Proposal positioning

Are you running a proposal sweatshop?

In the two decades I’ve been observing people in selling situations, one thing has always been particularly fascinating to me. It’s the way that we will spend ten times as much effort on a presentation that we know we will have to give in person, when compared to a written proposal or a tender response.

Proposals have become the routine, marginal and painful work that no one really wants to do.

Yet we produce a lot of them. When I speak to people about the volume of proposals they generate, most say that their business, company or division produces anywhere from five to more than 30 proposals a month.

That’s a lot of information going out into the market representing your brand, your work, and your value, and with the potential to open doors for you.

Unfortunately, because proposals are seen as paperwork, rather than as an exciting opportunity to win new business, proposal teams may feel they are working in conditions that have more in common with a sweatshop factory than a modern business. Here are just a few of them:

1.     No choice in what to produce

2.     Inescapable grind; long days turns into long weeks, months and years

3.     Constantly working extra hours to meet deadlines

4.     Disconnected from the rest of the business

5.     Under-appreciated by managers and leaders

6.     Responsibility without authority

7.     Produces output at the lowest possible cost, which is later expected to be sold at a premium price

If there is a disconnection between the conditions in which your proposals are created, and the outcomes you want them to deliver, you have got a problem.

What you get is dull, mass-produced documentation, and not the dazzling, inspirational calls to action that you really need.

A proposal is usually the first piece of work a customer will see from you. It’s the gateway to the opportunity you really want, and the chance to get in front of the customer to do your verbal pitch.

As a business leader, it’s your job to invest in your proposal effort and give it the resources, respect and reward it deserves.

If not, your brand will be damaged, your work will be devalued, and those doors you want to open will remain firmly closed.

Three reasons why incumbents are more at risk than they think

I have a confession to make – I’m tragically addicted to politics. Elections are my kind of competition. Some people live for the AFL Grand Final. Others obsess over Eurovision or MasterChef. Me, I’m an election groupie.

Every three years, when the Federal election rolls around, I stalk proudly through the gaggle of political party volunteers at the local polling booth – accepting one or two how-to-vote leaflets and loudly refusing others – to place my very important vote.

As soon as the vote count starts, I settle in with snacks for a nice long stretch of channel surfing, shouting at the commentators and throwing things at the TV when the count doesn’t go my way. I love the process, but what I’m really hanging out for is the end result, and the leaders’ concession and victory speeches. 

This year, I stayed up for a very long time. Maybe you did too. And wasn’t it frustrating? We didn’t get a victory speech that night, or even the next morning. We were left hanging for a week before we knew the likely outcome of the election – the government returned to office by the narrowest of margins.

We were told the election would be close, but not so close that it would eventually come down to week’s worth of postal votes.

What happened?

Incumbents are more vulnerable than they think. This is true whether you’re a political party or a contractor selling commercial goods and services.

Here are three things that every incumbent can learn from the very close result of the Australian Federal election – a result that could easily have gone another way.

  1. Incumbents are always vulnerable to a protest vote. The customer, in this case the electorate, had already seen what this government could do and many of them weren’t happy about it. With only a single term under their belts, we also still remember the alternative, and it seems we weren't happy with them either, resulting in a large rise in votes for Independents and for the Greens. By Monday, with 80% of the vote counted, nearly a quarter of Australians had given their votes to an independent or minor party, with the Coalition registering a primary vote of only 42.1 percent - its fourth lowest result for the past 60 years.
  2.  An incumbent’s team listens only to the good news, and blocks out everything else. In this election, it has been suggested that the Coalition was so enamoured of its own internal polling – which optimistically predicted that the party would be returned to government by a large margin - that it even convinced the majority of the media this was a foregone conclusion. The result was much closer than the Coalition’s polling anticipated, and the fallout and recriminations have been difficult for its leadership to handle.
  1. An incumbent's program of work and track record are visible and open to scrutiny. Like it or not, this makes it very easy for an opponent to find the patterns, holes and gaps and to mount an effective attack, as Labor did with the Medicare, or “Mediscare”, campaign.

What can we learn from these results?

  • The time to start campaigning again to win an election is the day you form a government.
  • The time to start campaigning to retain a customer is the day you sign the contract.

Incumbents ignore this, and believe their own hype, at their peril.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Is it time to pimp your proposals? Stop wasting time and money on proposals that go nowhere. The Pimp My Proposals program will give you the feedback, content and structure you need to build compelling proposals that win business. Learn what you’re doing wrong, and how to fix it. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.

