Developing winning proposals and responses to RFPs takes enormous planning, strategy and execution from your team. And the restrictions brought on by COVID-19 have made the logistics more challenging. RFP responses and the subsequent oral presentation can easily consume many 100’s of man-hours. More as the stakes go up.
Fortunately, there are ways your firm can find efficiencies to make it less taxing on your pursuit teams both in terms of actual time and mental capacity.
Spend Time Gathering Data
You can never spend too much time trying to discern the prospect’s real motivations and goals. From the moment you begin developing a relationship with your prospect, your mission is to create as many points of contact as you can, and to get maximum value from every one. Make each moment with the prospect count. And please remember - these touchpoints aren’t interrogations. Try out your messaging. Bring insights. Show real interest in the individuals as well as their businesses. Remember the importance of empathy as your prospect, like you, struggles with the pandemic. All this will turn into trust and ultimately real data for you that will be invaluable in the pursuit.
Also, don’t keep the data you’ve gathered to yourself. Share it with the team developing the technical response. They can use that information to deliver a targeted proposal that truly solves the problem in the RFP.
Start the Proposal Before You Have a Solution
While many teams wait to begin creating the response until the solution is decided, in actuality an effective pursuit team can - and should - begin creating the structure of their proposal or oral presentation well before the solution is final. This thinking will make the inevitable RFI and RFQ responses much more compelling. And, importantly, it will mean fewer false starts and revisions. Efficiencies are realized when content is better on the initial drafts.
And here’s a place where you can save a lot of time: The credentials or capabilities part of your submission. Many pursuit teams spend too much time figuring out how to talk about themselves. This is less important - and less differentiating - than many pursuit teams realize. Your credentials only matter in the RFI and RFQ stage if you can make them completely relevant and meaningful based on what that specific prospect is likely to want.
Skip the Flashy Presentation
Many firms are realizing today that the dense slide show is problematic during this period of isolation. We’ve felt this to be true long before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19. Too many organizations and specifically pursuit teams attempt to wow a prospect with complex presentation visuals, but in actuality, much of the time spent on developing graphics and presentation slides would be much better spent elsewhere. We have found that many losing presentations were way too content-dense, and ultimately difficult for buyers to draw conclusions from. Keep your solutions, big ideas and positioning simple so that your buyer walks away knowing exactly how your organization will bring solutions to their business. And spend more time - even in virtual meetings - making authentic, honest, person-to-person contact. You want the prospect to trust the team, not the slideshow. Spend less time - and money - on fancy presentation decks.
Keep this in mind — you can never spend too much time trying to discern the prospect’s real motivations and goals. Once that big idea is decided, a winning presentation has the power to take off.
- Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, Americas
Though much has changed in today’s business environment, we see one thing that hasn’t that matters a lot if you’re engaged in any new business pursuit activities. The typical stakeholder group in a pursuit process remains diverse, large and can easily span multiple time zones and job functions. Harvard Business Review cited research that said, on average, complex B2B sales typically now involve 5.4 stakeholders. In many cases, stakeholder groups include multiple c-suite level execs, and require buy-in from middle managers, adding another layer of complexity.
We’re sharing 3 key steps for your pursuit team to win over large, complex stakeholder teams. These steps apply equally to the current environment and the new world that we’re likely to see when we emerge from the COVID-19 restrictions.
Step 1: Separate Solution & Pursuit Development Processes
Streamlining your solution & pursuit development processes will keep your pursuit team focused on these two critically important steps without confusing the focus of each. Begin the pursuit development process early on, preferably before the solutions development process. This allows your pursuit team to spend their energies understanding motivations and drivers of the stakeholders. They should be experimenting with different win themes and sales messages that are responses to the details they learn about each of them. Separately, your solution team is working on creative, innovative ideas that will eventually be integrated into the proposal. By separating these steps, it allows your team to work efficiently and not tangle thinking required for the two different processes.
Step 2: Deep Dive on All Stakeholders
Spending time on the front end understanding your stakeholders individually is vital. Don’t short-change this step. It requires lots of time, and is worth the investment.
When faced with a particularly large stakeholder group, it becomes even more important. Identify individuals who are clearly champions of your bid, and those who are against. Once you know this, you can strategize how to reinforce the positive perceptions and change the negative ones. You may decide that a certain subgroup is going to vote against you no matter what, and you can identify your biggest supporters too. This intelligence allows you to put more of your efforts into developing messages for the ones you think you can bring into (or keep in) your corner.
Step 3: Craft Persuasive Messages
Using knowledge from stakeholder deep dives, your pursuit teams can now create different messages for different stakeholders, while also finding ways to connect those messages to help drive consensus. Give each important stakeholder several persuasive messages within your submission that will move that individual to vote YES for you.
Your pursuit teams need to leverage knowledge from your research gathering stage, stakeholder analysis and solution processes to craft a response that brings a diverse stakeholder team together. It’s an undertaking that few pursuit teams master, but that is becoming increasingly important in today’s B2B marketplace.
- Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner, Americas
Though new business activity has been scaled back at the moment, there are still some pursuits taking place. And more are coming. So it’s timely to take a look at what organizations should be prepared to do to win more often.
Even our most successful clients ask us what they can do differently to keep from placing second in their bids. While it’s encouraging to hear your team’s proposal makes it to the final round, failing to win the deal can be demotivating, not to mention make it harder to meet revenue and new client goals. The P&L impact of losing extends from the top line to the bottom line. Few organizations give enough thought to dollars spent - and wasted - on lost pursuits.
Pursue Opportunities You Will Win
One of the most important ways your pursuit teams can generate higher win rates is by first identifying opportunities that you may not be able to win. Responding to every RFP results in inefficiencies and wastes your team members’ valuable time. Post-Covid 19, the temptation to pursue every opportunity coming your way, will be powerful. Maybe irresistible.
The pandemic notwithstanding, The Artemis Partnership tells our clients to ask themselves these 3 questions to decide if the opportunity is worth pursuing, or if the likelihood of winning is possibly out of their hands:
Ask the Right Questions
Once you begin developing the proposal, take the time on the front-end to gather valuable details and information. Winning and losing is directly related to the amount of information a pursuit team gathers from the beginning on the decision-makers and influencers. Then, as teams create proposals, use that information to enhance your positioning and make your solution more compelling.
If you find during the data-gathering stage that there are hurdles in getting information from decision-makers, this could be a red flag that your chances of winning the bid are not strong.
Generate Constructive Feedback
While the best practices in this article are designed to increase your firm’s win rate, there are silver linings to coming in second, such as gaining important learnings for your next pursuit. And that can improve your win rate starting with the next pursuit. Sadly, many prospects aren't telling you the whole story. So asking the right questions during a postmortem interview can give you more concrete information to take back to the team.
Some questions you might consider asking:
- Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner
In my previous article, I talked about The New Maths of New Business. You need to change the way you pursue new business because there are fewer projects and RFPs. Your historic win rate isn’t relevant anymore.
I also stated that we’re also seeing changes in how evaluation teams are thinking about and selecting the winners from among those that do get the opportunity to bid on each project. In this post, I’d like to explain this in a little more detail, and suggest ways you can build this understanding into your pursuit activities, even if this requires significant changes in how you pursue new business.
The Shifting Landscape of Decision Criteria
Our conversations with many companies and consultancies point to some predictable changes in how companies will choose the winners of competitive pursuits:
They’re sending RFPs to fewer firms than they did pre-pandemic.
They’re spending less time reviewing and discussing RFPs.
They’re taking fewer risks in who they select as the winner.
We talked about #1 above at length in the last post. So what about #’s 2 and 3?
Decision-Making Is Different
If there’s a project that has the green light to proceed – and there aren’t many RFP responses to review – decision-making is becoming compressed. Once RFP submissions are received, decision-makers are meeting virtually (doesn’t take long to set this up), and making their selections more quickly. That’s good for them. They can get the provider onboarded and launch the project that much sooner.
We might even expect that some decision-making teams will have less patience with submissions that aren’t crystal clear, get right to the point, and show not just thoroughness, but nimbleness and agility.
What does this mean to your new business pursuit efforts? A few things:
Even before the decision-makers open your RFP response, they must have a very favorable impression of you. And your favorable impressions must be created pre-RFP.
Your written submissions have to be especially crisp, clear, to the point. And visual design will probably matter more than ever.
The Executive Summary is more important than ever. We’re not talking about a cover letter that tells the prospect how much the opportunity to work on the project means to you. Those platitudes aren’t very believable in writing, anyway. Instead, we’re referring to a true executive summary, that a busy (or distracted) executive can digest in a couple of pages and know exactly why you for this project.
The Even More Critical Role of Trust
Those projects which are going to be launched – or at least put out for bid – during the pandemic must be exceptionally important to that company. They’re not going to put it into the hands of any partner who they don’t trust completely.
As a competitor for the project, you don’t earn trust just through your credentials, or your case studies. And it’s not as simple as saying “you can trust us to take care of your project (or your money) like it’s our own.” Talk is cheap. And viewed even more so in the new world we’re operating in.
Instead, you have to earn trust. You do this only through the activities you engage in well before the RFP is issued. It’s then reinforced in how you prove that you’ll do what you promise to do within the submission. Finally, trust is demonstrated in how you conduct the oral presentation at the end of the process – something that’s so much more challenging when done virtually.
Trust has always been a big part of client decision-making. It simply matters more now than ever before. We believe that in competitive pursuits, not knowing you is pretty much the same as not trusting you. After all, the RFP issuer has experience with at least some of the firms they’ve invited to respond. If they don’t know you, or can’t see past your credentials to understand you as people, you probably have no chance.
If your pursuit process isn’t built to maximize the trust you earn from your prospects, you need to consider substantial, and immediate, changes.
- Bob Wiesner, Managing Partner