Here at Quote Roller we are all about writing proposals that get signed fast and talking to rockstars that know how to make that happen. Rishad Sukhia is Director of Brightlabs, a multi-award-winning digital agency based in Melbourne, Australia, and he is a guru of the customer-focused, value-added proposal. With more than a decade of experience in the digital industry in various roles, including operations, business development and digital strategy, Rishad has been part of writing proposals that win, win, win!
We caught up with Rishad recently to discuss the role writing proposals plays in his business, as well as to get some pointers — read mojo — from him that are sure to help all us Quote Rollers as we are writing proposals that are sure-to-be signed!
Todd Spear: So what’s the biggest challenge you face in creating a winning proposal?
Rishad Sukhia: Providing the prospective client with the belief that we deliver the best value for the money is always a challenge. Every proposal we create is designed to not only be easy to read, but also to clarify for the client that we are the best fit for their needs, and that we are able to meet all their needs in the long run.
This is further complicated by the fact that we don’t really know what the prospective clients wants to hear — or read, rather. So we’re always faced with guesswork when it comes to what is of value to them.
Todd: How much effort goes into competitive analysis?
Rishad: Competitive Analysis is not done on a per-proposal basis because we don’t often hear about who else is competing for the business. We’re always sizing up the competition, though. This is done by looking at the market to see how we compare to our competitors. In our business, the end product is very visible — being digital projects, and all — and we can immediately see quality of work and execution.
Todd: How are you using images — charts, graphs, tables, photos, etc. — in proposals?
Rishad: We use images in a great variety of ways. We use them to show our portfolio of work — screen caps, interactions, apps etcetera — and we also love to share images and logos relating to the brands we work with and the awards we’ve won. Images also help us explain our Agile Development Methodology, too.
We’re pretty keen on the idea that less ‘wordy’ is better, so yea, lots of images are used in our proposals.
Todd: What’s the Proposal Management routine like at Brightlabs?
Rishad: An inquiry comes into the business, which is then passed to a Business Development Manager, and customer information is entered into our CRM, along with all pertinent details. We try to get the prospect into a meeting right away, so that sharing and rapport-building can happen right out of the gate. Most of all, we want to gain an early understanding of the prospect’s requirements, so we can tailor a solution just for them.
Some clients have “tender briefings,” inviting all the tenderers to the same location at the same time to ask questions.
In any case, we have a proposal register which assigns a unique number to each proposal (which has versioning also e.g. Proposal Number 1234, Version A or ’1234A.’) This assists us in tracking versions based on rounds of edits.
Typical proposals go through two or three versions before the client will sign-off on them — it’s not unheard of to have to six, even eight, versions. You’re close to sign-off in those cases anyway, and it’s a form of negotiation prior to the actual contract being signed. After a proposal is won, we update the CRM, and record the proposal number for entry into the service contracts and agreements.
Todd: Ever hit any snags or roadblocks with writing proposals? Tell us about them.
Rishad: There’s a constant challenge is to provide accurate (or fixed) pricing for projects that are very open-ended and have little upfront explanation. Sure, we completely understand that the customer needs to see “some numbers” for their budgets, and, as such, we have no alternative but to increase the estimated investment, in order to ensure that we don’t over-promise on price and under-deliver on the project.
Todd: What would lead the Brightlabs team to pass on an Request for Proposal (RFP)?
Rishad: It boils down to one thing — if we think we cannot deliver value to the customer based on constraints they have — which could be time, money, or the scope of the project — we will pass on the RFP.
Todd: Could you describe the “customer focus” in your proposals?
Rishad: There is far less “us” and a lot more “you” in our proposals. To give you insight, our company ethos begins with “Brightlabs exists to create success for our clients, employees and shareholders…” Most customers come to us because they have been referred, and we’ve worked hard to have a good reputation in the marketplace.
Hence the proposal that they receive has some customary “who we are and what we do,” but the majority of it is designed to respond directly to their requirements, placing our solution as their answer to the problem that they have come to us to solve.
Todd: How much do your proposals vary in terms of structure?
Rishad: The majority of the proposals we send out have the same structure, but the content within each section is tailored to suit the solution being put forward. Some clients come to us with a specific way to answer their RFP. This is a smart way for them to receive the same response from everyone, essentially comparing “apples to apples” when they have all the proposals laid out in front of them.
Todd: What, at the core, do you think most proposal recipients are looking for?
Rishad: Broadly speaking, what most customers are looking for is not the lowest price, not the best fit, but best value for money spent.
Todd: Without revealing too much of your “secret mojo,” what’s been the best formula for getting winning bids with your proposals, so far?
Ha, okay, maybe a little bit of our secret mojo can be shared! It’s really not a secret though — it’s just a matter of being straightforward.
The customer’s decision to buy is to enter into a long-term business relationship with Brightlabs. The best approach we’ve found is to relate to them exactly as who you are, not some version of a “salesperson” that you think you need to be. Push only what is in the client’s best interest, not yours. Be totally transparent when it comes to pricing. This is the way we do business, and the same ideology can work for any type of organization. Really, it’s just good business.
Other than that, we seize upon every proposal as an opportunity to learn. We can always be better, so all proposals — whether won or lost — get reasons assigned to them. This allows us to constantly focus on our strengths and refine our proposal so we can improve on our weaknesses.
There you have it Quote Rollers – top notch advice from someone with plenty of proposal wins to his credit. Are you building on your proposal-writing strengths like Rishad has described?