Combatting Known Weaknesses in a Proposal
by Gwyn Allred
In most effective proposals, all weaknesses, known or potentially known to the customer, are addressed in the proposal. Proposal contributors generally have no issues talking up their company’s unique strengths, but what is the best way to address weaknesses in your company or other threats to winning the contract? While it may be tempting to ignore threats and weaknesses, this can undermine your proposal and hurt your probability of winning.
Address Lacking Past Performance
Using successful past performance is a key way to strengthen any proposal. However, you might not always have relevant past performance examples to promote in a proposal. Instead of omitting past performance when you don’t have relatable experience, address it.
If your company doesn’t have directly relevant experience, break the proposed tasks into subtasks that can be modified or tailored to the customer’s specific needs. For example, if you don’t have experience supporting a company on a global scale, emphasize the highly rated, round-the-clock support you have provided other customers. Lead into a plan to apply these best practices with the potential customer.
When you address the lack of precisely relevant past performance but emphasize relatable experience and skills, you show the customer the range of experience you still have and can apply to their needs.
Tackle Poor Past Performance
If previous performance with the customer or with a similar customer was not as good as you would like, address this using a risk mitigation and avoidance strategy:
- Cite the lessons learned.
- Cite the changes you have already made in your approach, and emphasize the positive results attained, if any.
- Cite your decision to team with another organization or hire a proven individual with a record of performance in the area.
Again, proposal contributors can be tempted to ignore or gloss over poor past performance. This will not strengthen your relationship with the customer. When addressed head on, poor performance is a chance for your company to highlight a commitment to improvement, honesty, and customer focus.
Never over-apologize for poor past performance. State the facts and move on to the lessons learned from the experience.
Ensure Customer-Focused Discriminators
Another common weakness happens when a company emphasizes features they believe are important to the customer, but that actually aren’t. A feature is only a discriminator when it (1) differs from a competitor’s offer and (2) is important to the customer. Make sure you have enough competitor and customer knowledge to correctly incorporate discriminators throughout the proposal.
One potential weakness when using discriminators is to only include the positive ones. Also identify and tackle negative discriminators. Similar to addressing poor past performance, place emphasis on the lessons learned from negative discriminators. Emphasize the positive side of them, if applicable.
The most powerful discriminators are important to the customer and focus on people, experience, performance, and understanding the customer’s business. Even if some of your known discriminators within these realms are negative, do not shy away from discussing them in the proposal. Be specific enough to address the negatives and emphasize how your company has rectified the experience.
No company has a perfect track record. However, this shouldn’t automatically prompt you to sweep it under the rug or deter you from bidding on a contract. When negative past performance or discriminators are addressed head on, it can prove you learn and improve from mistakes, boosting the customer’s view of your company.