What’s your re-engagement strategy?

On the weekend I was talking to friend of mine, Tim, who nine months ago landed a seven-figure deal with one Australia’s major government buyers. In three months’ time, the business comes up for renewal, so of course we were talking about his strategy to retain it.

It was a short conversation, but I was pretty impressed. Tim had thought of everything; he knew exactly how he was going to influence the customer not only to stay with his firm, but to improve and expand on its program of work over the next 12 months of the contract.

Most of the people I talk to are not like Tim.

Tim begins this game with three advantages:

1.     He is a partner in a small consulting firm, and he gets to do pretty much what he likes.

2.     This customer is Tim's only account, and he has the luxury of seeing to their every whim – full time – while a team of his staff take care of day-to-day delivery.

3.     The program of work his firm is doing is expected to take years (possibly decades). It’s very unlikely that the customer will go anywhere else in the short to medium term.

In contrast, most of the customer relationship managers, contract managers and account managers that I know manage multiple customers, many of whom are on very short contracts. A question I get asked a lot is, "How do I give my customers the attention that I want to give them, and that they deserve, without sacrificing everything else that I need to do?"

That's why I'm so excited to introduce my Re-Engage Program.

Re-Engage is designed for businesses who have teams running multiple customer accounts, and who need to drive renewal strategy for all of them – at the same time.

Doing this is a lot like juggling plates.

You need to be able to give one customer your best thinking in a way that's quick and easy to achieve. Once you’ve got that plate up and spinning, you need to be able to get another plate up in the air quickly – for another customer. And so on.

On their own, each of your accounts may be small, but together they probably add up to a lot of revenue that could be at risk if there is no re-engagement strategy. That’s a lot of crashing plates.

If you think you might have a need for this kind of program, please contact me to get a copy of the white paper. Or maybe get a job like Tim’s.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Re-Engage is my training and coaching program for organisations with multiple major accounts. It will give your people the framework, skills, and confidence to lead contract renewals with your existing customers. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.


How to get more of the work you REALLY want

When I talk to people in professional services firms, and organisations who compete through bids and tenders, something I hear often is that they are flat out just keeping up with the opportunities they need to respond to.

It's a struggle to get time to think about the work they really want, and they are frustrated that opportunities they know would be perfect for them are passing them by.

What many are hesitant to say, but know is an issue, is that they are operating in an environment that is designed to commoditise, and to force prices down, and that doesn’t play to their strengths or vision.

Because of this, shrinking margins are a problem in most services businesses.

According to CSIMarket.com, the professional services industry is achieving net margins of only 11.24%, while construction services are at 7.31% and transport and logistics are at a meagre 4.55%.

At the moment, within your business, there are probably four different kinds of work that you are doing:

1.     Work you love, and want more of

2.     Good, solid work that pays the bills and keeps the lights on

3.     Marginal or painful work, and

4.     Work that’s sending you out of business.

Unfortunately, most of us spend way too much time on the last three, and not nearly enough on the first.

That’s because the way we run new business pursuits is completely wrong. It delivers more of the work we DON’T want, without any of what we really do want.

If this is an issue for you, contact me and I’ll send you a copy of my new white paper Pole Position – How To Achieve New Business Success.

In it, you’ll learn why the future belongs to the “makers”, and how you can become one.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business that is won through competitive bids and tenders. Her clients have won and retained hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business with many of Australia’s largest corporate and government buyers.

Had a tough year? Missed out on business you really wanted? Let’s make sure 2016 is different. The Pole Position program will position you to win the opportunities on your radar for next year. Email info@robynhaydon.com or call 03 9557 4585 to find out more.

Five business development behaviours that sabotage long-term success

Do you spend more energy getting new clients than servicing the ones you already have? Praise and heavily reward new business wins? Would you rather start a new job with a new customer than fix a problem with an existing one?

Our prevailing business development culture tends to measure and reward new business success over everything else. 

But this could be costing more than you think.

A study by Bain and Company (cited by Harvard Business School) found that the high cost of acquiring customers means that many customer relationships are initially unprofitable. However, this changes when the cost of serving loyal customers falls and the volume of their purchases rises. 

The same study found that increasing customer retention rates by just 5% can increase profits by 25% to 95%.

Add to this the Gartner Group’s assertion that 80% of a company’s future profits will come from just 20% of its existing customers, and it’s clear that investing in the business we already have makes logical commercial sense. And yet, in many cases, this investment just doesn’t happen. 

