Don’t Get Turned Down: An Insider Guide to Winning Energy Software RFPs
The energy and sustainability market has reached a point of maturity: Organizations recognize the need to improve their environmental footprint (and are often subject to regulations requiring them to do so) and their programs to achieve that goal are getting smarter and more expansive. Against this backdrop, requests for proposals (RFPs) for energy software and sustainability services have steadily increased. This market growth creates new opportunities for energy software and service providers to expand their reach and win new business — if they can nail the proposal.
4 Steps to Drafting a Winning Proposal
So what exactly goes into a winning energy software proposal? It’s all about going after the right business, clearly illustrating you understand the need and can add value and differentiating yourself from the competition. Here’s our advice on how to put all those pieces together in order to draft a winning proposal:
1) Select the Right RFPs
One of the most overlooked steps of the proposal process is selecting the right RFPs on which to focus. Organizations issue RFPs all the time, and it’s simply not wise to respond to all of them.
Creating winning proposals takes time, and while there are benefits to submitting a proposal even if you don’t get the contract (e.g. sharpening your messaging and understanding how you compare to competitors), it’s a waste of valuable time and effort if you’re crafting proposals just for the sake of responding to as many RFPs as possible.
“Qualification is key. We qualify-in where we have a relationship, or a really good match to our functionality in our target sectors. We need to qualify that there’s a need, a budget and a timeline (real projects) and that we’ve got a good chance of actually winning. We regularly qualify-out any that are unsolicited unless we can see strategic advantage.” – Keith Finlay, Business Development Manager, CloudApps
To maximize your proposal efforts, consider:
- Needs: Every business needs to be clear about what it is, and at the end of the day, you can’t be everything to everyone. By trying to take on too much, you can very well end up diluting your worth and hurting your reputation in the area that really is your core competency. As a result, it’s important to define what it is you do and only go after work that fits that definition.
- Timing: Even if the needs outlined in the proposal match what you can deliver, the timing also needs to be a fit in two different ways. First, consider the project timeline. If the timing of the project will not work for your business, you need to pass. Winning the business and then not being able to deliver will ultimately do more harm than good for your business. Second, you need to consider the proposal timeline. If you find a RFP one week before the proposal deadline and are simply not equipped to deliver your best work in that short time frame, you might be better off passing. The proposal will likely be the issuing organization’s first impression of your company, and that counts for a lot.
- Pricing: Finally, know your worth, as undervaluing your business will not help anyone. If the bid you need to make to win will be too low to justify the scope of work, you need to pass. If you think you can build a long term relationship, it might make sense to take a slightly lower price, but it’s critical to make sure the return is there.
2) Keep Your Proposal Straightforward and Realistic
Once you select the RFPs you want to go after, it’s time to start drafting your proposals. When it comes to your proposals, you need to be as straightforward and realistic as possible. If you’ve selected the right RFPs for your business, sticking to these tenets should not be too difficult. If you find that you have to evade certain questions or overpromise, then it’s likely not the right project for your business.
That said, there are steps you can take to optimize your proposal so that the value you can provide is as clear to the reviewers as possible. Specifically, you should:
- Stay within the scope of work: It can be tempting to explain how you can meet the organization’s needs and then some, but it’s important to stay within the scope of work. Going outside the scope of work can overwhelm reviewers at best and/or make them think you don’t understand their needs at worst. While you do want to convey your ability to add value (see more on this below), you need to stay focused on the specific project at hand.
- Explain your software functionality: We’re more likely to trust what we understand, and that makes explaining how your software functions a critical component of your proposal. In addition to making clear what you can provide, you should also illustrate how your software functionality can meet the organization’s needs.
- Define your integration/installation process: Finally, don’t leave any stone unturned. Make clear exactly how your software integration/installation process works, including what you need from the organization, what steps are involved, and how long it will take. All of these details should help you set expectations upfront.
3) Clearly Demonstrate the Value You Can Provide
It’s one thing to purchase software that meets certain needs. It’s quite another to partner with an organization that provides value alongside its software. Most organizations want the latter — they need software with certain functionality, but they also want a partner to support that program.
For example, organizations might consider how you will support them before and after the integration/installation when it comes to responding to questions, ensuring adoption, expanding usage over time, and helping them achieve the maximum ROI.
To clearly demonstrate the value you provide not just through your software, but also as a partner, you should:
- Accurately define and reiterate the need: Any organization bringing on a new vendor wants someone who understands their needs. This understanding is important when it comes to delivering a solution that meets those needs and even making suggestions to meet those needs in ways the organization had not considered previously. The best way to demonstrate this understanding is to clearly and accurately define and reiterate the organization’s need throughout your proposal.
- Provide examples: Include concrete examples of similar projects you’ve done and the results they’ve delivered for those clients. These examples should illustrate how your software and any related services helped clients meet needs like those outlined in the RFP and highlight the outcome of the work.
- Outline your role in the integration/installation process: In addition to defining the steps of the integration/installation process, you should also outline the role of your company in making that happen. The goal should be to clarify how you can make the entire process as minimally disruptive for the client as possible and the value you can add along the way. You should also include any support you can provide related to the integration/installation to help the organization maximize its ROI.
4) Think Big Picture
Finally, remember that RFPs don’t happen in a vacuum. Responding with a proposal is not a case where you’re in a race against only yourself — you’ll be going head to head with your competition and you need to prepare your proposal accordingly.
With that in mind, you need to:
- Know your competition: It’s critical to know who you are going up against, what exactly those companies offer, and how that compares to what you offer. This information can help you tailor your proposal in a way that highlights the areas where you have an advantage over the competition and minimizes any areas that might be seen as weaknesses on your end. Additionally, this knowledge can help inform your company about areas for improvement going forward. One of the biggest movements in energy software right now is data automation. Increasingly, RFP finalists (and ultimately winners) are those companies that include data automation as part of their software package, making this a valuable competitive differentiator.
- Don’t leave any stone unturned: Make sure that you address every single question, requirement and need raised in the RFP in a comprehensive way, regardless of how minute a detail it might seem. Once again, this approach can help demonstrate that you understand the organization’s needs, that you are prepared to meet them, and that you can provide significant value along the way.
“Customers aren’t likely to transition in one hit from manual processes to a completely automated process. There needs to be some steps and some milestones along the way. This is where the Urjanet story really starts to come in, because even if clients don’t make that jump to using the Urjanet data straight away, they can see on the horizon that there’s a maturity and down the line, that is going to add additional benefit.” – Keith Finlay, Business Development Manager, CloudApps
Never Settle: How to Keep Improving Over Time
With all of these pieces in place, you should be well on your way to selecting the right RFPs to go after and drafting proposals that knock the competition out of the water.
At the end of the day, regardless of whether you win or lose, don’t forget to ask the issuing organization for feedback. This feedback is extremely important to refining your proposals over time to up your win ratio even further.
To learn more about how Urjanet’s Utility Data Platform powers energy management programs, download our eBook: The Missing Puzzle Piece: Automated Utility Data Aggregation. And if you’re ready to start leveraging your utility data with Urjanet, contact us today.
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About Urjanet Inc
Urjanet, the global leader in utility data aggregation, simplifies how organizations access and use utility data, enabling them to focus on their business. Our technology collects, processes, and delivers data from over 6,500 electric, natural gas, water, waste, telecom, and cable utilities worldwide.