compelling solution with customized key components
  • Create a proposal brand as a mental shortcut for readers/evaluators
  • Write near-complete versions of your cover letter & executive summary
  • Develop list of potential financial incentives, programs, & scenarios

All the above can and should be started before the RFP is released.

Hold Proposal Intel in CRM

Hold Proposal Intel in CRM

Gathering the intel needed to successfully develop proposals/RFP responses takes time.

Reps rarely get that intel at one time from customers. They accumulate it over many meetings, conversations, and interactions. And it must be kept somewhere for when it’s needed.

That’s where CRM (Customer Relations Management) solutions come in.

For proposals/RFPs, you’ll want to include key fields from your proposal methodology in your CRM to hold that intel. And please don’t make too many fields mandatory. If there are lots of them, reps will find it onerous and just ignore them – just the vital few fields, not the useful many.

Smaller, Standard Proposals: Efficiency 1st

Smaller, Standard Proposals: Efficiency 1st

Standard proposals are for smaller-dollar contracts. They don’t require answering customers’ RFP questions, so the content and its order are determined by the sales rep.

And contractors can find more of these smaller-dollar opportunities than the larger-dollar Technical RFPs. It makes it more of a high-volume, numbers game, and of course your sales targets depend on your strategy.

This is where “efficiency” in proposal production takes precedence over “effectiveness” in proposal methodology. Efficiency here means producing many proposals quickly and easily. There won’t be a great deal of one-off customization and most of it will be standardized, so why not churn out lots of proposals quickly?

Don’t get me wrong. You still want to be “effective” in winning contracts. It’s just that with smaller dollars involved, you can hit sales goals by vastly increasing the number of proposals.

Sales proposal platforms, like ClientPoint, can make proposal production easier, and provide the benefits of cloud-based SaaS, such as web analytics, video attached, etc.

For the design look of a standard proposal consider the “Corporate Report” style described in “Proposal Couture – Dressed for Success.”

Larger-Dollar Technical RFPs: Effectiveness 1st

Larger-Dollar Technical RFPs: Effectiveness 1st

When the dollar size of B2B service contracts get large, procurement steps in. In the USA, this occurs because the Sarbanes-Oxley Act (SOX) requires public corporations to be accountable for their spend and finances. As a result, larger-dollar service contracts are run through procurement’s RFP process.

And a common sales failure is to wait for procurement to release the RFP before starting proposal preparation. 

Time is the rarest of sales resources. Squander it waiting for RFPs to be released, and you’ll be caught up on the hamster wheel of two to four-week deadlines, with everyone on your team running around focused on pricing alone.

What can you do before RFPs are released?

What can you do before RFPs are released? 

Reread the above section again: “Start Before RFP is Out on Large-Dollar Technical RFPs.” 

Hopefully you can see that before the RFP is out, is the time to creatively design highly customized, one-off key components. And because this is a large-dollar contract, you’ll want to include lots of custom content with a connective narrative.

When the RFP is released, you can integrate those custom components into a cohesive solution based on your analysis. Do that and you’ll be so far ahead with new, cool stuff that you’ll have plenty of time to intelligently respond when the RFP does come out.

For the design look of your document for Technical RFPs, consider the “Fashion Magazine” style described in “Proposal Couture – Dressed for Success.” 

And because this will be your most highly customized proposal/RFP response, you may want to mirror your customer’s branding, color, and imagery. The best tool to produce it is Adobe’s InDesign,” which will require a more advanced, specific skill set than Microsoft Word.

Summary

Summary

Proposal heroics (24/7 non-stop schlepping) should virtually never happen. The only acceptable reason would be when a desirable customer drops a surprise bid opportunity on you at the last minute.

And if you’re the incumbent contractor, heaven forbid you wait for the RFP’s release before beginning your proposal preparation. This would be proposal malpractice, which with a little foresight and planning can be easily, and more successfully, avoided.

“Proposal Heroes Not Needed” first published on LinkedIn

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