Proposal positioning tips for challengers and incumbents

A proposal is just a means to an end. You aren't writing a proposal - you are convincing someone to buy from you. The role your proposal will need to play to achieve this goal will be very different, depending on whether you are pitching to a prospect or a customer.

If you're pitching to a prospect — someone you've never done business with before — you're a “challenger”. In this role, you may need to win the business away from someone else or to convince the prospect to buy something that they're not currently in the habit of buying.

If you're pitching to a customer – someone you're currently doing business with, or for whom you have done similar projects before — you're an “incumbent”. In this role, you already have the business and want to retain it, or you want the customer to continue giving you repeat business in preference to competitors.

So which role are you playing today – challenger or incumbent?

As a challenger (you want to win the business), your proposal needs to convince the prospect of your relevance. First, you must get them to notice you, then get them interested enough to listen to you. This is particularly true when you are responding to a formal tender request. Once you’ve done those things, you also have the task of getting the prospect motivated enough to go through the perceived pain and hassle of signing up - or changing suppliers - in order to work with you. Change is a risk and the prospect will be looking for reasons not to give you the business. Don’t make this easy for them.

If you're an incumbent (you already have the business and want to retain it), your proposal needs to convince the customer that you remain relevant to them. Be aware that while change is a risk, they are also taking a risk by staying with you. First, you must show them that you are not just resting on your (hopefully excellent) service record. Next, you need to present your vision of their future. Finally, you need to show them that you are continuing to innovate and build best practice in your business from which they stand to benefit.

This is the first of 10 tips in my new e-book - 10 Easy Ways to Write a Better Proposal Today. See sidebar to download your free copy.