Here are five business development beliefs and behaviours that sabotage our long-term success.

  1. Focusing too much on revenue. Most BD metrics focus heavily on the revenue line. New customers push that line up much faster than incremental growth in existing accounts ever could, and what gets measured gets rewarded.
  2. Believing customer satisfaction will result in customer loyalty. Most organisations run annual customer satisfaction surveys. Unfortunately, satisfaction measures are not a good predictor of loyalty OR of future behavior. I hold customer interviews as part of my pre-work for the retention programs I facilitate for clients. On more than one occasion, a customer who at one point reported themselves “highly satisfied” has turned out to be angry, disengaged and/or preparing to walk.
  3. Performing well, but becoming complacent. When we’re hitting all our KPIs, it’s easy to forget that good work is what we get paid for, and not a selling point.
  4. Shying away from the hard work. Let’s face it, some large customers are demanding and hard to deal with, and the relationship can become strained and tense over time. It can be easier to get excited about a new customer than to dig in and turn around a difficult one.
  5. Being seduced by bright, shiny objects. It’s fun and exciting to pursue new business, with all its promise and possibility. In contrast, re-competing for customers you already have feels like applying for your own job. It’s hard, and confronting, and there is much, much more at stake.

Customer retention pays enormous dividends when we get it right. While the probability of converting a prospect can be less than 25%, we should be odds-on favourite with an existing customer. 

But incumbency is only an advantage if you choose to use it. Request the white paper and learn more about Getting Ready to Recompete For Your Most Important Contracts and Customers.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in competitive bids and tenders. Are you part-way through a contract term with a big customer? Have an important piece of business coming up for renewal or re-tender in the next 12 months? Join Robyn’s one-day workshop “How to Retain Your Most Important Contracts and Customers” and develop a Ready to Re-compete plan for the business you can’t afford to lose - http://www.robynhaydon.com/workshops/

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.

Could you fall victim to the Recency Effect?

Human beings have pretty selective memories. It turns out that we judge much of our life experience not on the totality, the average, or a glance back over the highlights, but on the basis of the last few minutes.

Have you ever walked into a customer’s office expecting to make a presentation about performance over the last month or quarter, and spent the whole meeting talking about last week’s non-delivery or a stuff-up that happened yesterday instead?

Welcome to the Recency Effect, which tells us that the most recently presented items or experiences will most likely be remembered best.

In Change Anything, a New York Times bestseller about the science of personal success, the authors conclude that much of what we feel about our daily relationships stems from only a few moments that overwhelmingly colour our perception.

The book relates a study by Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman, who asked colonoscopy patients to rate their level of discomfort during an unanaesthetised procedure. (Australians, give thanks that we don’t do things that way here. Ouch).

Not surprisingly, none of the test subjects gave glowing reports of their colonoscopy, but the comfort levels they reported had almost nothing to do with the total amount of pain that they felt during the awkward and uncomfortable procedure.

The only thing that mattered was how painful it was right at the end.

What do colonoscopies have in common with contract or service delivery? Maybe more than you think. For a customer, giving over control of part of their business to a supplier, it really CAN feel like being operated on without an anaesthetic.

Your job is to make whatever you do for them as pain-free as possible. And no matter how well you’re doing generally, take extra care for at least three months before you need to compete again.

This will make sure that one or two mistakes don’t derail your good work forever.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant who helps helps service-based businesses that compete through bids and tenders to articulate the value in what they do, command a price premium, and build an offer that buyers can’t refuse. Don’t let others dictate how far and how fast your business can grow – take your power back! Email robyn@robynhaydon.com to request the white paper for the Beyond Ticking Boxes program.

Why buyers make the wrong decision

Competitive tenders don't always result in the best decision. Buyers go for what LOOKS like the best decision - on paper – which sometimes proves to be the wrong one.

If you've ever lost a bid you were certain you would win, been shocked by who the buyer actually DID choose instead of you, and seen that supplier go on to deliver (predictably) inferior work and results, you are definitely not alone. 

Professionals are often uncomfortable about parading their wares for money, and that’s what a tender can feel like.  In an ideal world, buyers would offer you an alternative way to show them what you can do – one that actually helps you demonstrate your best work.

For instance, if you’re an architect, how much more comfortable would you be if you were allowed to let your work speak for itself in a design competition, rather than preparing a 100 page tender response?

But of course, buyers often choose the easier option and run a tender instead.

