I am reminded of a story of Alexander the Great. A great crowd of individuals surrounded him and sang his praises. It lifted Alexander's self-esteem so much, that he started getting lazy. A little slack, a little folding of the hands, and he realised that his winning streaks were getting tougher to prolong. To avoid this, he hired a soldier who was hurt in the battle. The one task given to the soldier was this: to keep muttering in Alexander's ears : "You are just a man. You are not a god. And if you don't win, you will lose. And once you lose, madame death will knock louder at your door"
If our company loses more proposals than it wins, we probably must take a step back, and figure out what makes us lose, rather than what makes us win. Often, the sales guys bare the brunt. But they can only sell what proposal writers give them. If they over-sell, and under-deliver, they lose credibility. In time, our customers lose trust. And in time, we lose business.
I gave it a lot of thought, and then, I started experimenting with it. There is just one simple reason:
We do not get enough feedback. Even if the sales team does get some feedback, it is not passed down to us proposal managers. If we do, its informal, and not tracked for improvement.
We think as long as we write and manage our proposals, it is enough. We think we are doing a great job by planning well and putting great content together, along with mind-blowing graphics. But in the end, we don't win. We also don't have time, and so, we are keen on responding to other proposals without realising that the next proposal may go down the drain for the same reason the previous one did not win.
Probably, the best people to give feedback are our external clients. But they seldom have the time to give it to you. Over the last 5 years I have diligently tracked all the proposals I have made. About 200 of them. I have maintained a spreadsheet with the name of every single RFP I have responded to, and what I could have done better.
Over time, I devised a set of questions I send to my customers in case we do not win. Note: None of these questions are profound.
On a scale of 1-10 (1 being poor, and 10 being outstanding), please answer the below questions.
1. How well do you think we understood your business? (rate us on a scale of 10)
2. How well was our product/ service articulated? (rate us on a scale of 10)
3. Were the graphics used easy to understand?(rate us on a scale of 10)
4. How well were we priced? (rate us on a scale of 10)
5. What was the one key thing you liked about our proposal?
6. What was the one key thing you disliked about our proposal?
7. Why did the winner win?
Here's what I noticed as a result:
1. Asian customers almost always go for the least expensive service provider. Budget is often the biggest constraint.
2. Clients from other regions such as the Americas, the EU, the Middle East or Australasia focus on quality.
3. A lot of clients make their decisions after reading the cover letter, executive summary and case studies
4. Secretly, customers are like kids. They want to feel loved and empathised with
5. But customers are adults. They don't want to be taken for a ride, or have their time wasted.
6. Customers want us to treat our RFP responses like marriage certificates. Think long-term partnership, rather than short-term sales goals, and you'll grow as your customers grow.
7. Use graphics that will show how your product or service would forge a deeper relationship with your customers. Show them how your corporate strategy meshes with theirs.
As I kept the above points in mind, I realised that I was consciously making better proposals. I was able to successfully transition from asking "What makes us lose?" to "What made us win?".
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