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All Roads Lead to Proposals: How Proposal Teams Inform Growth Strategy

All Roads Lead to Proposals: How Proposal Teams Inform Growth Strategy

The proposal function intersects with every aspect of a company’s operations. For any given proposal, materials and responses will be needed from Sales, Marketing, Customer Success, Product, Subject Matter Experts, and Legal. In other words, the proposal function serves as a crossroads for every single function of a company.

Companies can take advantage of the unique, cross-sectional nature of the proposal team to design feedback mechanisms that inform overall company growth. Below, we outline recommendations for how proposal teams can gather and distribute feedback to different departments based on what they are encountering in their proposals.

Sales — Improving Qualification Processes

Pursuing a proposal can be costly. The average proposal engages nine staff members and takes twenty-three hours to complete. For this reason, most managers say that proposals can too often take away time from other, more valuable company functions. Despite this conviction, companies also report that one of the main reasons they lose proposals is because the opportunity was poorly qualified or was shaped by a competitor. If companies understand proposals to be costly, why are they pursuing opportunities that they had a low chance of winning? The answer most likely has to do with the company’s qualification process.

In many organizations, sales people are primarily responsible for flagging potential proposals and doing the first steps of qualification. A salesperson’s job is to capture revenue; it shouldn’t be surprising that their bias is toward pursuing proposals. But pursuing poor-fit opportunities can consume company resources that would be better spent elsewhere. The best performing companies have strong, defined qualification processes to ensure only the strongest opportunities are pursued.

If your company’s proposal win percentage is low and you find your company consistently committing too many resources to pursuing proposals, it might be time to revisit, revise, and strengthen your qualification processes. Good qualification at the proposal level helps to ensure sales pipelines accurately reflect the on-the-ground reality and can encourage salespeople to continue working to fill their sales pipelines with higher percentage opportunities.

Customer Success — Identifying Target References

One of the most important components of any RFP is the references section. Most proposals ask for references from similarly sized companies using similar products. Before pursuing a proposal opportunity, ask yourself: do we have strong references in this market segment? If the answer is no, it might be wise to hold off on pursuing proposals in that segment until stronger references have been built. The proposal team should communicate to those responsible for references if they continue to lose or qualify-out proposals because of lackluster references.

Marketing — Appealing to Purchasers & Identifying Common Buzzwords

The staff members who make final decisions on proposals aren’t usually the same people sales has been engaging with earlier in the sales cycle. Purchasing or procurement teams who often have final say on proposals have their jobs on the line with any given purchase. When compared to the likely users of a product, the procurement team might be more concerned with things like proven track records, references, and trust and stability than the likely users would be. The most successful companies tailor their marketing language in their proposals to appeal to the more conservative decision-makers involved in formal proposal processes. The proposal team should work with marketing to develop language that is targeted for conservative, procurement personas.

After a lost proposal, proposal teams should always ask why the decision makers awarded the proposal to the winning company. Proposal teams should build a running list of common vocabulary and buzzwords the team encounters in both the debriefs and in the text of the proposals to keep the marketing team informed of the language the market is using to describe their problems and potential solutions.

Pricing — How do you Compare to your Competitors?

After a bid is awarded on a project, proposal teams should request the scores and price of all submitted proposals. Even if pricing isn’t explicitly released, it can often be deduced by using published scores. Where are you landing compared to your competition? Are you pricing in a way that makes you competitive given your relative fit for the customer?

If you’re submitting proposals in the public sector, make it a common practice to FOIA any proposal to which you submit, so you can get a full sense of what your competitors are offering.

Product — What are Common Product Gaps?

RFPs are a great mechanism to understand what the market desires in terms of product features. Even if an RFP is out-of-scope or low-probability, proposal teams should still read it to help track requested product features. They should work with the product team to develop a consistent communication framework for communicating what they discover. The best performing companies will take advantage of the qualification and scoping process of the proposal team to inform the company’s product roadmap.

Legal — What are Frequently Redlined Terms & Conditions?

What terms and conditions does your proposal team consistently encounter? Are there certain terms and conditions that frequently need to be redlined or that spur discussions with legal? Get ahead of potential legal problems in deals by having the proposal team flag consistent legal redlines or gaps and asking the legal team or legal contractors to solidify policies around consistent trouble areas.

Proposals as a Valuable Feedback Tool

Because the proposal team intersects with nearly every aspect of a company’s operations, it can provide unique visibility into what the market is looking for and how well the company is meeting the market’s desires. Companies should encourage consistent feedback from proposal teams to other departments to help strengthen overall operations.

At its best, the proposal team can help sales keep pipelines well-qualified, marketing tailor its positioning, those in charge of pricing understand competitors’ packages, customer success focus on securing references in key market segments, product understand what features are most commonly requested by prospects, and legal identify terms and conditions that consistently pose problems for closing deals. With the proper feedback mechanisms in place, the proposal team can become a vital component of shaping any company’s ongoing growth strategy.