Stop Losing Proposal Competitions

Originally posted 2013-05-24 09:00:18.

Matt HandalFor this week’s Guest Post Friday here at Musings, we welcome back Matt Handal.  Matt (@matthandal) provides proposal writing strategies that actually work at www.howtowritetheproposal.com. He is the author of Proposal Development Secrets, contributing editor of SMPS Marketer, and co-author of the Marketing Handbook for the Design & Construction Professional. His latest experiment is on business letters.

It’s frustrating. You’re a great designer or contractor. Clients love you. The problem is you spend hours producing great proposals, but keep losing. Not only that, most of the time you don’t even get short listed.

To make matters worse, the clients keep choosing firms you know you’re better than. So they get the contract and you’re left scrambling for work.

Even though these firms frustrate you, imagine what it’s like to be them. They’re not the best, or most qualified firm, yet they walk away with the contract. They are not scrambling for work. They’ve got a healthy backlog. Imagine how it must feel to be them.

What if you could spend less time creating proposals and more time winning them? What would it be like if you won the contract instead of your competition–the firm you know you’re better than?

That’s what I’m going to help you do. But first, Let me tell you about something I call the Red Apple Dilemma.

The Red Apple Dilemma

Every once in a while, I’ll walk out of my office, down the elevator, and into the Comcast Tower (yes, I’m in Philadelphia). They have a produce market called Sook Hee’s Produce. There I buy a red apple.

sookheesapplesSook Hee has many different kinds of red apples. But frankly, I can’t tell the difference. A red apple is a red apple to me. So I pick the largest red apple they have. That’s how I make my choice. I take about five seconds and choose the biggest.

I latched on to that one attribute. I could have went with cheapest, smallest, or longest stem. But faced with 100 apples, I went with biggest.

Your clients have a similar dilemma. They get proposals from 100 designers (or contractors) and can’t tell them apart. They all claim to have the best people, the best experience, and the best customer service. They all claim to be full-service, leaders in their field who specialize in the client’s type of project. They are all on the cutting edge, delivering quality that makes their clients weep tears of joy.

To your clients, you are all a bunch of red apples. You are interchangeable. But they have to make a choice. So they look for something, anything that’s different.

Sometimes the only thing they can find is price. But on occasion they’ll select the biggest, smallest, or closest. Most of the time, the easiest thing to do is pick the one they picked before.

Luckily, there is a single, powerful question you can use to stand out from the bunch.

The Single Question That Can Improve Your Proposal Win Rate

Whenever you plan to submit a proposal, ask yourself this question:

What does the client stand to lose if they select someone else?

I’ll give you a hint: It’s not your people, experience, or customer service.

This question will help you find something that only you can give them. It doesn’t have to be huge. It just has to be something that makes you different.

Faced with a tough decision, people need something to latch onto. For me and my red apples, it was size.

Something They Can Latch Onto

Years ago, a selection committee for the Army Corps of Engineers had a tough decision to make. They had to award a large construction contract to one of three firms. All three firms had worked with the Army Corps before. And all three had qualified people with relevant experience.

But a single line in one firm’s 255 form set them apart. The line said:

We have never submitted a claim to the Army Corps of Engineers.

Not only was this true, but the other firms HAD submitted claims to the Army Corps. And the committee certainly didn’t want to deal with claims on this new contract.

There was some debate on whether this firm had given themselves an unfair advantage. The Army Corps didn’t ask that question in the RFP. But there was no rule broken. That firm just identified one way they were different.

The decision became a no-brainer. The committee now had something they could latch onto, something that made one of the firms different. That firm won the contract.

Different Is Better Than Better

There is no practical way I can know which of Sook Hee’s many varieties of red apples is the best. I guess I could take a couple bites out of each kind. But not only is that impractical, I’m sure Sook Hee would chase me out with a broom.

Therefore, I have to make my choice based on what’s different. We waste so much time trying to convince potential clients that we’re better. Yet, it’s nearly impossible for them to choose on that basis. Their choice is based on different. What did one firm have that the others didn’t?

Remember this: Different is better than better.

As always, Matt and I welcome your comments below.  Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Guest Post Fridays at Construction Law Musings.

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About Musings

I am a construction lawyer in Richmond, Virginia, a LEED AP, and have been nominated by my peers to Virginia's Legal Elite in Construction Law on multiple occasions. I provide advice and assistance with mechanic's liens, contract review and consulting, occupational safety issues (VOSH and OSHA), and risk management for construction professionals.

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