As a company who’s won, and lost, a number of tenders in our time, we’ve learned a thing or two about what makes a good proposal. We’ve put together some of our thoughts on what makes a good proposal, and a good project interview. But don’t just listen to us, we also asked some of our clients why they chose us. Here’s what we learned…
Writing a tender proposal
Keep it succinct
“When writing proposals, you have to remember that people are busy” says Dave, a Product Manager at Simpleweb who’s written his fair share of winning proposals over the years. “If they’ve got a lot of proposals to read, it’s easy to get lost in the detail and it’s hard to keep track of who’s who or what’s what.”
Dave says that the principal of executive summaries is really important. “Busy executives are not going to read an entire report, they’re barely going to read the bit that’s appropriate to them, so it’s important to summarise the proposal in the introduction. Of course, you need to include the finer details but be aware that often, no one will read the details until after they’ve started shortlisting.”
Clients tend to agree with this, with one noting how many of the other proposals they received were full of a load of extra, unnecessary fluff… “Simpleweb’s was the shortest and it was almost entirely text. Thats not a bad thing. It was clear that you’d spent the time thinking about the product rather than creating the document… but we’re very practical, straightforward people so that appealed to us a lot more than all of the images and flashy stuff, because we see straight through that.”
Know your solution
We get to work on a lot of exciting new digital products at Simpleweb, so naturally, we don’t always have experience in building similar systems. However, we have worked on plenty of projects that include key features that clients are looking for: booking, billing, invoicing, directories… the list goes on.
One client told us how other agencies competing for the same job as us had proposed using a certain framework. However, when pressed on why they’d chosen it, our client got the distinct impression that they were simply jumping on a bandwagon, and that it was the most fashionable framework to use at the time.
“What was most refreshing about Simpleweb was the fact that you were technology agnostic. You’d chosen to use Ruby… not because you were a Ruby development house and that’s all you did…. but based on our requirements you had decided that Ruby was the best option to go with.”
Don’t be afraid to say no
We have four values at Simpleweb, and one of them is “bravery”. We’re not afraid to take risks, and we’re not afraid to say “no”.
Most Invitations to Tender that we see have a clear set of requirements (usually a complex set of features) and a strict budget (often a small one). Others still are vague and open, while some are contradictory and confused. It’s our job to give it to the client straight. We’re always open and transparent about what is actually possible, and often this involves telling a client that we can’t do what they want in the budget they’ve set, or that their idea of an MVP is too complex and will waste their time and money.
While saying no doesn’t sound like a great way to get clients on board, we’ve found they appreciate our honesty.
“We did give a bit of a steer in what we wanted and for how much money” one client told us, “and what [Simpleweb] proposed was actually completely different…. Simpleweb had given it a lot of thought and really gone into what was truly required, rather than just telling us what we wanted to hear. What you had suggested was completely different and contradicted some of the things that we asked for. That was encouraging because it showed that you were confident and clearly you knew what you were talking about.”
The interview stage
As if writing a great proposal wasn’t enough, we often get called in to meet the client and talk through our proposal in a bit more detail. Here’s what we find works in the interview stage…
Take your key players
At this point, we’ve already piqued the client’s interest with our proposal. The interview is where we show clients our personality and help them to understand who we are and what we do. To do this, we need to introduce potential clients to the right people.
To pitch a new solution, we usually send a product manager or director, armed with one or two of our top senior developers to tackle the technical questions and show the client what we’re made of. This is usually exactly what the client needs to feel comfortable and confident in Simpleweb.
“They [Simpleweb] didn’t say what they thought we wanted to hear,” a client told us. “They pushed back on stuff and had a conversation, explored ideas and tried to solve a problem instead of trying to give us a feature.”
Do your research
“It’s important to remember that the people you’re pitching to are just people like me and you at the end of the day” says Simpleweb Product Manager, Dave. “You’ve done all the research beforehand, so all you do in the meeting is work out the bits that are missing from the research. Only ask questions that you need answers to, or to explore things that are ambiguous; cut to the chase.”
In the past, we’ve gone into interviews with PowerPoint presentations and without them, and there doesn’t seem to be a hard and fast answer as to which works better. What is apparent though, is that knowing your shit inside out is the most valuable way to wow a client.
“Rather than spending a day putting a powerpoint together, they’d spent a day actually restructuring the product and coming up with a better way of delivering it” said one client. “It was a bit more scientific and a bit more analytical whereas the other ones were a bit more flashy, trying to get us to buy with our eyes rather than with our heads.”
Gain the client’s trust
If we’ve got to the interview stage, we’ve already proved to the client that we can offer a thorough solution, now it’s time to prove that they can trust us. This comes down to another of our four values – transparency.
One client we asked recalled feeling reassured by our communications and transparency policies, whereby we bring each client into our team for the duration of their project. “We’ve had bad experiences with developers in the past” said the client, “and we wanted to make sure that we were in the loop. Simpleweb were so clear and from the beginning, you said how the project would work completely transparently and there’d be one Basecamp project and all of the messages are shared there. Being very open and transparent was definitely a winner.”
Winning tenders comes down to openness, honesty and a thorough understanding of what you’re talking about. You can try all you like to blind your clients with flashy presentations and beautiful designs, and it’ll probably work sometimes, but the key to winning tenders? Cutting the crap and being awesome at what you do.
If you’d like to discuss your product with Simpleweb, get in touch today and we’ll have a chat.