To Bid or Not to Bid
(Topics from Around the Horn)
The other day at my Network!Network! round-table meeting, there was an intriguing topic broached by one of our members. It was a topic that had some legs as it has appeared before and, as such, I would like to share it with you. The topic was brought by a graphic/web designer, who had just spent a significant amount of time preparing a bid for a prospect that had been referred to her but whom she had never met in person. She failed to secure the business and was concerned that she not get caught working for days to prepare a comprehensive bid for work that she would never see.
In a previous life, while running an IT Services firm in New York City, I often found myself dealing with Requests for Proposal and had to make decisions about whether or not to bid. And, unless it was a government RFP, I always had the same dilemma. I found that it was extremely important to qualify the opportunity up front so as to spend my time working on projects that I had a reasonable expectation of winning.
1. Is this a funded project or are they just tire-kicking? Executives frequently respond to requests for projects with the question “How much will it cost?”, hence the RFP. If the project was not funded, I did not bid. It wasn’t real.
2.Once I was assured that the project was funded (it was a line item in the budget), I moved to find out if the project was not only funded but that the funds were allocated.
3. Is there a contemplated due date or, even better, a drop dead date? If they don’t need this project finished by a specific date, companies have a tendency to take forever to make a decision.
4. Finally, and this is all as important as one, two and three, be sure that you have a relationship and are dealing with the decision maker. If you have no relationship with the decision maker you are just rolling dice. You have no control over the process and, no doubt, one of your competitors does. You will lose this one.
Mark Roos, a partner in a consulting firm and who focuses on Executive Search explained that since he only does retained searches, he routinely collects 1/3 up front so that everyone who engages his firm has some skin in the game from the outset. He explains, up-front, how he operates and what the client can expect. “It helps,” he stated, “to develop a relationship”.
Steve Maggi, an International Immigration Attorney suggested that, since proposals often contain identical background, operational and procedural information, it would be useful to compile a standard set of ‘boiler plate’ about your company, expertise, previous projects and reference lists to insert into all proposals and save yourself time.
Craig Delsack, a Commercial Transactional Attorney with an IT Specialization, suggested fostering a sense of urgency by creating an expiration date for the proposal. “Give the impression that you are busy, even when you are not. Tell them you are planning your (month, week, quarter, etc) and that your calendar is filling up fast.” That way, if you are in the running, you will force them to make a decision rather than chasing them. A decision process with no sense of urgency will often take forever. (And, see ‘due date’ above.)
Once you have decided to go ahead with a proposal, do a great job. Make sure that all the parts are there and that you have been responsive to the request. Have an executive summary with the expectation that the Executive is a busy person and my not have time to wade through your entire submission. And, this is an easy one, be sure that there are not grammatical or spelling errors.
Also, be sure that your proposal is esthetically pleasing. Put in pictures and /or diagrams. If you can get it, put the prospect’s logo on the cover. All text, no matter how relevant and well written, is dull.
Finally, Tom Gallin, a partner in the 4th Generation Family Construction business, John Gallin & Son, suggested that, if they are not getting back to you, call your referral source and get him/her into the game. If a referral source is a trusted partner, he/she should be able to get answers for you.
Make every proposal or selling situation a learning experience for you. You may not like losing but, win or lose, there is something to be gained by reviewing the most recent situation, start to finish, for both the errors you made and do not want to make again, and the things you did right and want to repeat.