Competitive tenders are an unnatural, artificial and uncomfortable way for professionals to sell themselves. Unfortunately, they are a reality, so we need to find a way to do our best work within them.

It all starts with your business development culture. The most successful business development culture for a services firm is one that feels natural and comfortable; supports how your smart people think best; and gets them energised and excited by the opportunity first.

When you do have to prepare a tender, think about creative ways to bring out the best in what you can do. Include infographics, use interesting case studies, and offer the buyer a taste of the great things that happen to people who make the smart choice to work with you. You'll win more business, more often, and have more fun doing it.

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.

The risk of choosing style over substance

In a competitive tender, the evaluation panel needs to give your submission a score. What you will be evaluated on is the commercial value of your offer and the evidence you provide to support your claims – and not how nice your proposals look and sound.

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been talking about how to sidestep common mistakes that will prevent you from winning the business you really deserve to win.

The first step is to stop the bid sweatshop, and the second is to make sure your team is primed to do the right job – not just do the job right.

If you’ve taken these steps, but still aren’t winning, it’s time to make a bigger investment in your success. At this point, most people will bring in marketing experts to write standardised proposal copy and to design templates so that proposals look and sound better, and speak with a unified, on-brand voice.

Does this result in more wins? Unfortunately, no.

Scratch the surface of these “new and improved” proposals, and really they are just glorified brochures.

I understand why people feel the need to do this. Branding and marketing help to build a successful business that supports premium-priced services. However, branding isn’t a cure-all for everything, and bids and tender responses are not a marketing exercise.

A colleague who works on government evaluation panels once told me that her team of evaluators was briefed to be wary of over-elaborate design and copywriting, as these are devices that less qualified suppliers sometimes use as a way to try to bluff their way through the process. Ouch.

Remember that proposals are a one-on-one conversation with someone who is ready to buy. Worry less about the image your proposal is portraying, and more about how convincing the message actually is. 

Robyn Haydon is a business development consultant specialising in business won through formal bids, tenders and proposals. She is the author of two books on proposals and sales, including Winning Again: a retention game plan for your most important contracts and customers. Read more about it here.

Using tone of voice to develop your proposal personality

Last week, I talked about the role that proposal personality plays in the unconscious decisions buyers make about whether we are worth doing business with.

When we present in person, there are many cues that show our personality. In a written proposal, however, these cues are more limited. Personality mostly comes through in the way the proposal looks and feels, and of course in the way it sounds when you read it.

Proposals are all about influencing the prospect’s thinking to your point of view, and it’s usually best to employ a combination of Approachable and Assertive tone when writing.

For example, in a tender for medical recruitment services, suppliers were asked to nominate their Preferred Supplier Agreements with other customers. It’s possible that the buyer did this because they were already thinking about conflicts of interest this might create with their competitors. However, they also might not have fully understood the implications.

My client, let’s call them Medical Recruiters, took an assertive tone on this issue as it played to one of their key competitive advantages and they needed to strongly influence the buyer’s thinking. Their answer went something like this:

Our market position, which is free of conflicts of interest, creates a compelling reason to consider Medical Recruiters as one of your preferred suppliers. Medical Recruiters does not have any Preferred Supplier Agreements with direct competitors of Pharma Co. Our only Preferred Supplier Agreement is with ZedCorp, a large multinational Medical Device company. There are real risks in appointing Preferred Suppliers of recruitment services that already hold such agreements with your direct competitors. For example, how does the recruiter decide where to send an excellent candidate, when they have two or three other clients looking for a similar person? Where potential conflicts of interest do exist, it is important you are 100% confident in the quality of the consultants who will be allocated to your account. The Best Practice in Human Resources Report (date) surveyed 5,000 professionals who changed jobs in the preceding 12 months and found that the individual consultant was the main catalyst in building their enthusiasm for the role and gaining their commitment to the employer.

The buyer was sold, and Medical Recruiters won a place on their preferred supplier panel.

What is your proposal personality?

Personality plays a large part in the unconscious decision that buyers make about whether proposals make it to the Maybe pile or the No pile. Bringing our real selves to proposals helps customers decide we are worth doing business with.

This week I met with a new client and we were talking about how they can improve their bid capability and success rates. One of the questions that came up was about presentation — what their proposals look like and the first impression that they make.

This organisation bids for business through competitive public tenders. In a competitive tender, presentation is important. It’s a crowded environment where a buyer will be assessing many tenders — sometimes a handful, and sometimes hundreds. Public tenders are a bit like a “cattle call” auditions in the entertainment business; show up on time, respect the judges, wear your biggest smile and most sparkly outfit. Sure, in a business environment, sequins may not really be appropriate, but quality presentation is still a sign of respect for the process.

