Shipley Blog & Industry News
Winning business in highly competitive markets is a challenge. Customer buying patterns are changing. New competitors enter new markets daily. Articles posted below, from industry experts, help understand buying and market trends in key industries. Business leadership topics are also addressed in many of these articles. Shipley believes the competitive advantage often goes to the most informed. Read on. Learn. Win!
Business Winning Tip: Features, Advantages, and Benefits
May 16, 2017 | Shipley Associates
Understanding Features, Advantages, and Benefits is a key part of selling effectively, in person and in a proposal. Sales and proposal professionals often focus too little on benefits and fail to link key solution features to benefits. Or worse, the wait to articulate the benefit until the end of a proposal section.
Advantages become benefits only under two conditions:
- They are linked to the customer's needs
- The customer wants them
The customer issues are the worries, hurts, or pains they are experiencing - they are what keeps them up at night. Benefits help the customer overcome these challenges or problems. In this way, benefits become the converse of issues: if an issue represents a cost or pain, the benefits eliminates the cost and relieves the pain.
Collaboration with the customer helps to understand the customer's issues, concerns, and preferences. Collaboration builds rapport and educates both customers and sellers. By explicitly linking your features to advantages you convert advantages to benefits.
If you have a "must-win" opportunity and need help shaping an effective win strategy, call Shipley. Helping you win IS our business!
Benefits have the strongest and most lasting impact on the customer's buying decision because they are explicitly linked to alleviating issues. In short, customers buy benefits, not solutions.
Follow these guidelines for winning proposals:
- Collaborate with the customer to develop a common vision of the customer's issues and needs.
- Establish a common understanding of the customer's issues and needs before discussing the features and benefits of their solution.
- Convert advantages to benefits as the sale progresses.
- Always emphasize benefits over features.
- Quantify benefits whenever possible to show value to the customer.
Business Winning Tip: The Proposal Executive Summary
December 28, 2016 | Shipley Associates
Executive Summaries are often the most important sections in a proposal. They set the tone for individual evaluators and are sometimes the only pages read by the decision makers
A draft executive summary should be developed early in the sales process. The capture/opportunity manager should prepare the first draft and present it at a preliminary bid decision gate review to demonstrate understanding and alignment of the customer’s hot button issues, vision, and the seller’s baseline solution.
Customers reading the executive summary must be able to clearly understand your solution and its unique benefits (discriminators) to justify selecting your solution over your competitors’ solutions.
The executive summary must clearly articulate your value proposition.
When creating a winning executive summary:
• Demonstrate that you understand the customer’s buying vision
• Emphasize value to the customer
• Maintain a customer focus throughout – Focus on customer issues and motivators
• Build on your win strategy by emphasizing your strengths
• Organize and prioritize the content around customer hot buttons
• Be careful with reuse and boilerplate – tailor each executive summary to the opportunity
• Follow sound writing guidelines – watch spelling, punctuation, grammar, and word choice
• Make executive summary development an iterative process – Keep improving it
Too often, the proposal executive summary is treated as an "after-thought" at the end of a proposal effort. By starting the executive summary early, it can be a tool to help shape a compelling message while demonstrating your value to the customer.
Business Winning Tip: Proposal Graphics
November 16, 2016 | Shipley Associates
Graphics are one of the most effective ways to persuade the customer to select your solution. Graphics convey both facts and emotion, equally important aspects of effective persuasion. Effective graphics improve evaluator retention and understanding.
High-level readers of proposal, those either making or influencing the selection decision, often only skim proposals, looking at the graphics that stand out, then reading the captions, headings, highlight statements, and the executive summary. These readers must understand you offer and competitive advantage without reading the entire text.
Studies have shown that when evaluators both see and read messages with a common theme they recall six times (6X) as much and are more likely to be persuaded to buy.
Effective proposal contributors provide customers with both visual and written reasons to select their solution.
The Shipley Proposal Guide offers the best ways to make your proposal graphics stand out:
1. Select or create graphics that demonstrate your understanding, emphasize your strategy, and highlight your discriminators.
2. Draft the graphics before you write the text.
3. Select graphics that best support your message.
4. Design or modify graphics until they are understandable by all evaluators.
5. Keep graphics simple, uncluttered, and easy to read, with one key idea per graphic.
6. Orient graphics vertically.
7. Minimize cumbersome foldouts – follow instructions.
8. Minimize text in graphics. Concentrate text in an action caption.
9. Number graphics in order of appearance in major sections.
10. Include a benefits-focused action caption with every graphic.
Customer-focused graphics are often the difference between good and better proposals.
Business Winning Tip: Developing Effective Theme Statements
September 21, 2016 | Shipley Associates
Theme statements in proposals link a customer benefit to the discriminating features of your offer. Themes tell readers why they should select you. The most powerful themes contain the most important and unique discriminators - something the customer wants that no one else but you can offer. Effective theme statements also include a value proposition if it can be stated clearly and concisely.
