Continuing on from the Aug. 2 column — if you missed, you can find it here: www.azbiz.com/sales_marketing/sales_judo/ —  I’m interviewing Sandy DiCosola, president of Summit Contract Management, an expert at helping companies to become qualified vendors, to find bids and requests for proposals (RFPs) and to write winning proposals.

Sam Williams: Sandy, last time we explored how to find more competitive bids and RFPs. What can you tell us about winning more?

Sandy DiCosola: Just as with direct sales, the first step in winning more is finding more. That is, you have to increase the levels and types of your prospecting activities.

Williams: But isn’t bid and RFP work a relatively passive process? Don’t you just have to wait for solicitations?

DiCosola: Not if you want to survive and grow. It’s always a good idea to identify likely prospects (also known as “owners,” “customers” or “end users”) to let them know about your capabilities and to touch bases with them throughout the year. That way you might be asked to provide input for an RFI (request for information) that precedes the writing of an RFP. Or, if your services are unique and you already have a track record with an organization, you might be selected as a “sole source” vendor.

Williams: Direct sales forces seem to be programmed from the start to prospect. How good at prospecting are the “marketing” departments of architects, engineers and contracting firms?

DiCosola: The larger firms do a pretty good job because they have dedicated marketing professionals. Smaller firms have fewer of them, and they often are distracted by other duties which can crowd out prospecting activities. Some marketing professionals set aside blocks of time during the week when only prospecting activities take place. Just this single, simple approach can increase revenues by 30 percent.

Williams: OK, so the number of “wins” is clearly driven by prospecting activity levels. But what influences the percentage of “wins” relative to the prospects you go after?

DiCosola: Your “win rate,” the quotient of your number of successes divided by your number of attempts, will be higher for those opportunities where you have already won one or more RFPs in the past than for those where you are bidding for the first time. This is because you already have a feel for the right format of a winning proposal and because you have a track record, hopefully a good one, with the organization.

In some cases there may be an RFI that precedes the RFP.  If your company has been able to provide criteria that only you can meet and they are accepted by the organization, you have an unfair advantage. They may write the RFP with you in mind. As I mentioned in our last interview, this is called “wiring an RFP.”

Williams: If a reader is evaluating an RFP that has all kinds of specialized and unusual criteria, how should they respond?

DiCosola: This could be a “wired RFP.” But if they can meet all of those criteria, they should probably invest in writing a proposal, especially if they have a track record with the organization. Even “wired RFPs” can be won by “dark horses.”

But if the criteria are very specific — the CEO of the winning company must have red hair and be able to run 100 meters in 9.2 seconds wearing unbuckled galoshes — it’s a safe bet that the organization has already selected a vendor and is just going through the motions of taking competitive bids. Sometimes they are forced to do this due to regulations or internal policies.

Williams: So, let’s talk about winning the “un-wired RFPs.” How do you increase your chances there?

DiCosola: First, decide if you want to submit a proposal. This is sometimes called a “go/no go” decision. As you review each RFP, ask yourself if you:

• Have the right experience

• Really understand the project and the prospect’s business

• Have the right staffing and resources

• Can operate effectively in that part of the state or country

• Can make enough money!

If the answers are favorable and your instincts confirm them, then you may want to invest in creating a proposal.

Williams: This sounds highly subjective. Is there a way to tighten down the “go/no go” process?

DiCosola: Yes. Many marketing departments assign a score of 0 to 10 to each of the key decision variables, where a “0” is the lowest score and a “10” is the highest. Projects with scores above a certain threshold survive to be discussed and prioritized by a review team. Projects below the threshold usually aren’t seen by the team right away, but it’s always a good idea to keep them and to review them at least a couple of times a year. That way the team can spot opportunities such as opening an office in a new region or to adding new capabilities.

Williams: Are there any tricks at being responsive and writing a winning proposals?

DiCosola: Here are a few steps for assembling the first draft of a responsive proposal:

• Assign a single person to be the project leader for the proposal

• Select a qualified team to complete each section of the proposal

• Create and publish a time table for the completion of each part

• Build in sufficient time for the review and modification of proposal drafts

• Find, copy and circulate winning proposals submitted by competitors for similar projects, note their style and content and emulate them in your proposal

• Copy sections of the RFP and assign them to the appropriate team member

• Team members must have a copy of each section of the RFP directly in view as it is completed

• The Project leader reviews each section once submitted and returns it to the writer for changes

Once the first draft is in good shape, a second team, the “red team,” reviews the draft as though its members were the issuers of the RFP. In order for them to be objective, they should not have been involved in the creation of the first draft.

Williams: Thanks, Sandy!

Readers, I know we have touched on a lot of detail here, but there’s a three-hour workshop on “How to Find and Win More Bids and RFPs” next week. Sandy DiCosola and I will be leading the session, which will be from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Aug. 24. It’s sponsored by the Tucson Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. To register go online at www.tucsonhipsanicchamber.org and click on “events.” The cost is $49 for chamber members and $59 for future members.

Contact Sam Williams, president of New View Group LLC, at swilliams@newviewgroup.net or (520) 390-0586. Contact  Sandy DiCosola, president of Summit Contract Management, at info@summitcontractmanagement or (520) 797-3408. Williams is looking for topics readers would like to see covered as well as questions and comments. New View Group provides revenue development consulting to CEOs and sales skills and sales management training to B2B sales teams. Read his blog at blog.azbiz.com. His Sales Judo appears the first and third weeks of each month in Inside Tucson Business.