Lately I've come to realise that there is another reason why we need to pay particular attention to presentation. Presentation equates to personality. When we are selling services, and our people are our prime saleable assets, we want to look and sound like people that the customer is going to want to work with. Make your proposals sound charismatic and enthusiastic, not professional and detached. Use photos of your own staff, not stock pictures. Make sure you can hear the voice of real people coming through in the way the proposal is written.

Why It’s Good to Get Comfortable with Discomfort

At the moment, I am interviewing successful business development leaders as part of a new project.

Something that they all have in common is that they are comfortable with a level of daily uncertainty that would be very confronting to many others. In other words, being uncomfortable is actually comfortable for them. It’s when they get too comfortable that they start to worry!

Bill Gates once said “Success is a lousy teacher. It seduces smart people into thinking they can't lose.”

Successful business development leaders welcome discomfort because they understand this well.

They know that there is a delicate balance between trading off past achievements and experience, and presenting something that’s new, fresh and exciting. They get that customers are only really interested in their team’s 300 combined years of experience if it means that they are using them to do something interesting and valuable right now.

Achievements are great, but like trophies in a trophy cabinet, they eventually start to gather dust and cobwebs. For example, in my local area, there's a restaurant with a sign proudly proclaiming “Food Shop Hygiene Shop of the Year”. Under this, in huge letters, it also says “…2000”. The award was a great achievement — at the turn of the century. But as customer who might be thinking of eating there today, it’s more off-putting than enticing.

This thought might make you feel a little bit uncomfortable, but that’s actually a good thing.

The seeds of future success can come from many places — a chance meeting, a brilliant idea, or even just a deliberate decision to think differently. It is worth making yourself just a little bit more uncomfortable to find them.

Turn plotting into planning!

In today’s sales environment, it takes more than just plotting to achieve success. It takes planning.

Planning involves developing new things that we want to make public — that we want our market to know about — so that customers and prospects will see us as the obvious people to buy them from when it comes times to do so.

There’s a very good reason to do this, even though it feels counterintuitive when compared to the way we have traditionally been taught to sell.

Back in the handshake days, sales deals were conducted under a veil of secrecy. Plotting these deals was very deliberately a behind-the-scenes strategy. We didn’t want to leave a trace or let competitors know what we were doing.

In today’s procurement-led environment, when the value of government contracts and the winner of those contracts are published online, there is no veil of secrecy anymore.

Selling to procurement might look like it’s all about paperwork, but actually it’s all about positioning.

In her excellent new book Agile Selling, Jill Konrath says “Buyers have changed: fundamentally, drastically and for good. (They) self-educate, leaving the seller totally out of the loop. When they finally decide to engage, they’re often 60- 70% of the way through their buying process.”

According to Konrath, a seller’s success today depends on “knowing more… Providing value…and meeting (buyers) where they’re at.”

In my experience, something that is particularly appealing to customers is to see that suppliers have things going on that they are not just waiting to be funded, or paid, for.

This shows that you are interested in something other than just taking the customer’s money. It creates an energy and excitement around what you are doing. Even if what you’re building is not specifically for that customer — maybe it’s for yourself, or for another customer, or for another industry that you play in —it creates something tangible that you can talk about and that customers can see.

There is nothing more soul destroying than being in the business of serving customers, but having to wait to be chosen.

Planning creates positioning, and breaks you out of the waiting game. It also helps you to take some of your power back.

Essentially, planning is just a way of getting all of your business-winning ideas out of your head and figuring out how you're going to achieve them. So what are you planning?

Are you trading on ancient artefacts?

If you have 300 years of combined experience, that’s a heck of a lot of knowledge sitting in your organisation that the customer would love to take advantage of. The problem is, you can't show them how in just one sentence.

There are basically three things that we can trade on when we sell.

Products.These exist in the present. Products, including service-based products like programs, are what we have available right now that the customer can take immediate advantage of.

Precursors. Precursors exist in raw form in the present, but have a huge impact on the future. In chemistry, a precursor is a compound that creates a chemical reaction and produces another (often more valuable) compound.  In business,  precursors are the things that we're working on right now — the innovations, the pilot programs, the new initiatives that we're bringing to the customer that will ultimately result in goodwill, good relationships and good outcomes for us and for them.

