Three Ways Proposals Are Like Building a House
Happy 2021! After a challenging and rocky 2020, I know so many of us are looking forward to new beginnings and a smoother year in 2021. I’m definitely no exception. In fact, my fiancé Kevin and I are in the process of building our dream home. But it wasn’t something we set out last year planning to do—we just kind of—fell into it.
As you know, safe, socially distanced activities have been limited during the pandemic, so Kevin and I got creative in June of last year. We decided to pretend we were house hunting and set up an appointment to see an extravagant, overdone home about 20 minutes outside of Nashville (where we currently live). Harmless fun, right? The problem is that we actually fell in love with the neighborhood and decided to start meeting with the different builders to find out more about the process.
Fast-forward seven months, and we just broke ground on our new home last month. We couldn’t be more excited. However, as I look back on the process, I can’t help but draw some parallels between the home building process and proposals. So here goes!
#1 It Really Is Important to Understand the Customer
If there is one thing you should know about Kevin, he likes to go big. So of course, through this process, we have decided to build a fully custom home. The good news is that we have an amazing builder with a great architect. The bad news is that the architect didn’t understand our priorities when he developed his first design, and Kevin was ready to walk away! The architect focused on our square footage limitations and our ideal budget, and in doing so, sacrificed key features that were more important to us than budget (or square footage). As customers, we had put out there our ideal world situation—but the architect picked the wrong parameters to focus on. Before the initial design, the architect didn’t ask us the right questions to understand where we were willing to budge to get what we wanted—and so we almost walked away!
It’s the exact same way with proposals. It’s so critical to really understand where the customer’s pain point are! If you develop a solution that focuses on the parameters that are less important to the customer and sacrifice the features that they really care about, you’re not likely to win. That’s why the capture process is so critical. The capture team should really work to ask the customers questions to dig into their key drivers and pain points. Then the team should develop and vet with the customer potential solutions before the RFP is released. This way the team can iterate with the customer and really develop a solution that they’re happy with.
#2 Know the Decision Makers
Another thing that this experience highlighted for me is the importance of understanding who on the customer’s end holds the most weight when it comes to decision making. Going into the process, Kevin and I had very different priorities. I tend to be more budget conscious and am willing to make concessions to stay within a budget, while Kevin cares more about getting all of the features that he wants. And despite the anxiety it causes me, Kevin usually wins that battle. It is the same way with your customers. Different stakeholders have different priorities; however, one typically has the final say when it comes to decisions (the Source Selection Authority). It’s so critical to understand your decision makers and what will make them happy with your proposed solution.
#3 Not Everyone on the Team Should Be Customer Facing
Overall, we’ve really had a great experience with the home building process to date. However, there is one person on the builder’s team who is generally negative and tends to overstate costs, seemingly to deter upgraded selections. Often what he quotes us on the fly doesn’t align with the information we receive from others on the team, and so this becomes extremely frustrating on our end. We dread interactions with him, and he generally decreases our overall satisfaction with the process. If we could eliminate any direct interaction with him, we’d probably enjoy the process much more overall.
The lesson from this: it really is true that one bad apple can spoil the bin. This negative person really is critical to our builder’s team (he’s their Costing and Preconstruction Manager)—but he tends to ruin our mood every time we interact with him. We could be the outlier in terms of his interactions, but if I were our builder, I’d think twice about having that individual interact with customers. It’s no different with your capture team. For example, your Pricing Manager is certainly a critical member of the team. However, if your Pricing Manager isn’t particularly great with people (or could have the tendency to rub people the wrong way)—don’t push that customer interaction. Leave the customer interaction to the sales teams and operations teams.
What this home building process has really highlighted for me is that understanding the customer really is so, so important. Not only do you have to understand the pain points of the different stakeholders, but you have to understand each stakeholder’s role, including the ultimate decision maker. But remember—all these activities take time! Start the capture process early so you have time to get it all correct before the RFP is released. This will enable you to develop a proposal and solution that the customer loves—which really is the best way to increase your overall probability of win!
Written by Ashley Kayes, CP APMP
Senior Proposal Consultant, AOC Key Solutions, Inc. (KSI)
Great article! Thanks.
Thanks so much, David!
Ashley, your article is very important for all government contractors’ proposal team members to to read. The prerequisite to following your guidance is, as you say, responding to RFPs that they have developed a relationship with well in advance of the solicitation release. In my counseling work that is the most challenging advice. Too many of the responses are submitted guessing at the client’s real needs not having engaged them earlier. Thanks for the great analogy?
Thanks, JayI Yes, this is a problem I see far to frequently as well!