The Millennium Falcon Bid : A New Hope

Scene One
Luke Alderaan stands by his desk, staring out the window. The weekly sales meeting has just ended and finally, glimmer of hope. Millennium Falcon, major transport company, has issued Request For Proposal (RFP). If they could just win this, it would make big difference to the company’s fortunes.
Luke is the New Zealand general manager for Skywalker Systems, US-based company providing communications technology to businesses with multiple sites and highly mobile workforces. He took over as general manager year ago, after two successful years as head of technical services, but his timing was terrible. After three years of strong growth, the recession means the New Zealand business is behind budget and, worse, unlikely to achieve the projection Luke made in his latest report. Winning Millennium Falcon would help lot.
Picking up the phone, Luke calls Jedi Consulting. “Help me Obi Wan. You’re my only hope. The sales team have brought in new business opportunity, but I’m just not sure we’re doing good enough job of our proposals…”

Scene Two
Flipchart paper covers the walls of the Skywalker Systems boardroom. Cardboard coffee cups and sandwich wrappers litter the table. Wan has just asked Leia, the Skywalker sales manager, to sum up the session.
“First of all, we decided that this is genuine opportunity for us. Compared to the others who are likely to bid, we have some strengths and some weaknesses. But Millennium Falcon knows us and they think we are credible. The fact that number of the SOEs are using our system gives them confidence.
“Secondly, we know from our research that they attribute their success to what they call their ‘Chewbacca Culture’, which is about fanatical loyalty to each other and doing whatever it takes to deliver for their customers. We decided, therefore, to make that the theme of our proposal… to show that we understand that and will tailor solution that really works for their people.
“Finally, we’ve made plan and allocated roles. We want the pricing locked down by next week, so that we will have full week to complete the document, get Luke’s sign-off, and legal’s, and get it to them on time.”
“And the Executive Summary?” asks Wan. “Yep,” said Leia, “my colleague Han is taking responsibility for bringing everything together for the actual RFP, and I’m going to work on the executive summary. That’s where we’ll demonstrate our understanding of their business needs and how we can help them be even more successful. And I’ll be briefing R2, the design company, on what we are trying to achieve with the look of the document, with our case studies and testimonials.”

Scene Three
The Cantina, wine bar: The document has been despatched and the team is winding down. “Summing it up, what would you say was the main thing we did differently this time?” asks Luke.
“Three things,” says Han. “We remembered that this is sales process and that selling is about helping the buyer get what they want. Secondly, we responded to what they asked for, but we went beyond that and addressed their underlying business needs. Third, we wrote document specifically for this buyer, without our usual wallpaper waffle. And finally, we made it engaging. We told the story in way they would relate to.”
“But that’s four things,” says Leia. “I know,” says Han, “I love you, too.”

Obi Wan’s tips for winning proposals

The last thing you should do is write proposal
You don’t win new business by writing proposals; you win new business by building relationships. You are much more likely to succeed if responding to the RFP is the final step in your sales process, not the first.

It’s about being chosen
Rather than assuming there is one absolute right answer and devoting your proposal to proving it, remember that everything is relative. Your proposal will not be considered on its own merits, but in the context of the buyer’s other choices. Every option will have strengths and weaknesses. Thinking those through, you will be more able to show the buyer why – on balance – you are the right choice.

It’s all about them
Before you write anything at all about your company, ask yourself in what way it is relevant to this buyer and their needs. Everything about your business is feature. Unless that feature offers relevant benefit to the buyer leave it out.

Do it their way
Of course you could have written the RFP differently. But this is their RFP and that’s the way they want to do it. Respect that. Answer the questions they have asked and use the format they have developed. Follow the rules. Meet the deadlines.

Make it easy for them
Thinking about presentation, create the document designed for their evaluation process.
Create logical structure. Lay it out so it is easy to read. Make sure your key points stand out for those who only skim-read the document. If they have given you their evaluation criteria, summarise your message using those headings.

Actually, it’s still all about them
The winning proposal will be the one that best demonstrates to the buyer an understanding of their business, of what they are trying to achieve and why. It will satisfy them that this supplier has the capability to meet their needs and in fact can meet their needs better than any other. It will say to them, “this is the best solution for us”.

Winning for Wellington

New Zealand hosts the Rugby World Cup in 2011 and the venues for the quarter finals were decided on the basis of proposals from Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch, Hamilton and North Harbour. Wellington had all the credentials and was committed to delivering world-class weekend of rugby.
But the IRB had stated that it wanted just two cities to host the quarter finals and had hinted that – because of the capacity of Eden Park – Auckland should be one of them. With Christchurch expanding the capacity of AMI Stadium especially for RWC 2011, Wellington was not front-runner.
Derek Fry, director of City Services and Events for Wellington City Council, says the key to success was demonstrating that two quarter finals in the capital was best for RWC 2011. “New Zealand won the rights to host RWC 2011 on the promise of stadium of four million people. We argued that the best way to deliver that was to have two quarters in Christchurch, two in Wellington and then the semis and the final in Auckland. That way, the whole country would feel included and would get behind Rugby World Cup, creating the nationwide festival the organisers wanted.”
Fry says that bringing in consultant helped. “Wellington has reputation as the Events Capital, but we knew the other cities would do great job, too and we were struggling to see how we could win this. Chris Bray helped us get out of our own space and look at what the buyer wanted. As result, we positioned Wellington as being Absolutely, Positively, Right By Their Side, working for the success of the overall event.”

Chris Bray is strategic marketing consultant who helps clients win competitive bids. He was on the team for New Zealand’s bid to host RWC 2011 and he recently helped Wellington win rights to host two quarter finals. For more information go to

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