Artefacts. Artefacts belong very firmly in the past. An artefact is an object of cultural or historical interest. In business, artefacts are the projects we’ve done, the contracts we’ve delivered, the systems and processes we built years ago. And our 300 years of combined experience.

When you’re bidding for a long-term contract of three years or more, the most valuable things you can trade on are your products and precursors.  Precursors are particularly valuable, because they are the inputs to future products; the essential compounds that help you create what you will deliver in the future. And most of us don’t have nearly enough of them.

Make no mistake, when you are pitching for a long term contract, you are not just selling what you have today. You are selling what you will have in three years’ time, or even further into the future.

Point of View Comes Before Point of Difference — A Tale of Two Big Winners

There’s a lot of talk about unique selling propositions, but clients often see far less difference between suppliers than we think they do. It takes work and commitment to identify your point of view about a new business opportunity, build an offering and a strategy around it, and be rewarded for it. Last week, two of my clients were announced as big winners in the Department of Health’s sector reforms of mental health and alcohol & drug treatment in Victoria. One, a consortium headed by UnitingCare ReGen and Odyssey House, grew their business in all the metropolitan Melbourne regions that they pitched for.

The second, the Australian Community Support Organisation (ACSO) won intake and assessment services across both drug treatment and mental health services in regional areas of Victoria, a significant chunk of new business that adds 30% to their annual operating budget and means they can employ more than 50 extra staff. Both had been setting the ground work and scaffolding that led to these wins for a long time. I worked with Odyssey and ReGen for six months before the RFT came out, and have now been working with ACSO’s business development team for almost a year. All are great people who do great work that helps a lot of people take back control of their lives, and I am beyond thrilled for them. (Congratulations guys!!).

In The Challenger Sale: Taking Control of the Customer Conversation, Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson set out a solid base of research proving that clients value suppliers who challenge the way they think about how they operate and compete. “Customers appreciate it if you can confirm what they already know to be true”, Dixon and Adamson say, “….but there is vastly greater value in insight that changes or builds on what they know in ways they couldn’t have discovered on their own.”

When the client has bought a service before, every formal tender is a red flag for change. It doesn’t matter whether the Request for Tender explicitly spells out an agenda for change (as the Department of Health’s did) or not.

“Improvement in the status quo” is the underlying expectation that sits behind every Call for Submission, Request for Tender, or grant proposal request you will ever see. It’s a warning for incumbents to up their game, and an opportunity for challengers to come up with something new and exciting for the customer to buy.

Manage Your Commitments, Master Your Success!

Although we all want to win new business, in truth, we are often valuing something very different when it comes to the way we are spending our time.  Woody Allen famously said that 80% of success is just showing up.  What he really meant was that 80% of success is doing the work, and then “showing up” well prepared, in the right place and ready to pitch to the right people.

“People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen,” Allen has said. “All the others struck out without ever getting that (far). They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t DO the thing. Once you do it, you are more than half way towards something good happening.”

He’s right — success starts with commitment and intention.

Something I have noticed in my Persuasive Tender and Proposal Writing Master Class— through which I’ve trained several hundred people — is that the students who are highly committed, keep promises to themselves, and do the work get huge value from the program. Students who lack commitment, or become distracted, don’t end up achieving as much as they could have. Their success has little to do with how smart they are, or what they have to offer. It’s all about how they show up.

Likewise, if you have a growth agenda, and are pursuing new business through formal bids and tenders, don’t get distracted by other things while you’re waiting for the RFT. Successful pursuits are the result of intentional positioning, and being clear about your personal commitment to the outcome.  To start with, ask yourself these questions:

  • What will it mean for my business if we win, or do not win?
  • What do I personally stand to gain from this?
  • Have I really committed to this outcome?
  • Do I know what it will take, and do I have a clear plan to get there?
  • Is there space in my life and calendar?
  • Do I have mentors around me who can accelerate my success and keep me accountable?
  • Do I have supporters who can help me get the work done? 

Busy Is The Enemy Of Successful!

Imagine that you are speaking at a conference in 90 days. There will be a thousand people at that conference, and ten of them have the power to put you straight into your dream job. What will you do? Most likely, your subconscious will go into overdrive and you will obsess night and day about your presentation. (And freak out — a little or a lot.)

These days, it’s impossible to have a conversation with anybody in business without them mentioning at least once how busy they are. “Busy” might feel like a source of pride, a marker of how much we are doing. But busy is also an excuse. It's a conversation blocker. And often, it’s a barrier to achieving what is most important to us.

