WINNING BIDS IN A NEW LANDSCAPE
If you win business via competitive bids, you’ll know that the bidding landscape and process is changing. I could reel off a bunch of stats to demonstrate the point, but you already know: you’ve experienced the turning tide first-hand. Does the traditional approach to pursuing and winning bids still work in this new era?
The evidence suggests not, with those companies that have accepted change as the new status quo and embraced new methods and technology such as inbound and account-based marketing having higher win rates than their more traditional counterparts. Modern-day, forward thinking brands now go beyond the traditional approach to winning bids, with the stats proving that they’re onto something.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be publishing a series of blogs detailing a new bidding strategy that is helping organisations achieve average win rates of over 85%
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So, how can you increase your win rate in this new era?
The approach, which we’ve called IMPACT, has been developed jointly by Thread, a marketing communication agency, and Shipley, the word’s leading bid experts and the people that wrote the manual that most bidders use.
IMPACT uses a combination of activities that communicate both the rational and emotional reasons for buying from you. It’s underpinned by a process proven on thousands of successful bids and £billions of profitable business, and combines some of the industry’s best talent and insights.
IMPACT increases your win rate through a combination of improving your in-house skills whilst outsourcing specialist tasks like research and value proposition development to those with the most appropriate knowledge and experience.
At the heart of this approach lies the idea of customer alignment. It’s an overused term, but essentially means aligning your entire brand, organisation, and strategy to a specific buyer and their needs. And it’s about making you the clear choice at every stage of the bidding process.
Aligning your people, products and promise to the specific needs of a prospect means you’re 40% more likely to win the bid. For large complex bids, the reasons for winning are equally complex and that % probability increases: when you come down to the last three, it’s highly likely that you can all deliver the product or service and you’re reasonably close on price. So it becomes an emotional decision, where your ‘brand’ needs to be perfectly aligned to your customer’s. The procurement team might be ticking the boxes, but the key decision makers are thinking “Do I want to work with these people for the next ten years?”.
What does IMPACT entail?
The proven approach appeals to both the buyer’s mind and heart: both rational and emotional decision-making. It can be broadly divided into 11 key stages…
Stage 1: Research and Intelligence
Just like your propects, the first stage is research. They are seeking to understand your offer, so must you understand their needs. Specifically, you must understand what makes them tick: what are they looking for from a vendor? What are their hopes and fears? What, essentially, are their hot buttons?
IMPACT harnesses a combination of sector insights, stakeholder interviews and workshops, and a range of other qualitative and quantitative research to answer these questions, so we really get under the propect’s skin. This knowledge guides the whole process and helps you maintain a consistent message and approach throughout.
Stage 2: Capture Planning
Informed by the research, the next stage is to plan your approach and overall strategy. This is critical to the rest of the campaign and is the beating heart of what makes IMPACT so successful.
Insights into the client’s requirements and expectations allow you to develop solutions and a customer-influencing strategy. The key question to answer is: how can we provide what the customer is really looking for? And more importantly, how can we demonstrateto the clientthat we have the solution they need?
This stage also informs the bid-no bid decision - bid processes are time-consuming, costly, and hugely distracting. If the benefits don’t outweigh the risk, it’s no bid.
Stage 3: Message Development
Why should the client buy the product or service you’re offering? And, critically, why should they buy from you? You need a compelling proposition.
So the next stage is to develop a set of key messages that match your offer to the prospect’s needs. Sometimes, needs they haven’t expressed in the RFP, but you’ve unearthed in the earlier stages. Your Value Proposition statements, Executive Summary, Proof Points, win themes, case studies, brand positioning statements – each element is an opportunity to reinforce your key messages.
And it’s not just about what you say, but how you say it and how often you repeat it: if the prospect can’t remember your Value Proposition, it’s unlikely you’ll win. Unless, of course, you’re giving it away…
A compelling and memorable Value Proposition translates your features into benefits and provides your bid team with the promise that the submission must deliver and a set of key messages that they must reinforce at every stage of the pitch process.
Stage 4: Bid Strategy
Now you need to focus your whole bid around that compelling Value Proposition. This is where many bids falter – if the various members of the bid team start to formulate a solution and gather proof points without a single-minded focus on delivering the Value Proposition, the result will look like what it is: a kit of parts cobbled together rather, than a seamless whole.
The IMPACT process offers two major benefits:
1. A proposal management service frees your bid leader to focus on pursuing your customer strategy: directing your solution, pricing and commercial teams and gaining internal governance approval. That service prepares and manages your Bid Management Plan, which identifies and coordinates the resources you need to win.
2. A group of consultants and writers work collaboratively with your technical subject matter experts to either write from scratch or transform your material into succinct, easy to read content that constantly links back to your Value Proposition.
