Sometimes the customer tells you exactly what to bid. Other times, they tell you what the problem or need is and ask you to propose a solution.
When they tell you what to bid, everybody is bidding the same thing. To establish a better value you must either:
- Offer more than what they asked for. If you focus on the deliverables, this can be challenging, because delivering more usually means incurring higher costs. And when everyone is bidding the same thing, cost gets a lot more attention. The trick is to identify things that you would either do anyway, or can do without adding cost.
- Provide a better way for them to get what they asked for. Better delivery terms, quality assurance, risk mitigation, faster delivery, training, and better maintenance are all examples of ways to add value.
- It’s not about you. If the customer can get what they want from anyone, then who cares about the company providing it? It doesn’t matter unless you make it matter, but it’s got to matter to them.
- Be more credible and trustworthy. You want the customer to believe they have a better chance of actually getting what they want from you. People buy from businesses they trust. A performance history, references, demonstrations, samples, insurance, back-up and risk mitigation plans, transparency, real-time reporting, availability, guarantees, and clear, un-evasive speech/writing are all things that can reinforce trust.
- Better proposal writing. When everybody is bidding the same thing, the way you describe and position yourself matters a whole lot more. Once you’ve established credibility and trust, it’s important to tell the right story. If they can get what they are asking for from anyone, why would they want to get it from you? If everybody is offering the same thing, then outside of the price all they have to impact their decision is your proposal. So what kind of story does it tell?
But what about when the customer is leaving it up to you to figure out what to propose, they just want their needs met or their problem solved? Then they don’t have the same points of comparison. So it all becomes about whether they want what you are offering.
- Teach them what matters. They have to figure out how to compare apples and oranges. Instead of leaving it to them to figure out, you can help them by pointing out what matters. And if in your proposal they see the company with the best understanding of what matters, that’s a definite plus.
- The customer will first compare you against what they want. Before they consider how your proposal compares to the competition, and before they consider how well your proposal is presented, they ask whether what you are offering will meet their needs. If you are proposing a solution, the company with the best understanding of what the customer wants has a significant advantage. It is critical to resolve issues and tradeoffs like long-term vs. short-term, quality/speed/price, centralized vs. decentralized, etc., the same way the customer would. So how well do you know their preferences?
- Risk mitigation rules. They are placing a lot of trust in you when they don’t specify what to bid. How do they know that what you are proposing will work, meet their needs, and get delivered on time and on budget? Trust is a lot more important as well. But they really need to know that you’ve thought it through, have anticipated the challenges, and are going to be able to overcome them.
- What are they actually going to get? They’ve asked you to figure it out. Now they have to pick between proposals that are all different. So they want to look past the intangibles and focus on what they are actually going to get so they have something to compare. When they look at your proposal, how long does it take them to figure out what they are going to get?
- It’s all about the results. They’ve asked for a solution, so where does yours get them? This is where your ability to tell your story really matters. If they pick you, where will they end up? What will that future look like? Will it get them excited? The company that understands them will tell the right story. The company that says they understand but doesn’t paint the right picture for the future really doesn’t understand them at all.
The two lists above are very different. There are common elements in both, but with very different points of emphasis. More importantly, they two lists imply different strategies that result in different proposals. So what is your customer trying to achieve, and how does that impact your strategies? And what do you need to do to help them along with their selection?