Theme statements are not sales slogans, like the catchy phrases most commonly seen in consumer marketing. They are based on customer hot buttons and motivators.
Capture and sales teams sometimes confuse win strategies and theme statements. Strategies = things to do. Themes = things to say.
Inserting theme statements in a proposal, including at the section level, is one way to implement your win strategy.
When crafting your theme statement:
- Use theme statements consistently
- Link benefits (and value) to features, trying to state benefits first
- Quantify benefits, if possible
- Draft concise theme statements, preferably in a single complete sentence
- Differentiate section theme statements and section summaries
- Ensure benefits go beyond simple advantages – focus on value to the customer
- Tailor your theme structure and approach to the evaluation process
Consistently using theme statements that are customer-focused and benefits driven will improve overall readability and your probability of winning.
To learn more about theme statement development, click here to read this section of the Shipley Proposal Guide.
Business Winning Tip: Proposal Strategy
August 17, 2016 | Shipley Associates
A proposal strategy is a plan to write a persuasive, winning proposal that sets you apart from your competitors. Proposal strategy must align with the capture strategy in order to create win themes that tell the story.
Strategy might be the most misused word in business. Strategy might refer to a position, an action, the entire solutions, an aspect of the solution, or a favorite catch phrase or slogan.
To win business most effectively, you must align your business, market, capture, sales, and proposal strategies and tactics. Misaligned or confusing strategies prompt customers to doubt your message. Customers must know why they should buy from you and not your competitor. Any proposal strategy that does not offer a discriminating solution is not complete – you must convey value to the customer.
How do I create a winning proposal strategy?
- Integrate capture/win strategy and proposal strategy. Tell the story.
- Define and agree to use common definitions of terms related to strategy (i.e. discriminators, differentiators, responsiveness).
- Identify the economic buyer, the users, and the technical buyers; then prioritize their hot button issues.
- Conduct a Bidder Comparison Analysis to discern how the customer organization perceives your solution versus competitive solutions. Identify your strengths and gaps.
- Identify your value proposition and how you will present it in your proposal. Make it crystal clear.
- Draft specific strategy statements that define both what you will do and how you will execute better than your competitors.
- Use trade-offs to validate your approach and ghost the competition.
Business Winning Tip: Proposal Management Plan
July 20, 2016 | Shipley Associates
The Proposal Management Plan (PMP) documents the roles, responsibilities, tasks, schedules, and deadlines before contributors start developing proposal sections, volumes, and ultimately the complete proposal. The plan becomes the "evergreen" guide to keep the team on track and accountable. Too often, Proposal Managers decide to "wing it" for ignore the critical step of documenting the plan to help track progress.
Establish direction, then velocity. Some proposal managers start holding too many meetings with writers and SMEs before planning is complete. The result is wasted effort, conflicts, and loss of commitment to a quality effort.
Save time by extracting and adapting content from the capture plan and account plan with direction from the opportunity manager. You should insert boilerplate PMP descriptions of roles and procedures and tailor based on the proposal effort.
While a PMP is often described as a single document, most PMPs are a series of documents or files that are prepared, posted, shared, and repeatedly updated on a secure website. Use this virtual, shared document approach, especially when team members are virtual and not co-located.
Tips to ensure a sound Proposal Management Plan:
- Always prepare a Proposal Management Plan, even if the proposal is a re-compete or task order.
- Complete and review the PMP prior to the kickoff meeting.
- Distribute the PMP at the kickoff meeting.
- Keep the PMP current, but manage to the plan. Refer to it at daily stand-up meetings.
- Develop and adapt a PMP template for your organization that fits your environment.
Decision Gates: Someone Must Decide Whether to Go, Stay, or Stop
June 29, 2016 | Ed Alexander
How do we solve the potential-opportunity puzzle? A piece at a time! Decision gate reviews are crucial milestones in the business development process where executives earn their pay and decide whether to advance or end a pursuit—and continue with the puzzle or quit and move to better and more attractive one. And “no decision” is not a good decision; the capture/proposal team needs leaders to make the tough call to let the business development process work.
We find that winning organizations meet business development tasks in phases or segments. They align their activities in each phase to mirror those of the customer to synchronize with their business buying cycle. The result is enhanced customer focus, better development of the solution congruent with the requirements, and more obvious discrimination with the competitors.
Opportunities should pass through a series of phases and reviews that result in gates—stop signs where the maturity of the opportunity is assessed and educated decisions are made on whether to proceed, move forward with caution, gather more information/intelligence before proceeding, or kill and move on to other targets.
