Now for the really bad news: whichever it is, insecurity or reality, it’s probably still our fault.
As we know, completing a proposal or a formal bid document is just part of the process. Discovering exactly what you need to say (and sometimes not say) in your submission often comes down to two very significant Rs: relationships and research.
When we know, deep down, that we haven’t done a good enough job with these, we start to get the uneasy feeling that we are at a disadvantage (it’s never actually our fault, of course). A competitor that has invested in the two Rs will always have the advantage when it comes to discovering exactly what a client wants to achieve and, even more importantly, what they want to hear.
My advice when working with organisations is that research doesn’t start when you are faced with an opportunity and shouldn’t be restricted to the scope of that opportunity.
If you know the businesses or organisations you want to win business with I strongly suggest that you start a press file. You can use applications like Evernote to do this online and share the press cuttings with your team.
Following your target clients on social media channels can also tell you a lot and provides an opportunity to start cultivating useful relationships.
As well as offering greater insights into the objectives, challenges and changes affecting your target customer, this intelligence will also provide plenty of seed-corn for starting the conversations that our clients always like best – the ones that are about them.
‘I saw recently that you started project X in town Y, how’s that going?’ That’s a great way to get a client to start talking about their wider business issues and shows that you are taking a keen interest in what they are doing. If you can get them to ‘open up’ through this process you can discover much richer insights than with a checklist of questions restricted to the opportunity at hand.
This, of course leads neatly into the process of building rapport and relationships. People are more forthcoming with information when they sense that your primary motivation is to find ways to help them, rather than to further your own ends. You will have to demonstrate a real interest in their business to convey this sense.
The more you can discover about what is really driving the decision-making process within a client’s business, the better you can understand how to frame your responses in the bid document. You’ll also have a better insight into the themes and phrases that will get their attention in your presentation.
But none of this happens when you are just an arms-length potential supplier. And none of it happens without significant effort and investment on your part.
You could choose to focus your energy on just providing the most detailed and technically precise responses to the questions posed on the client’s bid document that you can. But that's what your competitors should also be doing. This focus can only make you as good as the competition, never better.
So if you get the sense that you are at a disadvantage in a bidding process, the first question to ask is why it feels that way. Then move swiftly on to decide what you’re going to do about changing that situation – it certainly won’t change by itself!
Hugh Graham, The Bid Coach
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