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Winning Proposals in Challenging Times

Winning Proposals in Challenging Times

In 2007 I read a fascinating book by Nassim Taleb called The Black Swan. Taleb describes a black swan as a highly improbable event that is unpredictable and carries a massive impact. The 1987 stock market crash was a black swan. So was 9/11. And so were the extraordinary financial and economic events of 2008.

So here we are in 2009 having to deal with economic circumstances that most of us would never have predicted a year ago. What can we do to give ourselves an edge in leaner times where several competitors are scrambling for fewer opportunities? In developing proposals, here are four factors to which you might want to pay extra attention.

1. Recognize the client’s issues

More than ever we need to know what challenges the client is facing:

* What is the reality of their present situation?

* What is the state of their specific marketplace?

* What steps are they taking to address issues in their marketplace? And how can we, in making a proposal, assist this client in dealing with these issues?

* What competition do they face?

* What advantages or disadvantages do they have over that competition?

Empathy helps. Your ability to take the time and effort to fully understand the present situation, its challenges and issues, is something that clients appreciate. Clients have no time for uninformed or unrealistic assessments of their situation.

2. Bend over backwards to support the client in achieving their goals

This is all about going that extra step. So many times we say (and I’ve done it) “that’s good enough”. Guess what. In this climate that’s simply not a good enough answer. You have to go an extra step. What is that step? You have to find that out when you interact with the client. Look for it. Is it:

* Something that solves an immediate problem for the client?

* Something that will be important for the client in six months time. i.e. you might do something today that will make a difference to their business next month or next year?

* Something that will be positive for their bottom line, or at least minimize the extent of potential damage? That might come under a heading of what’s the minimum you could possibly do to help get the job done for the client.

3. Be prepared and be patient

This is a tough one for any organization whose business is dependent on winning proposals. Client tendency, and it’s in the news every day, is to put off planned activities and projects to a more favorable time, when cash flow is better, when sales pick up, when it’s summer or whatever.

A client who has had to lay off personnel is not likely to spend funds on a proposal unless they can see a payoff. There are going to be pauses – if and until or whether the client decides to go ahead. What should you do?

If there’s a proposal in the offing, or they’re telling you that yes, we are going to proceed, but later on, what could you do now so your proposal is up and running when the client is ready to go. Or, is there something you could do for the client at minimal or no cost to that client, that would put you in a favorable position when things turn around?

4. Be proactive

I was at a seminar recently where the attitude among participants was this – some people may experience a recession but there’s no reason for me to have one. Optimistic? Sure. Realistic? Maybe. Looking for an opportunity? Essential.

Where are the opportunities in times of a downturn? Where is government likely to invest money? Where are businesses going to invest money? Which businesses have money to invest? For example, energy efficiency for both commercial and residential applications is likely to see increased demand as home owners and businesses look to reduce costs in these areas. We know that infrastructure is going to be a buzz word over the next few years. What opportunities does infrastructure present?

What are the opportunities in any area? This is the time to brainstorm for opportunities. It’s not the time to sit back and wait for things to happen. This is particularly true for those in very small businesses – home-based businesses, aspiring entrepreneurs – who’ve decided to break out on their own, or been let go from salaried jobs and wondered what it would be like to start up their own business.

This is where the ability to write compelling proposals comes in. You have to have an edge. That edge comes from the skills you bring to the marketplace – in proposal language your USP – your unique selling proposition. Very importantly, it also comes from your skill in encouraging the client, through your proposal, to buy your services or your products.

We live in extraordinary, unpredictable times. I suspect that those who succeed, whose proposals will be accepted by clients, will best exhibit the characteristics required by the four factors outlined above.