Business development professionals sometimes confuse color team reviews and decision gates. The difference is:
• Color team reviews are held to improve the thinking and the documentation in pursuit of opportunities. Examples are the Blue, Black, Pink, Red, Green, Gold, and White Team Reviews that enhance the rationality moving forward and the quality of the eventual proposal.
• Decision gates are held to determine whether to advance the opportunities to the next phase.
Typical characteristics of decision gate reviews are to:
• Control progression through the BD process
• Specify specific inputs and outputs
• Avoid too much focus on the technical solution
• Include relevant roles and eliminate non-essential participants
• Continue the decision gate until management makes firm, written decision
• Be prepared to kill the pursuit and move on to other opportunities
• Eliminate personal opinion or egos
• Record the decision, archive, and update lessons learned
Decision gate reviews should be crisp, professional, and productive. Too often they turn into a “blood sport” where the capture/proposal team is put on the defensive as if they were the enemy and not part of the organization. Defensive behaviors, blaming, and nonproductive discussions defeat the intent of the gate review and serve no purpose other than to detract from the ongoing capture/proposal efforts. Decision gate reviews should be viewed in the positive and a milestone that is achieved successfully in the organization’s efforts to submit a successful bid.
Winning organizations use decision gates to progressively limit pursuits to the most winnable opportunities that serve their company’s objectives. Capture/Proposal teams need answers. Someone must give them the proper decision.
Ed Alexander, Vice President, Shipley Associates Inc.
Business Winning Tip: Discriminators
June 15, 2016 | Shipley Associates
The strongest discriminators are true for your solution and not true for any of your competitors. The weakest discriminators are true for your solution and not true for at least one of your competitors. The strength of a discriminator also depends on its importance and relevance to the customer. Your discriminators must answer: "Why us?"
The CEO of a large defense contractor once said to his bid team, "We must identify at least one truly unique discriminator to justify bidding."
If the customer cannot identify discriminators among the various offers, then low price generally becomes the remaining discriminator. However, most buyers say that sometimes small differences among offers become the discriminators among the winner and the losers.
Discriminators can also include:
➤ Customer success stories
➤ Past performance success
➤ Innovative and new ideas that fit within the requirement
➤ Customer relationships and trust
Use this checklist when identifying discriminators:
✓ Identify discriminators by understanding your customer, your competitors, and your own capabilities.
✓ Identify both positive and negative discriminators and position them as being favorable to the customer.
✓ Continuously reexamine whether a discriminator still discriminates.
✓ Develop discriminators by continuing to refine them.
✓ Emphasize discriminators that focus on people, experience, performance, and understanding of the customer’s goals and objectives.
Alphabet's Schmidt to head Pentagon advisory board
March 02, 2016
Alphabet Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt will head a new Pentagon advisory board to kickstart Silicon Valley innovation in the U.S. military.
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Procurement management: How do states rank?
February 19, 2016
Governments buy a lot of stuff. Every year, one out of every three dollars governments spend goes toward purchasing something — from photo copier ink to new vehicle fleets — to help provide services.
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Risk-intolerant acquisition processes are hurting innovation
February 16, 2016
Innovation in government is not only possible, it has led to breakthrough inventions — from GPS and the Internet to Velcro. Such innovation requires agencies and their partners outside of government to take and share strategic risks. In fact, federal organizations that are in the business of innovation, like the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the national labs and the Pentagon's research and development complex, regularly involve the private sector and grantees, and succeed by encouraging risk-taking.
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US electrical grid is vulnerable to foreign hackers, experts say
December 21, 2015
Foreign hackers have repeatedly stolen information that would enable them to hijack portions of the US electrical grid, experts say. "If the geopolitical situation changes and Iran wants to target these facilities, if they have this kind of information it will make it a lot easier," said Robert Lee, a former cyberwarfare operations officer for the Air Force. "It will also help them stay quiet and stealthy inside."
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How A&D Companies are Advancing Tech Under Sequestration
December 17, 2015
While budgetary concerns as a result of the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) have restricted Research and Development (R&D) funding in the U.S. aerospace market for the last five years, Deloitte’s latest report on the sector finds that companies are discovering ways to push innovation forward nonetheless.
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Replacing JSTARS is a top priority, Air Force secretary says
December 14, 2015
The Air Force wants to replace the E-8 Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System aircraft "as soon as realistically possible," according to Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James. The aircraft have flown more than 100,000 combat hours.
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2016 Top U.S. Federal Programs Report
November 19, 2015
Top Opportunities Detail Billions in Business for FY 2016
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2016 CR would hit $6.1B in Army programs
October 13, 2015
Senior officials say a full-year continuing resolution from Congress would hit more than 400 Army programs. "I have a binder yea-thick of impacts," said Heidi Shyu, the Army's senior acquisition official. "Over 400 programs are impacted if we have a year-long CR, $6.1 billion."
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