New Biz Proposals: Are We Putting Our Best Foot Forward?

Agency Leadership

This week, we're putting the final touches on a proposal for an exciting website redesign opportunity. When I joined a call with the team the other day to review progress, I heard them talking about our chances of winning, knowing we are up against a handful of other agencies.

Winning new deals is top of mind for everyone for a few reasons:

  1. Who doesn't want to win?
  2. We recently shared our Q2 sales target with the team to keep them updated on our progress. Everyone can see and understand how new deals (with new and existing clients) impact our business.
  3. Last week, we found out that two potential projects that we were hopeful of winning fell through.

For more context on #3, one of the prospective clients chose an agency they've worked with before; the other went with a smaller studio that they felt fit better with their small team. And yet, both clients told us they were happy with our proposals, pricing, timeline, etc. Although we were unhappy to lose out on these projects, I don't think there was much more we could do to improve our chances.

The reality is that we can't control the outcome of a proposal. The choice is not up to us! While we want to win, fixating on it won't get us anywhere. Instead, there's a question I like to ask: Are we putting our best foot forward?

As much as we'd like to treat going after new business like a game, it's not. We all have strategies, but there are no rules. There are wins and losses, but the opponents rarely know each other is in the game. So, for me, worrying about winning isn't worth the energy.

The question, "Are we putting our best foot forward?" prompts us to look inward and focus on what we can control. It asks us to think more deeply about our approach vs. getting distracted debating what we think might lead to a win.

To put our best foot forward, we must uncover:

  • Why the prospective client is seeking a partner
  • Why they chose to speak with us
  • What they hope to achieve by working with us
  • What they hope to achieve through the completion of the project
  • Their expectation for pricing and how it factors into their overall business
  • Any critical milestones for the project and why they're important
  • What they value most about a future partner
  • What they (and specifically, who on their team) is weighing most when choosing a partner

With this information on hand, putting our best foot forward means that we've decided we can deliver on the client's outcome within their budget and timeline while maintaining our target margin. If we don't know the budget and the timeline is loose, we must be confident that our approach will deliver value.

From here, the process ahead can be full of bumps and turns, emails and calls, but ultimately, ends with a proposal. Throughout it all, there are some guiding questions to ensure we're putting our best foot forward.

  • Have we shown our enthusiasm in collaborating with our prospective client (including the stakeholders) on their project?
  • Have we done our research to understand our prospective client's ecosystem (audience, industry, vision, mission, products, etc.)?
  • Have we asked questions to dig deeper into the client's goals and uncover any gaps in the project?
  • Have we demonstrated our track record of success on similar engagements?
  • Have we outlined an approach that we believe will create value for the client and help them achieve their goals?

If we can answer "yes" to each question, we can go to sleep knowing we did everything we could with the information available to us. Whether we win or lose, we can take the feedback (aka new information) and decide how we might consider it in future proposals.

Although I've written this through the lens of new client proposals, most of it applies to growing relationships with existing clients through new projects. I shared some thoughts in last week's newsletter about better aligning our Business Development and Client Services teams.

Before I close out, I'd like to share a post I wrote back in March 2021 called "Always Perform Like You're In An Arena." It centers around advice my Dad used to give me when I performed. It talks about the many aspects of performance in our lives and the importance of harnessing our inner drive:

"It didn't matter if there were two or 2,000 people in the audience; what mattered was that I gave it my all."

I can't help but see the parallels to "performing" for our clients, putting our best foot forward, taking the feedback, and getting better along the way.

This post originally appeared in Edition No. 089 of my newsletter. Subscribe here.

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