7 keys to successful solutioning
A compelling solution speaks directly to what the customer values. It details your discriminating value proposition: how your solution exceeds customer expectations for quality, timeliness, cost-effectiveness, compliance, mission success, and/or risk mitigation. The emphasis is on the how: in what specific ways your offering will accomplish contract performance objectives resulting in specific proven benefits that the customer values.
The how is exactly how many of our proposals fail. Here are seven keys to successful solutioning that will improve your win probability.
#1: Begin earlier.
Once you’ve qualified an opportunity, immediately begin the process of defining the how (people, processes, technology). Understand that solutioning is an iterative, time-consuming, evolving process.
You will not arrive at your solution in one or two sessions. Once your team identifies an initial solution, capture professionals (and the project team on the ground in the case of a re-compete), must vet this solution.
What solution elements (features, benefits, and proofs) does the customer most value? Do you have features with proven benefits that exceed requirements (strengths) that the customer wants? The customer includes all the potential proposal evaluators, their stakeholders, and their influencers.
As more information is gathered, the solution evolves.
#2 Let history help guide you
Part of the evolution of your solution is reviewing the history of the customer and the acquisition.
Who is the current incumbent, and why did they win? If this is new work, how has the customer acquired similar work in the past?
If you have bid similar work to this same customer, what does the debrief reveal? What strengths did you bid, and what strengths did evaluators find? Were some strengths scored as weaknesses? A deep dive into past debriefs can be quite revealing and help guide your solutioning.
#3: Go bottom up
Often we are tempted to solution our overall concept of operations (CONOPS) or framework first. Beginning with an overarching framework means we may skip details. Instead, begin by identifying all the requirements mapped to each evaluation factor, and then systematically detail how your offer will meet or exceed each one.
How includes people, processes, technology, tools, templates, and more. Exceeding means that your solution has strengths—features with proven benefits that exceed requirements and/or significantly reduce risk in a manner the customer values.
With all requirements solutioned, you can also define any gaps as well as the overarching framework that ties it all together.
#4: Identify the benefits as outcomes
Every feature of your offer must benefit the customer. More specifically, how you will solve the customer’s problems and meet or exceed requirements results in a benefit. If there is no benefit, then you need to reengineer the how.
The benefit is the outcome of your feature, such as reduced time, cost, or errors and/or increased quality, mission success, compliance, or customer satisfaction.
Once you’ve identified benefits, then play devil’s advocate. Are these benefits that the customer(s) values? Which elements resonate most? For example, is the customer more focused on saving money, or are they very risk adverse? Perhaps you can re-imagine some of the benefits in a way that better resonates.
#5: Question the benefits
Often, we confuse features and benefits. For example, the customer has a constrained budget. We solve their problem by offering a hybrid car and state the benefit as “the car gets 40 miles per gallon.” The 40 miles per gallon is not a benefit; it is another feature or if backed by evidence, it is a proof point.
The true benefit is that the car saves the customer money, thus helping them meet or exceed budget goals. Once you’ve defined the benefit, circle back, and ask yourself, is this a benefit the customer values? You will only know this if you know the voice of the customer based on effective capture and trusted relationships.
#6 Question the proofs
Remember that not all proofs resonate with all customers. Some customers will require quantitative third-party data. Others will be influenced by word of mouth, social media, and/or qualitative data such as customer quotes. Knowing your customer will help determine the best proof points and the best ways to present them.
#7 Map the strengths properly
Your solutioning efforts are not complete until you have clearly articulated and mapped the strengths. Many proposals fail due to improper handoff from solutioning to writing. The annotated outline or content plan should include clear articulation of features, benefits, and proofs and, where these exceed requirements, strengths.
All this information must map not only to requirements but also to the instructions and evaluation factors/sub-factors. Proposal writers will then begin with a clear roadmap and definition of the solution and its value proposition.
These seven keys require three things—time, customer access, and effort. Begin early, work every avenue to get to know the customer, and put in the work to define a solution that details a how that the customer values.
Lisa Pafe is a capture strategy and proposal development consultant and is vice president of Lohfeld Consulting. She can be reached at LPafe@LohfeldConsulting.com