Yes, there are only three ways

There are only three ways to win a proposal. All the strategies and techniques you can think of, fit into these three categories. The three are fundamentally different. Understanding that gives you an advantage when it comes to figuring out the winning strategy. Most companies just muddle through, with strategies based on any one of them at any given moment. This gives you an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage by understanding the implications of how they apply to you.

If you understand which applies and when, you can present a more focused message based on strategies that are clearer.

  1. Selling what you’ve got and convincing the customer to buy it. You have to get what you have through the customer’s selection process. You search for the perfect words to turn what you’ve got into what the customer wants. Product companies generally fit into this category. You have to convince the customer that the benefits of having your company’s offering make it worth the cost and effort required to procure it. The customer has to trust your ability to deliver.
  2. Figuring out what the customer wants and selling them an offering that fulfills it. You can offer anything you can think of and deliver. You need to understand what the customer needs, so that you can become it. Tailored services and solutions generally fall into this category. You have to convince the customer that you are the best alternative to fulfill their needs. The customer has to trust your capabilities and insight.
  3. Selling on price. Price always matters, and sometimes it’s the only thing that matters. The closer what you sell is to a commodity, the more important price will become as a consideration. Everyone tries to have a low price. But having the lowest price requires effort. This is especially true for services businesses where everyone hires from the same labor pool. To sell on price you have to know just how little you can get by with. You have to convince the customer that in spite of your low price, you are still trustworthy. You have to be really good to be trustworthy at the lowest price. While difficult, it is possible. It just requires a completely different way of operating.

Muddling through and being a little of all of them will keep you from being the best. And you can’t consistently win proposals without consistently being the best. Even when the evaluation is formal and bureaucratic, like in government procurement, these forces are still in effect. They just operate in an environment with regulated acquisition procedures and written evaluation criteria. Sometimes what the customer wants most is a procedure followed. Sometimes convincing them requires following that procedure.

The key to winning is to understand what you have to convince the customer of.

The key to winning consistently is to build your organization around being that. 

You don’t just want to create branding around something that sounds positive. You want branding that supports the kind of selling you do. You don’t just want to appear trustworthy; you need to appear trustworthy in the ways that reinforce the kind of selling you do. You don’t just want the best offering; you want the best offering based on the kind of selling you do. And the kind of selling you do needs to be based on the kind of buying that your customers do.

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