Last week, I suggested that without realising it, many of us are playing a finite game — an endgame —with our most important contracts and customers. This article was inspired by the fabulous Dr Jason Fox, an expert in motivational practice, and his new book Game Changers.

This week, I had the great pleasure of hearing Jason speak. One of the key points I took away from Jason’s presentation is that overcommitment is the noblest excuse for failure. It's an alibi that excuses us from poor performance.

In her book Mindset - How You Can Fulfil Your Potential, psychologist Carol Dweck also notes that “it’s one thing for a four-year-old to pass up a puzzle. It’s another to pass up an opportunity important to your future.” But often, by being overcommitted, that's exactly what we are doing.

No one will argue that bids take a heap of time and effort. You’ve just finish one and the next one rears its head. It’s tough to pursue new business while you’re running the business. And it can be hard to know what to do proactively, when it feels like it’s all about waiting for the RFT.

When we are speaking on a stage, we are acutely aware that all eyes are on us, but in fact bids are no different. Just because a lot of competitors are at that event does not make it any less about you. When the prospect’s rating your proposal, you are the only person they are looking at.

Great presentations happen when passion meets preparation. This is your time to shine.  So don’t wait! Start planning now. Proposals that emerge as the clear winner are really just the bid leader’s grand passion brought to life. Let me help you find yours.

“We Have a Quality Process for Bids, so Why Aren’t We Winning Any?”

When I talk to revenue owners who are responsible for leading bids and proposals, one of the frustrations they often mention is that there has already been a fair bit of effort expended to document their quality assurance process for bids. Often this involves multiple stages and toll gates and is meant to be followed rigidly for every opportunity that they pursue. Now, I'm not knocking process. Following a process is important to get a replicable result.

My question is —what result are you modelling your replicable process on?

One of the problems with bid quality processes is that the result that we're looking to achieve is an elusive one. A successful bid strategy is like a snowflake – no two are ever exactly the same. Bid strategy can’t be pinned down just by following a series of steps, particularly when those steps don't provide enough instruction to actually help people to do the tasks within the steps.

For example, I've seen bid quality processes which just say "Step number 23 - develop win themes." Okay, that's great as a headline, but what if your team doesn't have a process to develop win themes? What will tend to happen is that everybody sits around in a room and kicks around the reasons why they think the customer should choose them. This then ends up in the document as some kind of laundry list titled "Why You Should Choose Us". This is rarely effective.

Developing win themes for bids is a creative process —it's not about producing a widget to a certain standard or tolerance. It's about being able to recognise all the factors that are going to shape and influence the customers' decisions; particularly what they most value, what we can best deliver and what positions us best against competitors.

A quality process isn't enough to deliver a winning bid, unless there are also instructions, training and practice built in for the people who will actually be executing the process. Some big organisations do this very well, but there are many others that need help to be able to follow a quality process effectively.

These days, I very rarely work with organisations on routine bids where their staff haven't first been through my Persuasive Tender and Proposal Writing Master Class Program. There are many techniques in that program that help to fill in the gaps of the quality process and actually give people the tools that they can use to follow instructions like "Develop win themes."

The May Master Class Program sold out early, but we are now accepting enrolments for July.

Contact me if you would like a detailed syllabus and overview for the Tender and Proposal Writing Master Class.

Under the Pump with Bid Deadlines? Don’t Sacrifice Proposal Graphics

It’s a busy time of year in the proposals game in Australia, with many contracts that are up for renewal or set to change hands on July 1 going out to tender now. Even when you’re working to tight deadlines, it’s important not to sacrifice the quality of presentation for the sake of just “getting it done”. According to research conducted by 3M, and cited by bid graphics specialists 24 hour Company (USA), quality proposal graphics increase the likelihood of winning by 43%.

So how do you improve presentation and create graphics when you’re under-resourced and overstretched?

The good news is that there are plenty of free or low-cost DIY tools available which mean you don’t have to be (or employ) a graphic designer to get great-looking proposal graphics.

