Learning and growing from your competitors is key to elevating your firm's proposals and most proposal writers will tell you it was a key aspect of their career growth. Competitive intelligence in the realm of AEC pursuits can be a dicey subject based on where you live in the United States. In this blog post, we'll give you a few ideas on how to elevate your proposals by looking at competitor proposals as well as ways to use your professional network to gain insights on how to improve your proposal content.
How to Take a Peek at Your Competitors' Proposals
There are a couple of approaches one can take to review competitor proposals but these approaches vary based on the private or public nature of the pursuit. We'll talk about both ways to obtain information and how to not put your firm at risk.
Competitive Intelligence with Private Pursuits
We all hope that after we start a project, we develop an excellent relationship with the client, and it's possible to ask them if we can take a look at the proposals our competitors sent. Some private clients will let you do this, and others won't but it's very much an ask that's based on the type of relationship a firm has with their client and the level of trust. In this scenario, it doesn't hurt to ask, especially if the proposal writer works with the project manager on the job to make the request, and frames it in a way that the proposal writer is looking to improve his or her skills. When reviewing proposals submitted to private clients, it is still important that the review remain confidential.
Competitive Intelligence with Public Pursuits
Public pursuits or those proposals and presentations submitted to city, county, and state government entities, have different laws governing those pursuit processes based on the state. For example, in Florida and under the Sunshine Law, it's easy in most cases to obtain the opportunity to either go in and review proposals in the procurement office, or to request digital copies of the proposals submitted. The request is kept confidential (typically) and the proposal writer can go in after the proposals have been submitted and review them. This is an amazing opportunity for proposal writers to evaluate how firms communicate their value proposition, organize their information, and present key narrative elements (like project approaches).
However, in Texas, the Public Information Act functions a little differently. For example, if a proposal writer or a team that submitted on a pursuit wants to review the proposals submitted, the firm will need to file a request for that information and every firm that submitted a proposal response for that project will be notified. In Texas, this can sometimes have an adverse effect on the firm that made the request since it creates a lot of work for the procurement team managing the contract and it can create more friction with competing firms as to the intent of filing the request. Make sure that you understand the laws governing procurement documents (like proposals) in your state before you inadvertently create a little extra drama for your firm in your quest for improving your competitive intelligence.
Use Your Network
One of my favorite SMPS activities is when we would sometimes do a proposal swap event. We'd get a chance to look at other firms and how those firms crafted their proposals. This kind of event was critical in my early career development as an AEC marketer. Typically the event required a lot of planning as each registrant was assigned to a table with firms that did not compete with that particular registrant or firm.
Another way to leverage your network is to make requests directly. If you are an SMPS or APMP member, you can reach out to members of non-competing firms in different states and ask them for advice or suggestions and in some cases even examples. You can either approach proposal writers that work in industries other than yours. These relationships can be extremely powerful in helping new marketers grow leaps and bounds as they begin their AEC marketing career.
Competitive intelligence is a great way for a proposal writer to improve his or her skills in crafting winning proposal content. A few key considerations before starting a competitive intelligence process is to understand what laws may govern the information submitted during a public pursuit, the amount of trust in a private pursuit, and leveraging their professional network to gain the best insights possible.