Last week, we published How to Prepare Your Team to Win Competitive RFP Bids. As promised, this week we are returning with Part 2 on this topic — how to set up and manage this process. We want to reiterate that this is written with smaller teams in mind, so employs tools and methodologies that are easy to follow and also cost effective.
The technique we’re recommending is an adaptation of the competitor analysis framework that many entrepreneurs follow when establishing their companies. That more detailed approach is outlined in a fabulous post on the Buffer blog, How to Perform a Best-in-Class Competitor Analysis.
The difference between that approach and what we’re recommending here is that the information in our analysis is more focused on the information that will be most useful in the head-to-head competitive arena. The company-level information can still be helpful for Sales and Bid teams, but it will have less impact on your daily work than the product or service-level details we focus on.
So on to the how.
Creating Your Information Tracker
Step One of creating your evergreen competitive analysis is to set up your “information tracker” and determine where it will be housed. You’ll want to capture and maintain all the information in a place that is easily accessed and updated by every member of your team. The natural place to do this is in a shared, online file. We recommend an option such as Google Sheets or the online version of Excel via Microsoft 365, or other options on the market.
So first, why not a spreadsheet uploaded to a shared folder in Box.com, Dropbox, or the like? We don’t recommend this alternative in order to guarantee that everyone is using the best, most recent information and there are no lags in getting updates out to the entire team. If users or contributors need to download the spreadsheet to update it, or decide to keep a local copy for easy use, it’s not difficult to envision how these downloads might multiply, each copy containing different sets of information. Keeping one shared document in one central place will mitigate this risk.
Next you might be wondering why a Google Doc or an online PowerPoint might not work? After all, you certainly don’t need many (or any?) of the spreadsheet functions to capture the competitive information you’ll collect. Here there are 3 key reasons for our recommendation:
- The spreadsheet will help you structure the collection and presentation of information in a way that is fairly easy to understand. And it can grow flexibility with your activity. If you learn that tracking another feature is key, you can easily insert a new row at the appropriate spot, for example.
- Using a spreadsheet makes it easier to sort or compare where you stand among the competition. If you’re competing with 3 other companies on a particular bid, you can easily reorganize your spreadsheet to focus on those three.
- The multiple sheets within a workbook enable you to track different aspects of the market on separate tabs such as product or services features on one and pricing and contract specifics on another. You could add a cover sheet that pulls in summary information from a variety of tabs. You can even decide to track each separate competitor on its own sheet, although setting up comparisons in this case requires a bit more effort.
(These are the same reasons that many organizations still issue RFPs in Excel format, for what it’s worth.)
Initial Information Requirements
Next, you’ll want to set up the various sheets to begin collecting the information that will help you best understand the market overall, each competitor individually, and where you fit in the landscape.
Focusing on your product or offer is clearly the right place to start, and you’ll want to keep things simple initially. You’ll know from conversations with prospects what the key features are that they are concerned about. Start by listing each area/feature in the first column of the sheet.
Then, place your key competitors’ names at the top of the next several columns so you can start to complete the grid. Again, we recommend starting with 3-5 so as not to overwhelm your initial efforts. You’ll know which names come up again and again in competitive situations.
Populating the Initial Information
Assigning the task(s) of compiling all the information at your fingertips today may be shared across the team, but you’ll want to place one person (or one person per competitor) in charge of the process to ensure that the work gets done. A goal date will also keep the team focused.
Much of the information you’ve spec’d out in your document may already be known by someone on your team. Spend 15 minutes at the beginning of your next team meeting to compile it in real time. Maybe even treat it like a trivia contest to keep things fun and the group engaged.
Then have those assigned with the task(s) of completing the sheet begin their research to compile the rest of the information. A great place to start is (not surprisingly) your competitors’ websites. We encourage you to go beyond the surface information, looking at blog posts and case studies to gather more nuanced information. Other great sources include third party review sites like G2 and Capterra, if you compete in the software arena; competitive data aggregators like Crunchbase, Owler, and the like; and general news outlets, if there is coverage of your business category.
Going forward, a great method to keep up on the latest with your competition is to create Google Alerts for each of the key competitive companies. This will deliver information to your inbox daily or weekly on new information including product or press releases, job postings, funding announcements, and more. To set up an alert, go to https://www.google.com/alerts and type in the name of a competitor. Then click “Show options” to select the frequency at which you’d like to receive information, specify other criteria like the source language of the content, and enter the email address where you’d like to receive the updates. Then click “Create Alert” and you’ll start receiving your updates as soon as new, relevant information hits the web.
Now you’re on your way! From this simple start, the categories of information you collect will naturally grow and mature just based on what you’re learning constantly from your research and your conversations with customers, prospects and partners. You’ll be in a stronger position to write that Win Theme on your next RFP response.