  • The simplest and easiest way to get started is by using the Smart Art tools available in PowerPoint, which will have you creating simple charts and diagrams in no time. If you are going to use Smart Art, use the PowerPoint version, not the Microsoft Word one. The PowerPoint version seems to have more functionality and options.
  • A step-up option is to explore the range of free or low-cost infographic creation tools available. Sarah James of Creative Bloq graphic design has a number of suggestions including  Vizualize, Easel.ly and Piktochart - http://www.creativebloq.com/infographic/tools-2131971
  • Finally, if you’d like more design polish, go for customisable design templates  like those that can be found at www.getmygraphic.com (designed by 24 Hour Company, who specialise in graphic design for bids and proposals) or http://www.poweredtemplate.com/powerpoint-diagrams-charts/index.html

Visuals make process information much easier to understand, and have the added benefit of making information seem more concrete and solid and not something that you just made up out of your head.

At the very minimum, any time you’re talking about a process, methodology or sequence of steps, turn this into a diagram. Smart Art makes this easy and won’t take a lot of your time.

Happy DIY designing!

Why Innovation Matters to Your Most Important Customers

Have you ever lost a bid or contract because the winner put up something different to what the buyer was asking for?  Then you lost to a competitor who was better at innovation. If you win almost everything you bid for, congratulations. It’s likely you are doing something innovative that creates enormous customer value and that your competitors haven’t yet been able to copy.

However, your current innovation won’t hold your market space forever.

Eventually it will become best practice in your market because it resets the baseline expectation of the customer.

Remember Palm Pilots? I used to have one of those. Palm Pilots, Pocket PCs and Blackberries were the first wave of the smartphone category. Some of these were available as early as the turn of the century (which makes them sound as old as they seem to us now). These early smart phones were an innovation that killed off the market for paper diaries.

The iPhone launched in 2007 and revolutionised the way we organise and live our lives forever.

But similar Android smartphones started appearing in 2008, and two years later they were everywhere. Apple’s iPhone innovation dominated the mobile market for a decent amount of time (in tech years) but things have changed. By the end of 2014, Samsung accounted for 32.3% of all smartphone shipments, while Apple came in at No. 2 with 15.5%. That means that Samsung now sells double the number of smart phones that Apple sells.

Continual innovation — not just continual improvement – is the key to holding an incumbency advantage in long-term contracts with business customers.

In their book Ten Types of Innovation: The Discipline of Building Breakthroughs, Larry Keeley, Ryan Pikkel, Brian Quinn and Helen Waters explain that innovation works best in teams, as no individual can possibly know enough to innovate by themselves. According to their research, the most successful innovators analyse the patterns of innovation in their industry and tackle the hardest problems first.   They emphasise that innovation isn’t about what easy for us — it’s about solving deep problems for our customers. 

I’ve seen first-hand that innovators who solve their customers’ most entrenched and difficult problems are more successful than anyone else when it comes to winning bids, retaining customers and growing revenue. So what are you innovating right now?

Why Good Performance Isn't Enough To Retain An Important Contract

When I work with companies who are looking to re-compete for important contracts that they know will be coming up to RFT in 12 months’ time, one of the things that the bid team most often talks about is their operational performance. Of course operational performance is important. It’s what suppliers are being paid to do. But it isn't always the most important, particularly when customers are deciding whether you're worth keeping around for another contract term.

Have you ever heard of a phenomenon called “digital distraction”? Here are some startling examples that explain why looking at the thing that’s right under your nose isn’t always the best idea:

  • In December last year, a Taiwanese tourist fell off the end of St. Kilda Pier in Melbourne because she was checking Facebook on her phone and not watching where she was going.  She was found by police 65 feet from the end of the pier, floating on her back in an attempt to keep her phone dry and safe — even though she couldn’t swim.
  • Likewise, in August, a man drove off a bridge in Texas after sending this text message: “I need to quit texting because I could die in a car accident.”
  • There have been some very serious cases of digital distraction, including a young child who drowned in the bath because the babysitter was looking at Facebook on her phone.

Of course, it’s not our mobile phones that are to blame — it’s the way we use them. It is very easy to be distracted by something that seems like it needs to be done in the here and now without looking at the bigger picture of what’s going on around us.

Likewise, operational performance is the most obvious and the easiest thing to focus on when delivering a services contract. But good performance is what we're being paid for - it's just a baseline expectation. As the RFT gets closer, the relative impact of operational performance is at its greatest and therefore maintaining performance tends to take up a lot of people’s time. There are, however, three other things that incumbents need to focus on — above and beyond operational performance — in order to retain important contracts.  And this work needs to start well before the RFT is released.

Every contract changes hands at some point. Whether it gets into your new, improved hands — or is snapped up by someone else —is really up to you. If you have an important services contract that is coming up for bid this year, contact me and let’s talk about what you and your team need to start focusing on now, over and above operational performance, to make sure you retain it.