Stage 5: Customer Engagement Activity
Many of your prospects will already have decided who they want to work with prior to issuing the ITT. Yet many bidders ignore this and naively assume it’s a level playing field. A mistake: you have to assume that you’re displacing a favoured bidder. And if not, you’ll work harder…
Going beyond typical engagement is what transforms a bid into a winning bid. That special sauce that turns a typical 30% bid win probability in to 85%. But if you’re thinking of starting a month before the bid, you’re too late!
You have to assume that in a Google-powered era, the prospect will already have done their homework about you. And not just on your website: they’ll have read press coverage, sought out both positives and negatives and even spoken to your clients. So traditional channels are still useful touchpoints, but they’re unlikely to position you front of mind.
However, through your own research you’ll know what conferences the client plans to attend; what industry events and trade shows, and any networking events, business breakfasts, or round-table discussions. Repeating and reinforcing your key messages via a range of touchpoints allows you to appeal to the hearts and minds of everyone on the decision-making panel, communicating relevant benefits to specific audiences.
Stage 6: Proposal Management and Coaching
The difference between a good proposal manager and a bad one is often the difference ‘twixt winning and losing. Pulling together a compelling proposal is a hugely complex task that requires many layers of understanding.
But by now, you’ll better understand the resources you’ll need to construct a winning proposal and start to weave your value proposition into the proposal, making sure that every page reinforces and proves the promises you’ve made. So through a combination of clear text and simple diagrams you help the audience understand and be persuaded by your proposition.
Stage 7: Deal Based Marketing
Let’s assume for a moment that your intelligence-gathering activity suggests that you need to address issues of awareness or imagery with your audience. Perhaps you’re a recent market entrant competing against a number of established players. Or you have relevant technical expertise that’s new or not widely known.
And let’s assume that you’ve also discovered that your audience wants different things: in large complex bids, it’s unusual if all your stakeholders and decision makers think the same way. One seeks innovation, another prefers proven products. One wants a Rolls-Royce, the other’s happy on public transport.
So you need to identify and ‘map’ those issues requirements and make a judgement call on whether you can adequately address them through your bid submission and pitch (if you’re allowed to make one). With submission requirements becoming more controlled, it’s increasingly the case that your opportunities to communicate anything more than word count-restricted answers to specific questions are limited.
So you may need to deliver a range of deal-relevant messages to specific audiences, well in advance of those audiences reading or seeing your bid, so they’re already pre-disposed to your Value Proposition.
Stage 8: Proposal Copywriting and Editing
Let’s face it: most people don’t write well. Writing standards are declining as we increasingly use text and email-speak in much of our private and business communication. And many people are able to demonstrate a product or solution, but can’t sell it.
So – especially if you’re word count restricted – you need to sell your Value Proposition and justify those benefits through proof points in as few words as possible. You need to write like The Economist’s journalists, who are skilled in explaining complex concepts through words and diagrams that give the reader the ability to explain them to a third party. And this latter point is key: many people who read or see your material will have to justify their recommendation to the ultimate decision-maker. And if they can’t easily articulate your Value Proposition, you’re unlikely to win...
With IMPACT you’ll benefit from an array of writers who can explain and sell your solution with the minimum of words. Because the less you write, the more they understand.
Stage 9: Proposal Design
Pulling everything together into a complete and homogenous proposal is as much art as science. Copy needs to be concise and speak the audience’s language / use their terminology, but also to excite the client with your solution. It needs to maximise bid scores through clear and persuasive content, but it also needs to feel right.
Graphics, copy and video (if appropriate) need to combine to deliver your proposition seamlessly. If you can align all this around the client’s needs and expectations, you’ll hugely increase your win rate: customers who perceive content to be tailored to their specific needs are 40% more willing to buy from the same supplier than those that don’t.
Stage 10: Pitch Review and Evaluation
Once the bid is complete, you need to step back and dispassionately review and evaluate your proposal against your initial research and strategy, as well as the client’s evaluation criteria.
IMPACT utilises bid scoring experts with experience relevant to your target audience: an approach that maximises bid scores and ensures that both rational and emotional arguments are clearly communicated .
Stage 11: Pitch Preparation and Coaching
And finally, there’s the pitch presentation itself. If, of course, you’re allowed to make one: many bid submissions are limited to online submissions on a set template, or at best a face-to-face interview to respond to questions.
But if you get to present in person, it’s a real chance to show your mettle. Or not: many bidders fall at the last hurdle by putting style ahead of message and “What we’ve done” before “The benefit to you”. You need to tailor your message to the audience’s natural attention span and use the minimum words and the simplest visuals to convey the most compelling and memorable proposition. With IMPACT you’ll benefit from challenging but positive coaching that focuses on your ability to convey that message, rather than hide it under a blanket of sales-speak.
Over the coming weeks, I’ll be expanding on each of these key stages, breaking down the specific steps to develop your own winning bid strategy. Make sure you check back for more or follow me on LinkedIn to see them in your news feed.
Got a bid coming up? Need some more hands-on help? Contact us now for a free assesment and find out more.